How the 4-day search for an abducted Memphis teacher led investigators to her body

Shortly after investigators in Memphis, Tennessee, found a body Monday that was later identified as missing schoolteacher Eliza “Liza” Fletcher, they discovered a pair of purple running shorts discarded in a trash bag nearby, officials said in a newly released affidavit.

The shorts matched the description of what Fletcher was last seen wearing when her husband reported her missing Friday after she didn’t return home from an early morning jog.

As investigators were searching for the 34-year-old Monday, they spotted vehicle tracks in high grass near a vacant duplex and smelled the stench of decay before finding the body of an unresponsive woman on the ground, the affidavit said. Officials announced Tuesday the body was Fletcher’s. She was found about 7.5 miles away from where surveillance video shows she was abducted.

“To lose someone so young and so vital is a tragedy in and of itself, but to have it happen in this way, with a senseless act of violence, it’s unimaginable,” Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said Tuesday during a news conference.

The teacher’s death, which authorities say was violent, is still surrounded by questions about where and how she was killed.

<p>Eliza "Liza" Fletcher is pictured here.</p>

Memphis Police Department

Eliza "Liza" Fletcher is pictured here.

As the investigation unfolds, Fletcher’s community is mourning the junior kindergarten teacher and mother of two.

“We are heartbroken at the loss of our beloved teacher, colleague, and friend Liza Fletcher,” the St. Mary’s Episcopal School said in a Facebook post. “This morning our faculty and staff started the day in chapel. We lit candles to remember Liza who was a bright light in our community,” the post said.

Fletcher was the granddaughter of hardware magnate Joseph Orgill III, who died in 2018 at the age of 80. Tennessee-based Orgill has annual sales of $3 billion, according to the company.

Authorities have said Fletcher was jogging in a neighborhood near the University of Memphis around 4 a.m. Friday when a man chased her and forced her into an SUV.

Over the weekend, during an intense search and investigation, investigators zeroed in on Cleotha Abston, who is now accused of kidnapping and murdering Fletcher.

Abston, 38, was arrested Saturday after investigators discovered evidence including surveillance video of the abduction, according to court documents.

“We have no reason to think this was anything other than an isolated attack by a stranger,” Mulroy said Tuesday.

Suspect faces additional charges

Abston was charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence after his arrest.

On Tuesday, prosecutors added charges of first-degree murder, premeditated murder and murder in the course of the perpetration of a kidnapping. Abston is set to be arraigned on those charges Wednesday.

<p>Cleotha Abston appears in Judge Louis Montesi courtroom for his arraignment on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022 in Memphis, Tenn. Abston has been charged with kidnapping and murdering jogger Eliza Fletcher. </p>

Mark Weber/Daily Memphian via AP

Cleotha Abston appears in Judge Louis Montesi courtroom for his arraignment on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022 in Memphis, Tenn. Abston has been charged with kidnapping and murdering jogger Eliza Fletcher. 

During Abston’s initial court appearance Tuesday, a judge appointed a public defender to represent him after he told the court he didn’t have an attorney or the money to post bond.

Abston was being on the initial charges with bond set at $510,000.

He is also facing charges unrelated to Fletcher’s case, including identity theft, theft of property $1,000 or less and fraudulent use/illegal possession of a credit or debit card $1,000 or less, Shelby County jail records show.

Those charges are connected to a theft report filed last week by a woman who reported someone was using her Cash App card and Wisely Card at gas stations without her knowledge.

CNN has reached out to the Shelby County district attorney and Memphis police regarding the theft charges.

Witnesses say suspect was acting oddly after abduction

During the search for Fletcher, police obtained surveillance video that shows a black GMC Terrain passed by the teacher while she was on her jog around 4 a.m., according to an affidavit filed Sunday.

The footage shows a man getting out of the SUV and “aggressively” running toward her before forcing her into the vehicle’s passenger seat, the affidavit said.

The SUV remained in a parking lot for about four minutes after both people were inside and then drove away, the affidavit states.

Police also ran DNA analysis on a pair of sandals found at the abduction site, and the results showed the DNA found on the shoes matched Abston’s DNA, the affidavit reads.

Surveillance footage captured from a local theater the day before Fletcher’s disappearance showed Abston wearing what authorities believe are the same pair of Champion slide sandals found at the crime scene, according to the affidavit.

Investigators also checked Abston’s cell phone records, which showed he was near the abduction scene during the time of Fletcher’s kidnapping, according to the affidavit.

In addition to the physical evidence, police said they interviewed two people who told them Abston behaved oddly after the abduction, the affidavit said.

Following the abduction, Abston allegedly went to his brother’s house, where he cleaned the interior of the SUV and washed his clothes in the sink, the affidavit said.