By Alex Oliveira and Paul Farrell For Dailymail.Com
Published: 08:40 EDT, 4 September 2022 | Updated: 16:37 EDT, 4 September 2022
Cleotha Abston, 38, was charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence following Fletcher's Friday disappearance
The felon accused of kidnapping billionaire heiress Eliza Fletcher was recently released from prison after serving a 20-year sentence for a similar crime.
Cleotha Abston, 38, was arrested and convicted in 2000 for the kidnapping of Memphis attorney Kemper Durand.
At around 2am May 25, 2000, Abston approached Durand from behind on Beale Street in Memphis then robbed him and forced him into the trunk of his car, according to the Memphis Flyer.
Abston then drove Durand around for several hours, then forced him into an ATM and demanded he draw out cash. While in the ATM Durand spotted a housing authority officer and yelled for help, causing Abston to flee.
Abston was convicted for that kidnapping and released from prison in July of 2020, according to Tennessee Department of Corrections, The US Sun reported.
On Sunday Abston was charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence following Fletcher's Friday disappearance.
In addition to surveillance footage which showed the entirety of the 'violent' abduction in which Fletcher was forced into a black SUV with a broken taillight, an affidavit showed cops identified Abston as the kidnapper by a pair of sandals he left behind at the scene.
Abston lost the sandals - a pair of Champion brand slides - in his struggle to force Fletcher into the car, and authorities were able to recover his DNA found on them to him.
Investigators also determined Abston's cell was in the vicinity of the kidnapping at the time Fletcher was taken. The affidavit described an interview with a woman who said Abston's behavior in the hours after the abduction was 'odd.'
The woman said Abston was in a 'strange mood' and that she saw him frantically cleaning the interior of his car with carpet cleaner and washing his clothes in his home's sink.
Authorities went to Abston's last known address and found the same black SUV with the damaged taillight. The affidavit said Abston was standing in the doorway when police arrived and that he began to flee, but was soon apprehended.
Abston still has not said where Fletcher is or what he did to her. The affidavit said evidence, including blood, found in Abston's car led them to believe Fletcher suffered a 'serious injury.'
'The investigation into the abduction of Eliza Fletcher is still active and ongoing. Investigators are continuing the search and following all leads,' police said in a statement on Sunday after announcing Abston's arrest.
Police were also seen searching dumpsters outside of a McDonald's restaurant in Memphis on Saturday evening as they searched for the kindergarten teacher and mother.
Eliza Fletcher, 34, was kidnapped after being forced into a black SUV on Friday. The driver of that SUV, Cleotha Abston, was arrested over the weekend
Missing mother Eliza Fletcher pictured with her husband Richie and their two children
A resident of the area around the McDonald's told KWAM: 'They were knocking on doors of houses with cameras to see if we had anything helpful on our Ring.
'They told us to review our footage from yesterday 4:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. and send them anything valuable via a phone number they left with us.'
Not long before that search, police raided an apartment complex where they were engaged in a standoff with a person inside a unit. It is unclear if this was Abston's home.
One resident in the complex posted a photo showing members of the Memphis Police Department SWAT Team preparing for the raid Saturday evening and said police were in a standoff with a person inside the apartment. Officers kicked in the door of an apartment and brought a woman, her daughter and a baby, according to the witness.
Another resident of the complex- The Lakes at Ridgeway - which was surrounded by a massive police presence, said that she also saw an ambulance at the scene.
According to ABC24's Ian Ripple, the SUV being sought in relation to the case was found after getting involved in a car wreck with an Alcohol Tobacco Firearms vehicle close to the complex.
Not long after the raid, police were seen searching dumpsters outside of a McDonald's restaurant along South Perkins Street in the city
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A different resident posted this photo showing members of the Memphis Police Department SWAT Team preparing for a raid in the complex in the search for Eliza Fletcher
According to ABC24's Ian Ripple, the SUV being sought in relation to the case was found after getting involved in a car wreck with an Alcohol Tobacco Firearms vehicle close to the complex
After the discovery of the car, Fletcher's family, her father, Beasley, mother, Adele, brother Gill and her husband appeared on camera alongside their lawyer, Mike Keeney.
In the statement, Keeney thanked the law enforcement for their search efforts and stated: 'We believe someone knows what happened and can help.' At this station, Fletcher's husband became overcome with emotion.
On Friday, police had searched a park near the site where a wealthy heiress was abducted and forced into vehicle, as they search for clues in the baffling case.
Eliza Fletcher, 34, was last seen about 4.20am on Friday, when she was jogging in Memphis and a man approached her and forced her into an SUV after a brief struggle, police said.
Fletcher is an heiress to a family fortune from Orgill hardware company, which her grandfather built into a global brand, though the family's net worth is unclear.
Fletcher´s family offered a $50,000 reward Friday night through Crimestoppers for information leading to the arrest of anyone responsible for her disappearance.
'We look forward to Eliza's safe return and hope that this award will help police capture those who committed this crime,' Fletcher´s family said in an earlier statement.
After the discovery of the car, Fletcher's family, her father, Beasley, mother, Adele, brother Gill and her husband appeared on camera alongside their lawyer, Mike Keeney
Eliza Fletcher's husband, Richard Fletcher III, was spotted Saturday morning with several other people outside his family's Memphis home
Family of Eliza Fletcher releases statement thanking community and law enforcement. Investigators say they have located a vehicle of interest in her disappearance and a man occupying the SUV has been detained. Eliza Fletcher has not been located. @3onyourside pic.twitter.com/7UMAik74BZ
This is the SUV cops say abducted Fletcher, identified as a dark-colored GMC Terrain
Eliza Fletcher, 34, (left) was last seen about 4.20am on Friday, when she was jogging (right) in Memphis and a man approached her and forced her into an SUV after a brief struggle, police said
Media gather on Friday night as deputies with the Shelby County Sheriff's Office spent several hours searching a wooded area of Overton Park, a vast greenspace less than 1.5 miles from where Fletcher was abducted
Memphis cops were seen towing Fletcher's family car, a white Jeep Wagoneer, from her home on Friday afternoon
On Friday night, deputies with the Shelby County Sheriff's Office spent several hours searching a wooded area of Overton Park, a vast greenspace less than 1.5 miles from where Fletcher was abducted.
The search was called off without result as darkness fell, and investigators were reportedly looking into a tip connected with the abduction case, according to WREG-TV.
Late Friday, state police said that the suspect vehicle in the case was a dark-colored GMC Terrain, issuing a blurry surveillance image of the SUV speeding away from the crime.
Memphis cops were seen towing Fletcher's family car, a white Jeep Wagoneer, from her home.
Investigators were also seen to label a pair of garden shears and a computer as evidence. A large police presence remained at the family home all evening.
Fletcher, who goes by Liza, is a pre-kindergarten teacher at St. Mary's Episcopal School.
According to Richie's LinkedIn page, he works as a manager at a boat dealership in Memphis. Previously he worked as a project manager at a construction company and as a Crossfit coach.
Between October 2001 and October 2005, Richie served in the US Coast Guard as a machinery technician.
Members of law enforcement work the scene where Eliza Fletcher, 34, is believed to have been kidnapped
Members of law enforcement work the scene where Eliza Fletcher, 34, is believed to have been kidnapped around 4:30 a.m. on Friday, near the corner Central Avenue and Zach H. Curlin Street.
She was reported missing when she did not return home from her regular morning run, and her cellphone and water bottle were discovered in front of a house owned by the University of Memphis, authorities said.
Fletcher, a fitness fanatic who would regularly jog the same route, had her phone hurled to the ground and smashed during the crime.
The mother of two is described at being 5-foot-6 and 137 pounds with brown hair and green eyes. She was last seen wearing a pink jogging top and purple running shorts.
The abducted woman is the granddaughter of hardware magnate Joseph 'Joe' Orgill III who died in 2018.
Eliza Fletcher, pictured, was abducted during a 4:30am jog close to the University of Memphis campus on Friday morning
Fletcher's mother, Adele, is Orgill's daughter. Their hardware wholesale family business, Orgill Inc., does $3 billion in annual sales, according to the company's website.
The description of the company on the website calls Orgill 'the world's largest independent hardlines distributor with annual sales of $3 billion.' The company is privately owned.
More than 5,500 people are employed by the company.
In a tribute article published in the Memphis Commercial Appeal in 2018, a friend of Joe Orgill III referred to him as being a cross between Bono and Mr. Rogers in hardware circles. An apparent reference to his philanthropic activities and warm demeanor.
In announcing the reward money in Fletcher's case, the family said in a brief statement: 'We look forward to Eliza's safe return and hope that this award will help police capture those who committed this crime.'
In February, Fletcher said in an Instagram post that she attended the Orgill trade show in Orlando, Florida.
Fletcher and her husband belong to the Second Presbyterian Church in East Memphis.
Students at Fletcher's school were reportedly told via letter on Friday that a teacher had been kidnapped.
'We have not told our younger students about Mrs. Fletcher. We are supporting the older students as they learn of this news,' read the letter from head of school Albert Throckmorton, according to Fox News.
Fletcher is with her husband of eight years, Richard 'Richie' Fletcher III. The couple have two children together
Richie, who has reportedly retained a lawyer, works at a company named Venture Libre, a business that makes 'bespoke custom storage solutions for adventure vehicles.'
In 2021, a Facebook post on the school's page referred to Fletcher as a person whose 'smile brightens every room she enters.'
It went on: 'She is a caring and passionate teacher who is always looking for creative ways to teach to all learners.'
The post concluded: 'She knows each student individually and does whatever she can to excite them for learning. You will always find her celebrating big and small successes in the classroom.'
She attended Hutchison School in Memphis, graduating as part of the class of 2006. Fletcher is a graduate of Baylor University, graduating with a degree in exercise and sports science. She received her master's in teaching from Belmont University.
Prior to working at St. Mary's, Fletcher taught at the Promise Academy in Nashville and was also the school's soccer coach.
She was a seasoned runner who qualified for the Boston Marathon. In 2019, Fletcher finished the St. Jude marathon at time of three hours and 26 minutes and finishing 22nd overall.
Law enforcement have not yet disclosed a potential motive or whether they believe Fletcher was abducted by an opportunistic predator or by an individual who had studied the young mom's frequented running route.
A helicopter passes over the scene where Eliza Fletcher, 34, is believed to have been kidnapped around 4:30 a.m. on Friday
Members of law enforcement work the scene where Eliza Fletcher, 34, is believed to have been kidnapped
People gather outside the home of Eliza Fletcher on Friday. Police say Fletcher was jogging near the University of Memphis when she was forced into a dark-colored SUV
Fletcher's kidnapping has rattled her community. By Friday afternoon a Facebook group called 'Eliza Fletcher Missing in Memphis, Tennessee' had amassed more than 2,000 members.
She was taken close to the University of Memphis. A student at the school, Sam Sparrenberg, told WREG: 'Me and my buddy were probably one the first to see the police cars come out but we had no idea.'
He added: 'I've never heard of anything like it happening. I spent time in colleges. I've been university of Tennessee and the University of Mississippi; I've never heard of anything like this happening.'
Eliza Fletcher is the granddaughter of Tennessee hardware magnate Joseph 'Joe' Orgill III.
Orgill helped run his family's hardware supply company, Orgill Inc., which was founded in 1847 and now pulls in about $3billion in annual sales as a hardware wholesaler.
Orgill began working at the company as a salesman at the company before serving as president from 1968-1980.
During his leadership Orville Inc. grew from a small regional supplier into one of the world's largest hardware wholesalers.
He served as the Orgill Inc. chairman of the board until 2005, and died in 2018.
Orgill was known for being extremely charitable, kind and approachable, earning him comparisons to Bono and Mr. Rodgers among his friends.
The family has offered a $50,000 for information leading to Eliza's safe return.
In 2014, Fletcher married Richard 'Richie' James Fletcher III in a lavish magical woodland-themed ceremony detailed in Memphis Magazine. The bride is described in the profile as being 'outdoorsy, athletic, and warm.'
Richie works at a company named Venture Libre, a business that makes 'bespoke custom storage solutions for adventure vehicles.'
According to posts on his Instagram page, the family took a lengthy vacation in early August.
The senior pastor at the church attended by Fletcher and her husband, George Robertson, described the missing woman as being 'full of life,' according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
Robertson went on: 'She and her husband Ritchie are both very active and great leaders in our congregation. They have two little boys who have come up to me every week and give me a hug.'
He continued by saying: 'She and her husband are both just inspirations in the sense of their zest for life and love of running and athletics.'
Robertson also said that the couple have a 'deep and profound trust in Christ.' He said: 'That is Ritchie's trust right now.'
The Second Presbyterian Church said on their Facebook page that the church was open all day for prayer.
Speaking to WREG, a friend of Fletcher's, Hart Robinson, said: 'You don't wanna hear that that's going on. We want to find her.'
Robinson also said: 'We don't know what's going on, but everybody is desperately looking for her and the police here are on it. You can see there is a lot of activity, so if you know anything or saw anything early this morning, we just ask that you come forward.'
In March this year, Richie marked the couple's anniversary in an Instagram post in which he wrote: '[Eight] years in the making with this smoking hot babe. Wouldn't want it any other way. Even if the stomach bug is running through our family.'
A year earlier, he wrote on Instagram: 'Yesterday marked 7 years married to this beauty!'
He added: 'If you were to ask us at year 3 if we would make it to 7 we probably would of said NO! We apparently weren't given the memo that a healthy marriage is not going to come easy. Luckily, we put God/Recovery first, we were both willing to believe in each other, and asked for help.'
He continued: 'We are so thankful for individual counseling, couples counseling, recovery and friends! We can honestly say we wouldn't have it any other way!'
Records show that Richie has multiple arrests for alcohol related offenses including public drunkenness and driving under the influence.
No suspects have yet been identified, though police have identified the kidnapper as being male.
According to publicly available safety data on the city's website, there have been at least 100 incidents classified as kidnappings that have occurred this year in Memphis.
A $50,000 reward has been offered for information leading to Eliza Fletcher's safe return. Anyone with relevant information is urged to call or text Memphis CrimeStoppers anonymously at 901-528-CASH (2274).
Praying she is found safe. I can't imagine what he...
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