Eliza Fletcher's abduction and murder connected to Cleotha Abston's kidnapping of Kemper Durand: ex-cop

Kemper Durand worked in the same law firm as Eliza Fletcher's uncle, Michael Keeney

Eliza Fletcher's abduction and murder connected to Cleotha Abston's kidnapping of Kemper Durand: ex-cop
Eliza Fletcher's (L) murder has been linked to the kidnapping of Kemper Durand (inset) by Cleotha Abston (R) (Liza Fletcher/Instagram, yale1961.org, Memphis Police Department)
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MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE: Police in Tennessee have found the body of missing heiress Eliza Fletcher. The 34-year-old mother-of-two was forced into a black SUV in a “violent” manner while being abducted and a pair of sandals left at the scene led the police to her alleged abductor, Cleotha Abston, who reportedly stalked her and waited for her to run past him on her morning jog before he could ambush her.

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A former FBI investigator said Fletcher's murder might be connected to a previous kidnapping in which Abston was involved. According to court records, Abston, 38, pleaded guilty to the aggravated kidnapping and robbery of lawyer Kemper Durand in 2000. He was sentenced to 24 years and 11 years in prison respectively but reportedly served only 20 years.

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The former investigator, Jennifer Coffindaffer, revealed that Durand worked in the same law firm as Fletcher's uncle, Michael Keeney. "I think this is a very significant clue, and I'm sure certainly that the FBI, the US Marshalls and the TBI is looking closely at this relationship," Coffindaffer said, according to the Daily Mail

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Fletcher had run from her home in the Central Gardens neighborhood to an area near the University of Memphis campus. After Fletcher's abduction, one Miles Fortas was riding his bike when he found Fletcher’s cell phone and a pair of Champion slide sandals in the area where the kidnapping took place. He turned them over to authorities. “DNA found on the shoes matched DNA for Cleotha Abston”, and it was already in a police database, an affidavit said. The car used during the kidnapping reportedly belongs to a local cleaning service where Abston was employed. Officers arrested him soon after. “He attempted to flee but was taken into custody,” police document said. 

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“The deceased victim that was located yesterday in the 1600 block of Victor has been identified as 34-year-old Eliza Fletcher,” the Memphis Police Department said in a tweet. “Additional charges for 38-year-old Cleotha Abston have been added for First Degree Murder and First Degree Murder in Perpetration of Kidnapping.”


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The abduction of Kemper Durand

Abston approached lawyer Kemper Durand on May 25, 2000, from behind on Beale Street in Memphis. He robbed him and forced him into the trunk of his car, according to the Memphis Flyer. Abston drove Durand around for several hours, eventually taking him to an ATM and ordering him to draw cash. Abston fled after Durand spotted a housing authority officer and shouted for help. Durand said in his victim impact statement, "'It is quite likely that I would have been killed had I not escaped."

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Abston was convicted for Durand's kidnapping and robbery, and was in jail until his release in 2020, according to the Tennessee Department of Corrections. Durand died in February 2013 aged 73. In a tribute article later published in the Commercial Appeal, he was quoted as saying that Durand, who would often joke about his kidnapping, argued for leniency for Abston and his accomplice, 12. Durand said he did not wish to 'wallow in' the fear he had felt.

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Years ago, Abston even faced charges that included aggravated assault and rape. According to court documents obtained by Fox News Digital, he told investigators that he dropped out of school after ninth grade. However, there is no evidence that he attended his stated high school at all.

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After Fletcher's kidnapping, a witness said she saw Abston “cleaning the interior of the GMC Terrain with floor cleaner” just before 8 am Friday morning and reported to police that “he was behaving oddly.” He was also seen washing his clothes in a sink. The day before the kidnapping, authorities found footage of him wearing Champion slides. His cell phone had also pinged near the site of the abduction. 

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Authorities have yet to confirm Fletcher’s cause of death. Fletcher was an elementary school teacher and the granddaughter of a hardware company billionaire, late Joseph Orgill III. 

After the discovery of Fletcher's body, her family issued a statement saying, "Liza was a such a joy to so many - her family, friends, colleagues, students, parents, members of her Second Presbyterian Church congregation, and everyone who knew her." They added, according to BBC News, "Now it's time to remember and celebrate how special she was and to support those who cared so much for her."

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