Suzanne Marie Collins case: Eliza Fletcher's death reminiscent of brutally killed Tennessee jogger
MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE: Police sources have confirmed that a body found in the search for Eliza Fletcher is indeed that of the missing mother-of-two. The tragic discovery is reminiscent of the July 1985 slaying of 19-year-old Suzanne Marie Collins, who was abducted while she was jogging at the Naval Air Station Memphis in Millington.
Authorities are yet to confirm Fletcher's cause of death, but sources said they have identified the body to be that of the 34-year-old elementary school teacher; it was found seven miles from where she was last seen. Residents in the neighborhood expressed their horror after the body was found just hours before her suspected killer Cleotha Abston's court appearance in Memphis on Tuesday, September 6. The billionaire heiress was out for an early morning jog at around 4.30 am on Friday, September 2, when she went missing. Her disappearance sparked a four-day search effort that led officers to a number of wooded areas across Memphis. The body was found about a hundred yards from the Longview Gardens apartment complex where Abston's brother Mario lives.
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
Fletcher's death brought back memories of the brutal rape and murder of Collins, for which Sedley Alley was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death because of the horrific nature of the crime. Alley, a civilian who was married to an enlisted member of the military, was accused of abducting Collins while she was jogging at the Naval Air Station Memphis in Millington where they both had been stationed, and beating, torturing, raping, and murdering her. He is said to have then ditched her body at the nearby Edmund Orgill Park and fled the scene. An autopsy found her skull had been fractured, and that a tree limb had been repeatedly shoved up her vagina with such force that it had penetrated her abdomen and torn one of her lungs. It ruled she had died from blunt force trauma to the head and internal hemorrhaging from the tree limb.
All the evidence seemingly pointed at just one culprit: Alley. Two marines jogging near where Collins was abducted had heard her scream and ran towards the sound, apparently catching a glimpse of Alley's car as it sped away. They reported the incident to base security, later identifying the car in the security office after it had been stopped by officers. Alley and his wife were brought in for questioning but later allowed to return to their on-base housing after security personnel were satisfied with their alibi. The two marines continued to dispute the couple's version of events, insisting that the distinct sounds made by the muffler on Alley's car matched the sounds they had heard prior to Collins' abduction. But because no one had reported Collins missing, nothing further was done.
However, when her body was discovered the next morning by sheriff's deputies, Alley was immediately arrested by the military police. He then voluntarily gave a statement to the police admitting to having killed Collins, though his recollection of how the murder went down was nowhere close to the truth. His version of events included mistakenly hitting her with his car, and mistakenly stabbing her with a screwdriver, both of which were proven false by the autopsy. He later claimed the confessions were coerced. During his trial, attempts to convince the jury he suffered from multiple personality disorder failed. A Shelby County judge also denied his request for state-funded DNA testing of physical samples, stating he hadn't shown "reasonable probability" that he wouldn't have been prosecuted if the tests had worked out in his favor.
In March 1987, Alley was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. He was also convicted of aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape, for which he received further consecutive forty-year sentences. Originally scheduled to die by electrocution in 1990, numerous appeals eventually saw the date pushed back to 2006 — the amount of time between the murder and his execution was longer even than the number of years Collins had been alive. He was executed via lethal injection at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville in June 2006.