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Body identified as Tennessee teacher abducted while jogging; suspect charged with murder

The body of a Tennessee teacher who authorities say was abducted while jogging was found Monday after a search that spanned multiple days, police said Tuesday morning.

Memphis police announced a body found in South Memphis was identified as Eliza "Liza" Fletcher, a 34-year-old woman who police say was abducted Friday.

The identification comes on the heels of the arrest of Cleotha Abston, 38, who was initially charged Sunday with especially aggravated kidnapping in connection to Fletcher's disappearance. Abston faces additional charges of first degree murder and first degree murder in perpetration of kidnapping, the Memphis Police Department announced Tuesday.

Abston's arrest on Sunday came after the Memphis Police Department police said DNA found on a pair of Champion brand slides found in the street linked him to her.

Here's what we know so far about the case:

Previously reported:Man charged with kidnapping in disappearance of Memphis jogger Eliza Fletcher

Memphis police officers search an area where a body had been found in South Memphis, Tenn., near Victor Street and East Person Ave., Monday, Sept. 5, 2022. Police have not confirmed the identity of the body and the cause of death was unconfirmed. (Mark Weber/Daily Memphian via AP)

What's the latest in the case?

Police on Monday announced they'd found a body found near the area where Fletcher disappeared. Tuesday, police announced the body was identified as Fletcher's.

Officers discovered the body at about 5 p.m. in a residential area roughly five miles from the University of Memphis campus, where Fletcher was taken.

Who is Eliza Fletcher?

Fletcher's abduction last week set off a large-scale search involving local, state and federal authorities.

Fletcher was mother of two and teacher at St. Mary's Episcopal School in Memphis.

She was also the granddaughter of the late Joseph Orgill III, a noted philanthropist who helped run the family-owned Memphis-based hardware supply firm Orgill Inc.

Eliza Fletcher, a 34-year-old Memphis kindergarten teacher, was abducted while she was out jogging last week.

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When did Fletcher disappear?

Friday, the woman's husband, Richard Fletcher, notified police his wife had not returned from her run by 7 a.m., and a man on a bike, who was riding the same route Fletcher was running, found Eliza Fletcher's cellphone and a pair of Champion brand slides in the street.

Police reviewed surveillance footage from the nearby Earthquake Research and Information Center on the University of Memphis campus and said video showed a black GMC Terrain passing by and then waiting for Fletcher to run past. 

"A male exited the black GMC Terrain, ran aggressively toward the victim, and then forced the victim Eliza Fletcher into the passenger's side of the vehicle," the affidavit read. "During this abduction, there appeared to be a struggle."

Police say the SUV was parked for about four minutes before the vehicle drove away.

After reviewing footage, investigators said that about 24 minutes before the abduction, surveillance footage captured the same vehicle in the area. Police said they believe Fletcher suffered serious injury based on the violence of the abduction.

Memphis police officers search an area where a body had been found in South Memphis, Tenn., near Victor Street and East Person Ave., Monday, Sept. 5, 2022. Police have not confirmed the identity of the body and the cause of death was unconfirmed. (Mark Weber/Daily Memphian via AP)

Who is Cleotha Abston?

The slides were sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for DNA testing, which later was found to match Abston in a national DNA database from a previous conviction.

Abston was released from prison in November 2020 after serving two decades for kidnapping. In that case, he kidnapped a Memphis lawyer, who spent time working for the Innocence Project. Abston was sentenced to 24 years in that case.

Police said detectives began looking into what Abston had been doing in the days prior and after Fletcher's disappearance found footage of him wearing the same slides at the a Memphis cinema on Thursday.

During the investigation, police also found that the Terrain was registered to a woman, who is not being named as she has not been charged with a crime.

Police questioned the owner of Majesty's Cleaning Service, where Abston worked, and she verified he drove the Terrain and also provided investigators with his cellphone number. That number was used to determine where Abston was at the time of Fletcher's abduction, confirming he was in the area at the time.

What led to Abston's arrest?

Saturday, U.S. Marshals found the vehicle parked at the address listed on an incident report from Thursday. Along with confirming the car from the license plate, surveillance footage also showed the car to have "noticeable damage" to the rear passenger-side taillight, which was also visible to Marshals at the apartment complex.

When law enforcement officials tried to arrest Abston, who was in the Terrain at the time, they say he attempted to drive away but ended up being taken into custody.

Another woman interviewed by police said she saw Abston outside the home of his brother, Mario Abston. She told investigators Cleotha Abston did not live there, but "she saw Cleotha Abston cleaning the interior of the GMC Terrain with floor cleaner and stated that he was behaving oddly."

The woman and Abston's brother both told investigators they saw Abston cleaning his clothes in the house sink.

Mario Abston was also arrested Sunday on unrelated drug charges but has not been charged in relation to Fletcher's disappearance. Police said he is not believed to be involved with Fletcher's abduction.

Contributing: Lucas Finton and Astrid Kayembe, The Commercial Appeal

Natalie Neysa Alund covers trending news for USA TODAY. Reach her at nalund@usatoday.com and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.

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