Eliza Fletcher embodied the small-town girl: genuine, athletic, amiable, and a nature lover. On September 2nd, Eliza was brutally murdered, leading to the arrest of Cleothea Abston, a man with five full consecutive years of crimes in his background. To make things more complicated, Eliza Fletcher was the granddaughter of a successful, wealthy businessman who worked for Orgill Inc., the 143rd largest private company in the country. Given Fletcher’s background, the media was quick to seize upon her case.
Fletcher was known for being extremely athletic, so much so that at 4:20 am on September 2nd, 2022, the last ever surveillance camera footage of her alive showed her jogging towards the University of Memphis. 2 hours later, a man located Fletcher’s ruined cellphone as well as a Champion sandal. Police were on the scene with the FBI an hour later, and law enforcement placed an official watch around 9 am.
The following afternoon, police announced they had found the SUV associated with Fletcher’s disappearance after receiving a tip from Abston’s neighbor. Not even ten minutes later, Fletcher’s family releases a $50,000 reward for any news on her disappearance. The TBI (Tennessee Bureau of Investigation) pulled Cleotha Abston’s DNA off the sandal and pulled surveillance footage of him wearing it days prior. Abston, now 38, faced his first criminal charge at the age of 11, and has since accumulated a total of 5 aggravated assault charges, 7 theft cases, a rape charge at 14, and kidnapping with the use of a weapon at 16. He served 20 of his 24-year sentence on the kidnapping charge and was released in 2020.
On September 4th, Abston was charged with the murder and kidnapping of Fletcher, yet refused to name her location. However, on September 5th, officers reported an odor of decay after noticing and following tire tracks. They then discovered Fletcher’s purple running shorts in a trash bag and an unidentified body next to the steps of an abandoned home near where Abston was spotted cleaning the SUV mentioned previously.
Finally, on September 6th, the family and the world gained closure after the body was discovered to be Eliza Fletcher.
Why Was This Case so Popular?
This case made almost every news outlet around the nation, but why? A homicide case in a small town would not typically become national news. The perception of drama and the roles to be filled in the crime, however, motivated national interest. Fletcher was an elementary school teacher and lived a quiet life in Tennessee, and Abston was the classic criminal who was in and out of jail his whole life. However, when researching this case, the headlines only read, “Billionaire granddaughter murdered” or “Police dropped the ball in 2021”. No matter what, every news outlet felt the need to include her family’s wealth, even though she personally was nowhere near rich. With the reward money being considerable, many witnesses came forward within hours of her disappearance and minutes of the reward’s posting. All of this adds to the notion that cases involving people of wealth or status get solved quickly and with more care. In addition, the media was furious with Tennessee law enforcement after not further investigating Abston in 2021 for attempted rape, which could have prevented the murder from occurring in the first place. The victim of that case made a statement saying evidence pointed to Abston, yet it wasn’t adequately investigated after he pleaded not guilty. Every day, hundreds of murders, just like this one, fail to make it into the media. Further, hundreds of murders occur just like this but fail to make it to the investigation stage. Did Eliza Fletcher get justice in 4 days because of circumstance and resources, or did she get justice because of her family’s wealth?
As of this writing, the judge has revoked the bond for Cleothea Abston, and he is currently awaiting trial.