Eliza Fletcher suspect Cleotha Abston’s teenage rape conviction revealed as he is held without bond for murder

The 38-year-old appeared in court on Wednesday morning for his arraignment on murder charges in the abduction and death of the 34-year-old kindergarten teacher

Rachel Sharp
Wednesday 07 September 2022 17:17 BST
Man appears in court charged with murder of heiress Eliza Fletcher

Cleotha Abston Henderson was convicted of raping a man when he was a teenager – almost three decades before he allegedly kidnapped and murdered Memphis business heiress Eliza Fletcher.

Abston Henderson, now 38, was just 14 years old when he committed a juvenile delinquent act of rape against an unnamed male, according to court documents.

The charge was sustained and the teenager was placed in the custody of Shelby County’s Youth Services Bureau.

The conviction came to light as Abston Henderson was ordered to be held without bond as he appeared in court charged with the murder of the 34-year-old kindergarten teacher and mother-of-two.

The 38-year-old was arraigned on Wednesday morning on charges of first-degree murder and first-degree murder in perpetration of kidnapping.

He is accused of violently abducting Ms Fletcher while she was out for a run on Friday morning, murdering her and dumping her body behind an abandoned home in south Memphis.

The judge ordered the accused killer to be held without bond pending a bond hearing on Thursday.

Abston Henderson was previously being held on $510,000 bond – $500,000 on charges of especially aggravated kidnapping and tampering with evidence in Ms Fletcher’s case and $10,000 for an unrelated theft case – before he was slapped with the murder charges on Tuesday.

The judge also clarified that would now be referred to with the last name Abston Henderson, at his request.

The suspect has a long juvenile rap sheet and had only been out of prison less than two years after being convicted of carrying out a 2000 kidnapping of a Memphis attorney.

Court records reveal that Abston Henderson was a member of the the “LMG” gang – “Lemoyne Gardens Gangstas” – and spent his youth in and out of the Shelby County juvenile system.

He was first brought before Shelby County Juvenile Court on theft charges at the age of 11.

Cleotha Abston appears for his arraignment on Tuesday morning (AP)

For the next five years between October 1995 and May 2000, he was detained another 16 times on charges including rape, aggravated assault and unlawful possession of a weapon.

The teenager had been released from the juvenile system just two weeks when, aged 16, he kidnapped local attorney Kemper Durand at gunpoint.

In an eerily similar situation to the kidnapping of Ms Fletcher, Abston Henderson bundled Mr Durand into his vehicle in an early morning attack.

On 24 May 2000, at around 2am, Abston Henderson and an accomplice approached Mr Durand in his vehicle, got out and forced the attorney into the trunk of his own car. They then drove the victim around for several hours before taking him to an ATM where they robbed him.

The victim was saved when he spotted an armed guard and shouted for help, prompting his attackers to flee.

Mr Durand said in a victim impact statement that he believed that Abston Henderson would have killed him if he hadn’t managed to escape.

Abston Henderson pleaded guilty in 2001 to especially aggravated kidnapping and was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

Eliza Fletcher, who was abducted and murdered while jogging in Memphis on Friday, with husband Richard Fletcher (Eliza Fletcher / Instagram)

He was released after serving 19 years in November 2020 – less than two years before he allegedly kidnapped and murdered Ms Fletcher.

The 34-year-old granddaughter of the founder of the Orgill hardware company empire was out on her regular early morning jog near the University of Memphis campus on Friday when she was snatched.

At around 4.20am, surveillance footage captured a black 2013 GMC Terrain SUV driving past her as she ran through the area.

The SUV pulled up and a man was seen getting out of it, before he “ran aggressively” toward the jogger.

A violent struggle broke out and the man forced Ms Fletcher into the passenger side of the vehicle.

The car then remained stationary in a parking lot with the two inside for around four minutes before driving off, police said the footage shows.

The same SUV was spotted on surveillance footage stalking the area where Ms Fletcher was taken just 24 minutes earlier.

Ms Fletcher was reported missing by her husband three hours later when she failed to return home from her run.

The jogger’s cellphone and water bottle were discovered at the site of her abduction. A pair of Champion slides – believed to belong to Abston Henderson – were also found on the scene.

Cleotha Abston pictured in his booking photo (Shelby County Sheriff's Office via AP)

Ms Fletcher’s body was found on Monday afternoon in long grass behind a vacant apartment in south Memphis. Her purple Lululemon running shorts were discovered in a trash bag nearby.

Her cause of death remains unknown.

The dump site is less than a mile from the home of Abston Henderson’s brother.

Chilling surveillance footage captured the suspect, who served 19 years for a separate kidnapping, cleaning the inside of his vehicle at around 8am on Friday – less than four hours after he allegedly attacked the kindergarten teacher.

Multiple witnesses also spotted him cleaning the vehicle and washing his clothes in the sink of the home in the hours after Ms Fletcher’s abduction, according to the affidavit.

His vehicle was also captured on several surveillance cameras driving towards the dump site around an hour after the abduction, the affidavit says. The car turned onto the street where Ms Fletcher’s body was found at around 5.52am on Friday morning.

The net closed in on Abston Henderson when investigators found DNA on the slides matched that of the 38-year-old, according to the affidavit.

Grainy video footage shows Cleotha Abston cleaning an SUV that police say was used in the abduction and murder of Eliza Fletcher (WREG / Screenshot)

Surveillance footage also appeared to show the suspect wearing the same shoes days earlier and cellphone data also placed him at the scene of the abduction, the affidavit said.

On Saturday, US Marshals then found an SUV with the same damaged taillight and partial licence plate identification seen in the surveillance footage in a parking lot close to Abston Henderson’s brother’s home, according to an affidavit.

When officers found Abston Henderson nearby, he tried to flee, but he was arrested on the scene – around 24 hours on from the teacher’s abduction.

According to the affidavit, a witness and the suspect’s brother Mario Abston spotted Abston Henderson cleaning the inside of his car and washing his clothes in the sink in the hours after the abduction took place. The witness also said they saw him behaving oddly at the house.

Even after the clean, authorities were able to recover evidence including blood from inside the vehicle, which led them to believe Ms Fletcher had suffered a “serious injury”.

However, Abston Henderson refused to cooperate with the police investigation or give up Ms Fletcher’s whereabouts, according to the affidavit.

No motive has been given with officials saying they believe it was “an isolated attack by a stranger”.

Abston Henderson is also charged with three counts of theft after he allegedly used another woman’s Cash App card and Wisely Card at gas stations one day before the attack on the kindergarten teacher.

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