MEMPHIS — A 34-year-old Tennessee teacher whose death after she disappeared while jogging drew national headlines died of a gunshot wound to the back of her head and blunt force trauma, autopsy results released this week show.
Eliza Fletcher, a runner and mother of two, was shot in the back-right side of her head , according to her autopsy report from the Shelby County Medical Examiner obtained by The Commercial Appeal, part of the USA TODAY Network.
According to the report, the bullet was not found, but a shell casing was.
Fletcher was abducted on the University of Memphis campus on Sept. 2 and her partially decomposed body was found near a vacant house in Memphis on Sept. 5.
Officials said she was found in tall grass at a vacant house in a residential area roughly five miles from the school’s campus.
The date and time of death was listed as the date and time she was found. The report does not say when or where Fletcher was killed.
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A rape kit was also taken during the autopsy, but the medical examiner found “no overt evidence” of injuries associated with sexual assault.
Fletcher also was found with two bruises on her right thigh, one was about a quarter-of-an-inch and the other was one-and-a-quarter inch large.
Cleotha Henderson, 38, was arrested two days prior to the remains being found. Henderson is charged with first-degree murder and especially aggravated kidnapping. Days after being arrested in connection to Fletcher’s abduction, Henderson was charged with rape in an investigation that started a year earlier.
Fletcher disappeared while jogging around the university campus about 4 a.m. The manhunt that ensued spanned the weekend and involved multiple agencies at the local and state level.
A school teacher, former University of Memphis soccer player, and granddaughter of the late Joseph Orgill III, Fletcher was a noted philanthropist who helped run the family-owned Memphis-based hardware supply firm Orgill Inc.
A felon, a manhunt and an arrest
Henderson spent 20 years in prison after being convicted of kidnapping of Memphis-based lawyer Kemper Durand and was released in 2020.
Henderson has since been charged and pleaded not guilty to charges of aggravated rape and kidnapping. Those charges stem from allegations that Henderson kidnapped and raped a woman on Sept. 21, 2021.
Henderson wasn’t charged in that case until September 2022 because the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said forensic scientists at the Jackson crime lab pulled a rape kit that was taken in 2021, and tested it June 24. The kit came back August 29 and a national DNA database hit for Henderson found its way back to TBI September 5.
That lag in testing the kit is the subject of a lawsuit brought by the woman who accused Henderson of rape. She’s suing the city of Memphis, saying investigators failed to collect and process evidence properly.
The delay in testing has also spurred questions about police handling of the case, drawing Mayor Jim Strickland to defend the department’s investigation of Fletcher’s disappearance.
Lucas Finton is a news reporter with The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached at Lucas.Finton@commercialappeal.com and followed on Twitter @LucasFinton. Katherine Burgess covers county government and religion. She can be reached at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @kathsburgess.