The Investigators: Most kidnapping victims in Memphis know their abductors
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Eliza Fletcher seemed to be doing everything right the morning of Sept. 2. She went out for her daily run, logging miles long before her two young children woke, and before she headed to St. Mary’s where she taught junior kindergarten.
The 35-year-old was kidnapped near the University of Memphis. Three days later, her body was discovered behind an abandoned house in South Memphis.
Even though a suspect was arrested and charged in connection with her case, the senselessness and randomness of her attack has women asking themselves two months later if they are safe.
Becky Beloin is one of those women. She moved with her family from Arizona to Memphis in the spring and chose to live in Midtown because of all the activities it offers.
“Has your opinion changed at all?” Asked the Investigators.
“It definitely has made us question if this was the right move for us,” said Beloin.
According to data made available by the City of Memphis, there have been nearly 130 kidnappings reported so far this year, which equates to one kidnapping about every other day.
To put that number into context, the Action News 5 Investigators looked through more than 100 of the kidnapping reports, which have been filed since January, and created a database and map to find out who is being targeted and where.
What we found is that most kidnapping victims are at least familiar with the suspects; many are in intimate relationships. The blue dots on the map represent 75 incidents where the victims reported that they know the suspect – that an ex, partner or roommate was the person who kidnapped them.
“Intimate partners have an argument and then one of the intimate partners doesn’t let the other one go for some period of time,” District Attorney General Steve Mulroy told The Investigators.
We pointed out that most cases remain unsolved even when a suspect is named on the report.
“The problem you have is witness cooperation,” Mulroy said. “Some don’t want to be bothered or they don’t trust the criminal justice system. Some are afraid of retaliation and that is true for lots of cases, including kidnapping.”
Another issue that could be silencing victims is the cycle of abuse, according to Marquiepta Odom. Odom is the executive director of the YWCA, which shelters and aids domestic abuse survivors. Odom herself was in an abusive relationship for years.
“There are so many dynamics – from financial to them really being in love,” Odom listed as reasons why a victim wouldn’t want to press charges against their abuser. “Other times it’s manipulation, domination and control – that person really thinks no one else would care about them, no one else would ever love them.”
However, there are the cases that involve strangers. 33 such cases have been reported so far this year, represented by the red dots on the map. In most of these cases the motive is robbery. The victim is carjacked or forced into a vehicle and made to take out money at an ATM.
There are no real trends as for where these kidnappings take place. Many of them happened at individual residences or in parking lots.
The Action News 5 Investigators also found that in all but one case the victims survived. All but Eliza Fletcher.
Fletcher’s case is deeply tragic and rare – not only in the outcome but the demographics.
While most kidnapping victims are female, the majority are Black. Few, if any of those cases, garner the same police response Ms. Fletcher’s case did.
After a press conference in September, General Mulroy said he believes the same effort should be placed in locating all kidnapping victims.
The Investigators asked if he believes police and prosecution response to all kidnappings has been overhauled since Ms. Fletcher’s death.
“I need to think about it. I haven’t really gone back and checked with that specific question in mind,” he said. “I know this – that if you’ve got a situation in which you suspect where the suspect is still alive then I think that needs to be done with the same level of urgency whether the victim is Black or white, rich or poor, well-known or obscure. I would like to hope that that is in fact what we’ve been doing, that’s certainly my intent from the prosecution’s office.”
Mulroy has created a working group dedicated to analyzing racial disparities in the Shelby County Criminal Justice system, whose findings he hopes to use to repair broken trust in the system.
“That is the single most important thing we need in order to bend the curve on violent crime of all types,” said Mulroy.
Meanwhile, Memphians will have to work on building trust with each other. Beloin doesn’t know how long she’ll wait for that to happen.
“We’re definitely trying to figure out if we need to have an action plan,” she said. “Or if this is something telling us that maybe Memphis isn’t the right place for us.”
We wanted to sit down with Memphis Police for this story but our multiple requests for an interview were ignored and finally denied.
To see a breakdown of each kidnapping, click here.
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