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Man arrested in murder of American biologist in Greece as new details emerge

Istimages/iStock
Istimages/iStock

(ATHENS, Greece) — Greek police have arrested a suspect in the murder of an American scientist who was found dead in an abandoned World War II bunker on the island of Crete last week.

The unnamed suspect is a 27-year-old Greek man who was brought in for questioning Monday and was later arrested after he “confessed his crime,” according to Maj. Gen. Constantinos Lagoudakis, director of Police General Directorate of Crete.

“He admitted his guilt and today he will be brought to justice,” Lagoudakis said in a statement Tuesday.

The suspect claimed that he spotted Eaton during the afternoon of July 2 and, “motivated by sexual satisfaction,” hit her twice with his car to stop her, according to Eleni Papathanassiou, a spokeswoman for Crete’s police department.

The suspect claimed he put Eaton, who was apparently unconscious, in the trunk of his vehicle and drove to a shelter’s ventilation drain, where he raped her and abandoned her there, according to Papathanassiou. He then blocked the entrance to the drain with a wooden palette and drove to a nearby graveyard where he “carefully cleaned” the trunk of his car, Papathanassiou said in a statement.

Papathanassiou told ABC News that the suspect is from the town of Kissamos, about 20 miles from the port city of Chania where Suzanne Eaton was staying. The suspect, whose father is a priest, lives with his wife and two small children in the village of Maleme, some 10 miles from Chania, according to Papathanassiou.

The man was detained just days after police obtained DNA evidence from nearly a dozen people who live nearby.

“Following the criminal proceedings, the perpetrator has been led to the District Prosecutor’s Office, while awaiting the results of the forensic, clinical and toxicological results of the examinations,” Papathanassiou said in a statement Tuesday.

A high-level police source who spoke to ABC News on the condition of anonymity said a security camera in the area where Eaton’s body was found captured images of the suspect’s vehicle, a key piece of evidence that ultimately led police to him.

The suspect initially told police he had not been in the area for over a month but eventually broke down during the interrogation and confessed, the source told ABC News. The man claimed he committed the murder and intentionally hit Eaton with his car, the source said.

Eaton, a 59-year-old molecular biologist and mother of two, was attending a conference in northwest Crete when she vanished on July 2. Eaton’s running shoes were missing from her hotel room while all her other belongings remained there, leading her family and colleagues to believe she may have gone for a run.

Greek authorities, joined by volunteers and Eaton’s loved ones, launched a large-scale search for her in the area, using dogs and helicopters. Her body was found on July 8 in the cave-like bunker, built by Nazis after they occupied Crete in 1941. Her cause of death was ruled a murder by asphyxiation, police said.

Eaton’s body showed signs of “a violent criminal act and possibly sexual abuse,” according to Lagoudakis.

She had “many broken ribs and face bones as well as multiple injuries to both hands,” Papathanassiou said in her statement Tuesday.

Greek state coroner Antonis Papadomanolakis, who examined the body, told Greece’s ANT1 News that “something complicated happened” during Eaton’s death, stating that it was “not immediate” and “there was duration involved.”

A police source told ABC News that Eaton fought for her life when she was attacked with someone with a knife. Her body had substantial injuries from a blade that was “defensive” in nature, the source said.

Investigators searched for men with muscular builds and the ability to overpower Eaton, who was an avid runner and had a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. They also requested data records from local mobile phone companies in hopes that they may identify the person or people who left Eaton’s body in the bunker.

Police sources told ABC News they have discovered traces of blood at the site where they believe Eaton was killed. The site is about one mile from the Orthodox Academy of Crete in the village of Platanias, where Eaton was attending the conference.

Eaton, a native of Oakland, California, is survived by her husband and two sons. Her remains will be returned to the United States for burial.

Eaton was a research group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany. She was also a professor at the Biotechnology Center of the Technical University of Dresden in Germany, known as TU Dresden. Her colleagues there described her as “an outstanding and inspiring scientist, a loving spouse and mother, an athlete as well as a truly wonderful person beloved to us all.”

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