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

Suzanne Eaton, 59, was found dead in an abandoned World War II bunker on Crete.

July 16, 2019, 10:28 AM

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 U.S. citizen Suzanne Eaton walking toward the Evelpidon monument 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 the bunker's ventilation drain, where he raped her and abandoned her there, Papathanassiou said. 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, according to Papathanassiou.

"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.

Papathanassiou told ABC News that the suspect is from the town of Kissamos, about 20 miles from the port city of Chania where Eaton was staying on Crete. 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 arrested just days after police obtained DNA evidence from nearly a dozen people who live nearby.

Molecular biologist Suzanne Eaton in a photo provided by her family.

Eaton, a 59-year-old molecular biologist and mother of two, was attending a scientific conference held at the Orthodox Academy of Crete in northwest Crete when she vanished on July 2. It was that afternoon that Eaton went back to her hostel room after lunch, changed into athletic attire and went out for her daily walk, leaving behind her mobile phone and other personal belongings, police said. She never returned.

An organizer of the conference reported Eaton missing to local police on July 4, when she was expected to present findings from her research. 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.

An autopsy determined that Eaton died at noon on July 2. Her body showed signs of "a violent criminal act and possibly sexual abuse," Lagoudakis said in his statement Tuesday. She had many broken ribs and face bones as well as multiple injuries to both hands, according to Papathanassiou's statement.

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

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."

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, according to police sources.

Old Harbor reflects in water, Chania, Crete, Greece
Danita Delimont/Getty Images/Gallo Images

Authorities identified car tracks leading to the bunker's drain, which Lagoudakis said was "critical" evidence that directed the investigation.

"This fact, in combination with the position of the body in the area, strongly supported the argument that the victim was transferred to this location," Lagoudakis said in his statement Tuesday.

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

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, another key piece of evidence that ultimately led police to arrest 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.

Lagoudakis said the suspect "provided too many conflicting answers" but, "under the light of the collected evidence," he "confessed his crime."

Molecular biologist Suzanne Eaton in a photo provided by her family.

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.

"We have come to know Suzanne as a lively and committed woman who made a decisive contribution to the development of our institute. Her sudden and untimely death is devastating for us all," Michael Schroeder, director of the TU Dresden Biotechnology Center, said in a statement last week. "We will remember Suzanne as a remarkable person. We are profoundly saddened and speechless."

She was also a professor at the Biotechnology Center of the Technical University of Dresden in Germany, known as TU Dresden.

"We were shocked to learn of the death of our dear colleague and friend, Prof. Suzanne Eaton," Hans Muller-Steinhagen, rector of the TU Dresden, said in a statement last week. "We have lost an immensely renowned scientist and a truly outstanding human being."

ABC News' Daphne Tolis contributed to this report