Authorities say the 27-year-old son of a priest confessed to attacking Suzanne Eaton and leaving her in an abandoned World War II bunker on Crete.
An American scientist found dead in a bunker on Crete used by the Nazis during World War II was choked to death by a man—the son of a priest– who raped her after mowing her down with his car, Greek police said Tuesday.
The grisly details in the death of Suzanne Eaton, a 59-year-old molecular biologist at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, emerged as police said a 27-year-old man from Crete had confessed to the murder. The case has generated international headlines.
“The suspect reported that on July 2, 2019 … motivated by the intention to commit sexual assault, he hit her twice with his car to stop her,” Police Major Eleni Papathanasiou, a spokeswoman for the Crete Police, said.
GREEK MAN DETAINED IN US SCIENTIST’S MURDER IN NAZI BUNKER ON CRETE
“According to his claims, he placed the victim, unconscious, in the trunk of his car and transfer[ed] her to a ventilation drain in the wartime storage (tunnel), where after raping her, abandoned her there,” she said.
Papathanasiou said the accused, who was not identified in accordance to Greek law, then covered the World War II-era bunker with a wood palette and then drove his car to a nearby graveyard where he cleaned the trunk of blood.
Greek police said Eaton was attacked after going out for a daily walk in Chania where she was staying. The suspect spotted her as he drove past her on the road.
US SCIENTIST WAS SUFFOCATED IN GREECE, BODY FOUND COVERED WITH BURLAP IN NAZI-ERA BUNKER
The autopsy showed Eaton died of asphyxiation and had “many broken ribs, and facial bones, and multiple injuries to both hands,” Papathanasiou said.
The Greek Reporter said the suspect was a married martial arts enthusiast with two children and that his father was a priest.
The man once uploaded videos showing his exploration of the Nazi bunker where Eaton’s body was found, according to the news outlet.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Man arrested in murder of American biologist in Greece as grisly new details emerge (a more in dept report)
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.(MORE: Crucial piece of evidence may identify killer of American professor murdered in Greece, police source says)
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.
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.(MORE: American scientist murdered in Crete fought for her life, police say)
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.
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.(MORE: American scientist Suzanne Eaton died of asphyxiation in Greece, authorities say)
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.”
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
Why Was an American Scientist Murdered in a Nazi Bunker?
The tortured corpse of a 59-year-old American superstar scientist was found wrapped in burlap inside a secret Nazi bunker on the island of Crete, Greece. Police want to know why.
Suzanne Eaton was, by every standard, an accomplished woman. The 59-year-old molecular biologist from Oakland, California, held a black belt in Taekwondo and was a globetrotting speaker on the international science circuit. She was married to a British scientist with whom she had two children, and she was an avid runner, racking up several miles on her daily 30-minute run.
Eaton, who worked as a research leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, was last seen playing piano at the Orthodox Academy of Crete, in Kolymbari, on July 2, where she was attending a conference.
Her family and friends assumed that she had gone for a run and perhaps passed out in the stifling heat wave or fallen on rough terrain during her workout. Her passport, money, phone, cycling shoes, and laptop were all found in her hotel room, they say. All that was missing were her running shoes.
Her relatives and friends raised nearly $50,000 to aid the search through an online campaign. Then, on July 9, her body was found by two local residents exploring a World War II-era Nazi bunker about seven miles from where Eaton had been staying.
Her body, which was wrapped in burlap, showed signs of torture, including stab wounds, but her official cause of death, according to the coroner, was asphyxiation. The coroner said she likely suffered a “slow and painful death.”
There was no immediate sign of sexual violence, according to investigators, who said she was still dressed when she was found. A full autopsy is under way. Her body was in such an advanced state of decomposition after a week in the extreme heat that dental records had to be used for a positive identification.
On Friday, Crete’s police spokesperson Eleni Papathanasiou confirmed to The Daily Beast that they were questioning several suspects, including some with neo-Nazi ties, who may know something about what happened to Eaton.
Papathanasiou also said they were looking into whether the location of her body inside a labyrinth of tunnels dug out by Nazis occupying Crete during World War II was connected to the murder. “It is of course part of the investigation,” Papathanasiou told The Daily Beast. “It is a curious place to leave a body, especially when the victim was living and working in Germany.”
Police are also taking into consideration how a woman as fit as Eaton who held a black belt in Taekwondo could be overcome. “The perpetrator or perpetrators may have suffered defensive wounds, and we are looking at that as well.”
Crete has long been a magnet for neo-Nazi sympathizers who regularly treasure hunt in bunkers like the one where Eaton was found, searching for World War II relics. Several collectors have unofficial museums in small villages where their Nazi regalia is on display.
Crete was also a recent base for several leaders of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party who had chosen the Greek island for its historical ties to Nazi occupation. In 2018, an anti-Fascist group was able to raid the Golden Dawn headquarters in the capital Heraklion, which sent the group underground.
Konstantinos Beblidakis, the vice mayor of the local Platanias municipality, said the area where Eaton was found was accessible by various back roads but there were no surveillance cameras despite the fact that the area above the bunkers was a popular hiking area for tourists.
He said that most people, except those who are well versed in the island’s Nazi past, would not have known about the bunker, which was not open to the public or marked in any way. It is as yet unclear how the two local residents found her or just why they were inside the secret bunker.
Eaton’s university-age son, Max, praised his mother in a statement. “She managed to live a life with few regrets, balancing out her personal life with her career,” he said. “I think the fact that I did not realize how well she had managed to do so was evident [by the fact] that other mothers around me had taken to caring for their children full time, yet mine was never outdone by any of them.”