(ATHENS, Greece) — Police in Greece are questioning a suspect — the son of a priest — 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 man from Kissamos, a town about 20 miles away from the port city of Chania, where U.S. citizen Suzanne Eaton was staying on the island, according to Eleni Papathanassiou, a spokeswoman for Crete’s police department. The man was detained on Monday, just days after police obtained DNA evidence from nearly a dozen people who live nearby.
Papathanassiou told ABC News that the suspect, whose father is a priest, lives with his wife and two small children in the village of Maleme, 10 miles from Chania. He remained in police custody Tuesday morning but had not yet been charged, Papathanassiou said.
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.
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 by 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.”
Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.