American scientist's grisly death in Greece after going missing on run

A man has been charged with murder and rape after the death of an American scientist whose body was found in a wartime tunnel in Greece.

Suzanne Eaton, 59, went missing on July 2 while attending a scientific conference in Crete. Relatives said she had gone for a hike.

Her body was found six days later after an extensive search.

A 27-year-old Greek man from the island confessed to the “violent criminal act”, telling investigators he struck Dr Eaton with his car and abducted her “motivated by the intention to commit sexual assault”, Crete police spokeswoman Eleni Papathanasiou said.

The suspect remains in police custody and will appear in court before being placed in pre-trial detention, court officials said.

Suzanne Eaton, a 59-year-old molecular biologist, died on the Greek island of Crete. Source: AAP

A second man has been detained for questioning over suspicion of being an alleged accomplice, according to The Independent.

Neither have been publicly named in accordance with Greek law.

Ms Papathanasiou said a coroner determined Dr Eaton had “many broken ribs and facial bones, and multiple injuries to both hands” and died from asphyxiation on the day of her disappearance.

The suspect said he hit Dr Eaton twice with his car to stop her, the police spokeswoman said.

“According to his claims, he placed the victim, unconscious, in the trunk of his car and transferred her to a ventilation drain in the wartime storage (tunnel), where after raping her, abandoned her there.”

The tunnel was used as a storage site during World War II.

Crete Police chief Lt Gen Constantine Lagoudakis told reporters the investigation had been helped by video footage from closed-circuit cameras and questioning people in the area.

“A particularly important element of our investigation was the discovery of recent tyre tracks near the (tunnel).

Police said her death was the result of a criminal act. Source: AAP

“This, in conjunction with the position of the body when it was found, suggested that it had been transferred to the site,” Lt Lagoudakis said.

Dr Eaton, from Armonk, New York, was based in Dresden, Germany, where she worked as a molecular biologist at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics.

She was a research group leader at Dresden University’s Max Planck Institute, where she was described as “a leading scientist in her field, a strong athlete, runner and senior black belt in Tae Kwon Do”.

In messages on the Institute's website, her brother, Rob Eaton, described his sister as kind and intelligent.

"I have lost a sister. The world has lost more than it will ever know," he wrote.

"I will miss our animated conversations. I would always walk away with a head full of new ideas and enthusiasm. Most of all I will miss the kindest, wisest person I will probably ever know."

She was married to British scientist Tony Hyman, and had two sons named Max and Luke.

Police said she was visiting the island for a fourth time.

- With AP.

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