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Police identify man who they say raped, killed a U.S. scientist — then left her body in a cave

Police in Greece said a man confessed to killing American biologist Suzanne Eaton, who went missing on July 2 and was later found dead on the island of Crete. (Video: Reuters)

A 27-year-old man has confessed to raping and killing a U.S. scientist who was in Crete for a conference, Greek authorities said.

The alleged confession came Monday, 11 days after 59-year-old Suzanne Eaton was reported missing on July 4 by the conference organizer — the same day the biologist was expected to present her research to colleagues. Two amateur explorers found Eaton’s body July 8, almost 200 feet into a cave used as a shelter during World War II, according to police.

Authorities identified the suspect on Thursday.

Confronted with evidence, Crete resident Yiannis Paraskakis told authorities he hit Eaton twice with his car, and took her, unconscious, in his trunk to the abandoned shelter. He left her there after raping her, Crete police say. Paraskakis, who is from the town of Chania where Eaton went missing, has since been charged with murder and rape.

Prosecutors have ordered the release of Paraskakis’ identity in the interest of public safety and an investigation into other crimes the man may have committed, police said Thursday in a press release.

Eaton died July 2 from suffocation, based on forensic evidence and an autopsy, police said. She was discovered with injuries on both hands as well as broken ribs and facial bones.

The mother of two hailed from Oakland, Calif., but worked in Germany. She led a research group at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden and was a professor at Technische Universität Dresden.

“We are devastated by this senseless tragedy,” the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics — where Eaton’s husband is also a researcher — said in a statement last week.

Eaton was in Crete for the fourth time, at an international gathering of scientists at the Greek island’s Orthodox Academy, according to police. She left her room midday for her daily walk, leaving her cellphone and personal items behind.

Paraskakis told authorities that he abducted Eaton — “motivated by sexual satisfaction,” Crete Police Maj. Eleni Papathanasiou said in a Tuesday news conference — at about noon that day as she walked toward a monument called the Evelpidon in the north of the island.

The man said he brought Eaton to a ventilation drain in the abandoned shelter and left her body there, blocking the opening with a wooden palette. Next to a graveyard, he cleaned his car of potential evidence, police said.

Authorities said they have collected blood samples and confiscated the car, along with clothes and a button from the suspect. Paraskakis has been brought to the District Prosecutor’s Office as forensic, clinical and toxicological examinations are pending.

Police began searching “immediately” after Eaton was reported missing, Crete Police Director Constantinos Lagoudakis told the media. An alert went out with Eaton’s information and picture, and volunteers joined government agencies to look for the missing woman.

Eaton’s husband and sons went to Crete to help, a cousin told the Associated Press. Family members created a Facebook page to publicize the search.

The two people who ultimately found Eaton were part of that growing effort, CBS News reported.

After Eaton’s body was found in the cave, he said, authorities surmised from its positioning and from wheel tracks leading up to the shelter’s drain that the woman had been brought there. The body showed signs of a violent attack and potential sexual abuse.

CCTV footage, witness interviews and the autopsy led police to identify suspects and eventually zero in on the Paraskakis.

Authorities are investigating at least seven other attacks on pedestrians reportedly involving a car similar to the one that struck Eaton, according to Greece’s state-owned broadcaster, Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation.

Women in two of the previous cases reported to police, but the cases were closed, the broadcaster said. Paraskakis has been arrested before for arson and has harmed and killed animals, the news outlet added, though the site does not provide more details.

As police investigated, those who knew Eaton mourned an accomplished researcher and a beloved friend, co-worker and family member in more than two dozen tributes compiled by the Max Planck Institute. The Institute will probably publish a more in-depth obituary in the coming days, spokeswoman Christina Beck told The Washington Post.

A public service will be held Tuesday in Dresden, Eaton’s niece Callie Broaddus told The Post.

Co-— workers at Eaton’s lab wrote in their tribute of their colleague’s love for “the big, hard questions in science,” recalling her lengthy, interdisciplinary papers.

Family members, too, spoke of her curiosity.

Eaton’s mother remembered a daughter interested in everything around her, from the day she was born, a baby “not drowsy and sleepy but with her head up, her eyes alert.” And Eaton’s son Max said his mother was “always armed with a question.”

Eaton “would show interest in any topic broached,” he wrote. “Many a time I discussed topics with her that [I] had studied at university, and within a week, she would be as well versed in that topic as any of my professors.”

Family members remembered not just a scientist but also a talented pianist who played duets with her husband, an enthusiastic gardener and a black belt in taekwondo. They memorialized her as a fast finisher of crossword puzzles and an avid reader.

The tributes focus on who Eaton was rather than the tragic circumstances of her death.

“I have made a conscious decision not to allow those facts to haunt my memory,” the tribute from Eaton’s unnamed sister reads. “My memory will be one of pure joy and gratitude, of love and admiration for an arm in arm sister, a closest confidant, a strong, kind, brilliant, selfless human being who made indelible contributions to science and added immeasurable beauty to our lives.”