Body believed to be American scientist died in Greece by 'criminal act,' coroner says

A body of a woman found in an abandoned World War II bunker believed to an American scientist who went missing last week while attending a conference in Greece died of a "criminal act," a coroner said Wednesday.

Suzanne Eaton, a 59-year-old molecular biologist at the Max Planck Institute in Dresden, Germany, was last seen on July 2 near the port of Chania on the Greek island of Crete. Colleagues at the conference had told authorities they believed she had gone for a run in the area.

Greek police discovered her body Monday night, according to the institute.

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State coroner Antonis Papadomanolakis told The Associated Press that final confirmation is needed to identify the body, but it was likely Eaton.

In this undated photo provided by her family, showing Suzanne Eaton, a 59-year-old molecular biologist.

In this undated photo provided by her family, showing Suzanne Eaton, a 59-year-old molecular biologist. (AP Photo)

"The only thing we can say is that the (death) resulted from a criminal act," the coroner told the AP. "We can't give out any other details because there is an ongoing police investigation."

An examination of the remains by two local coroners indicated that she had had her mouth and nose blocked, but officials have yet to rule if her death was the result of suffocation, Greek news outlet Ekathimerini reported.

The body was discovered inside a cave that was also used as a bunker near the settlement of Xamoudochori, located about 6 miles from the place were Eaton was last seen.

Suzanne Eaton, seen in this undated photo, was reported missing on July 2.

Suzanne Eaton, seen in this undated photo, was reported missing on July 2. (Biotechnology Center of the TU Dresden)

"We showed respect for her remains which were found in a tunnel," Fire Service rescue team leader Nikolaos Papaleonidas said. "The recovery operation was not difficult but it followed an extensive search effort. The tunnel was about 100 meters (328 feet) from a rural road."

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Papadomanolakis told the AP he believed the woman died around the time she was last seen, on July 2.

Officials are not yet sure if the crime was committed at the scene, or if the 59-year-old was killed elsewhere and disposed of in the cave, Ekathimerini reported.

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Eaton, who worked at the Max Planck Institute in Dresden, Germany, had been attending a conference in Crete.

The institute called her death a "tragic demise."

"We are deeply shocked and disturbed by this tragic event," a statement read. "Suzanne was an outstanding and inspiring scientist, a loving spouse and mother, an athlete as well as a truly wonderful person beloved to us all. Her loss is unbearable."

The police said officers from Athens including homicide detectives had traveled to the island to head the investigation. Authorities had launched a major search for Eaton in rural areas near Chania, helped by members of her family and fire service rescuers from Athens.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.