A young British mother has been strangled to death next to her baby after armed robbers broke into her house in Greece.
A Greek minister described the killing of the woman as “barbarity” that “rarely” occurs in the country.
Police said three thieves strangled the 20-year-old mother – who has a British passport – in front of her 11-month-old baby after breaking into her home in the suburbs of Athens and making off with cash and jewellery.
Caroline Crouch was tied up and strangled while her husband was bound and gagged as the intruders searched their property.
Constantine Hasiotis, chief of the homicide department, who is leading the investigation, said: “The robbers were armed and they threatened to kill both the husband and the wife on separate occasions.”
Mr Hasiotis said that findings from the investigation showed that Crouch, an avid athlete and kick boxer, initially moved to resist her attackers.
An autopsy report from a state coroner on Wednesday said “no struggle appeared have ensued between the victim and her assailants. “There were no bruises or signs that she may have struggled with them.”
While local media had initially reported the husband told police the intruders had pointed a gun towards the baby’s head, Mr Hasiotis said there was “no indication or testimony” to suggest this.
Crouch was sleeping alongside her husband, 32-year-old pilot Charalambos Anagnostopoulos, and their baby when three burglars broke into their home in Glyka Nera shortly before dawn on Tuesday.
Mr Anagnostopoulos managed to call police after loosening his bonds.
Contacted by phone, Mr Anagnostopoulos refused to make any comment.
“I do not wish this upon anyone,” he told a crowd of reporters who had gathered outside the site of the incident, a three-story duplex in Glyka Nera, a middle-class suburb of Athens.
“Nor should anyone live through this. We begged the thieves not to harm us. We told them where the money was and asked them to leave us alone. I am convinced and have faith that police will catch them.”
Senior investigators contacted on Wednesday said they were gathering and examining forensic evidence, including DNA samples taken from the hands of the young wife and husband, to explore potential leads.
“The husband,” a senior police official said, “has already testified twice. He is not a suspect. But everything is open at this point. We have to be thorough.”
The official refused to elaborate.
The thieves killed the family’s dog and left it hanging on the fence of the house in the suburb of Glyka Nera, police said.
The Greek minister responsible for public order, Michalis Chrisochoidis, said the killing of the young mother was “particularly heinous”.
“One rarely encounters such barbarity in Greece, in Greek society, even among criminals,” he said.
The ferocity of the crime has sent shockwaves across the nation, and beyond, and prompted the government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis late on Tuesday to announce a €300,000 (£260,000) reward for any information leading to the arrest of the assailants.
And on Wednesday, days before Greece re-launches international travel, hoping to welcome millions of sun-seeking Britons, the country’s justice minister said the government would stiffen legislation for convicted robbers and rapists, forcing them to serve out at least 20 of the 25 years they face.
Leading police officials and the left-leaning Syriza opposition party lambasted the government for announcing the bounty, billing it an offence to the thousands of officers and policemen who work daily to bust crime without financial incentives.
Since the bounty was announced late Tuesday, Mr Hasiotis, the head of Greece’s homicide department, said thousands of calls had been received by the authorities from people claiming to hold answers to the mystery murder.
“But it wasn’t the reward that triggered this,” Mr Hasiotis said.
“It was the knee-jerk reaction of a sensitised society, stunned by such a heinous crime,” he said.
“Where the bounty may indeed prove pivotal is that it may help entice that person on the inside who has a nugget of information that can help move this investigation further.
“That bit of credile information has not come in yet. But that is not stopping us from pursuing all other avenues of investigation.”
He added: “The first 48 hours of a crime are critical. That is why we are scrambling.”
Police said the victim was a British national who was married to a Greek man.
Two teams of detectives had been set up to handle the investigation, Greek minister Mr Chrisochoidis said.
Additional reporting by agencies