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Married British botanists beaten to death and fed to crocodiles by gang in South Africa
4 October 2022, 11:54 | Updated: 4 October 2022, 12:05
A UK couple were beaten to death by a gang who threw their bodies to crocodiles in South Africa, a court has heard.
Botanists Rachel Saunders, 63, and her husband Rod, 74, spent six months a year searching wild mountains and forests for seeds stock for their successful online business.
After they were beaten to death, their bodies were put into their sleeping bags and thrown into a predator-infested river by a gang who were enraged at the pair for taking the rare seeds from nature reserves.
By the time fisherman pulled their corpses from the water days later, the badly decomposed bodies had been eaten by creatures in the river, The Mirror reported.
Their remains were unrecognisable and it was only months later when police weren't able to find any trace of them that they ordered DNA tests for all unclaimed bodies or unidentified bodies in morgues.
Three people have been charged with the murder, kidnap, robbery and theft of the British couple.
Sayefundeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 39, his wife Bibi Fatima Patel, 28, and their lodger at the time Mussa Ahmad Jackson, 35, all denied kidnapping, murder, robbery and theft at Durban High Court.
The fourth suspect was found to have bought mobile phones belonging to the Saunders but was not involved in the kidnap and killing. They were given a suspended sentence in return for vital evidence.
The couple left their Cape Town home in their Toyota Land Cruiser on February 5, 2018, accompanied by a BBC TV documentary film crew.
TV presenter Nick Bailey interviewed the renowned botanists for an episode of Gardeners World as they sought out rare Gladioli flower seeds in the Drakensberg Mountain region.
A selfie taken by Mr Bailey that was posted on his Twitter account is believed to be the last photo of the pair alive.
Rod and Rachel headed off to camp at a dam by a remote forest after filming finished.
They were last in contact with a worker at their business Silverhill Seeds, which they ran from their home, on February, 8, only three days after they had left to meet the BBC.
They said they were heading for the Ngoye Forest Reserve, situated around 90 miles north of Durban, but that was the last anyone heard of them.
The court was told: "Around February 10 the investigating officer received information that Rodney Saunders and his wife Dr Rachel Saunders from Cape Town had been kidnapped in the Kwa-Zulu Natal region.
"It was established on February 13 that the defendants were drawing money from various ATM's which amounted to theft of R734,000 (£37,000) and there was the robbery of their Land Cruiser and of camping equipment.
"It is alleged that between February 10 and 15 at the Ngoye Forest the accused did unlawfully and intentionally kill Rachel Saunders and between the same dates did unlawfully and intentionally kill Rodney Sanders."
It was said that receipts for items bought on Rachel's bank card were recovered from Bibi Patel's handbag.
It's believed the pair were beaten to death with a blunt instrument after being kidnapped, and that their bodies were then thrown off a bridge into the river.
A message from Del Vecchio to his wife and their then lodger on February 10 said there was an elderly couple in the forest and that it is a good "hunt" and he has the "target".
South African-born Rachel received dual citizenship after marrying Rod who was from Britain, and the pair had travelled the world delivering lectures on the Gladioli of South Africa.
The trial continues.