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

Rod and Rachel Saunders
Rod and Rachel Saunders. Picture: Pacific Bulb Society

By Tim Dodd

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.

Read more: Liz Truss says MPs 'love her', despite senior MPs like Gove and Shapps opposing her plans

Read more: Nick Ferrari grills Liz Truss at the Conservative Party conference | Listen again

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.

Rachel and Rod Saunders
Rachel and Rod Saunders. Picture: Pacific Bulb Society
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.
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. Picture: Pacific Bulb Society

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.

A selfie taken by Mr Bailey that was posted on his Twitter account is believed to be the last photo of the pair alive.
A selfie taken by Mr Bailey that was posted on his Twitter account is believed to be the last photo of the pair alive. Picture: Pacific Bulb Society

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.

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

Justin Timberlake's mugshot has been released

Justin Timberlake mugshot released after singer arrested for 'driving while intoxicated' in wealthy Hamptons enclave

Former Conservative Party donor John Caudwell has said he is backing Labour to win the General Election.

Former Tory donor John Caudwell backs Labour in General Election

Sir Ian McKellen was taken to hospital after he fell from the stage during a West End performance

Sir Ian McKellen 'looking forward to returning to work' as he thanks NHS staff for help after falling off West End stage

British teen missing in Tenerife after desperately calling friends from 'the middle of nowhere' on night out

Desperate mum of British teen missing in Tenerife 'beside herself with worry' as she flies out to help with search

Mysterious smoking headless torso missing arms and legs dumped on popular Spanish holiday beach

Horror as smoking headless torso missing arms, legs and head dumped on popular Spanish holiday beach

Hamish Harding ignored warnings over the Titan sub.

British billionaire 'ignored stark warning over Titan sub' as previous record-breaking dive gave him 'false sense of security'

The King and Queen have wished the racegoers the "best of luck" in chasing the "thrill of a Royal Ascot winner".

King and Queen wish Royal Ascot attendees 'best of luck' chasing race winner

Chris Marriott, 46, was helping a woman when they were driven over by a Seat Ibiza car in Sheffield

Father killed by car used 'as a weapon' as he tried to help stranger, jury told

Rugby Union player Connor Garden-Bachop has died at the age of 25 after a 'medical event', New Zealand Rugby has confirmed.

New Zealand rugby player Connor Garden-Bachop, 25, dies after 'medical event'

Mr Sunak was joined by Foreign Secretary David Cameron for the first time on the campaign

Flock of sheep flee as Rishi Sunak and David Cameron try to feed them

Olympic athletes ‘could die of overheating’ due to 'dangerous temperatures' at Paris 2024 Games

Olympic athletes ‘could die of overheating’ due to 'dangerous temperatures' at Paris 2024 Games

Comedian Victoria Vera Blyth was killed by her husband David Thomas Blyth

British businessman shoots his TV star wife dead in murder-suicide after 'row over her text messages' at Turkey home

Tattooed woman in black hunted by police after schoolboy, 12, was brutally attacked during attempted robbery

Tattooed woman in black hunted by police after schoolboy, 12, is attacked walking home from school

A decision not to charge police officers involved in the original Stephen Lawrence murder investigation has been upheld by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Stephen Lawrence murder detectives will not face prosecution, CPS announces

Justin Timberlake has been arrested for “driving while intoxicated”

Justin Timberlake arrested for 'driving while intoxicated' in wealthy Hamptons enclave

Three children went missing after a day at Thorpe Park

Three children missing after day out at Thorpe Park found safe and well by police