British couple murdered in South Africa before being thrown to crocodiles

The pair had been interviewed as part of a BBC documentary a few days before they were kidnapped

Eleanor Sly
Wednesday 05 October 2022 08:17 BST

Related: Death toll climbs as South Africa violence spirals

A British couple were murdered and their bodies left in a river in South Africa in 2018, a court heard.

Respected botanists Rodney Saunders, 74, and his wife Rachel, 63, spent six months a year trekking through wild mountains and forests, hunting for stock for their mail-order business, based in Cape Town.

In February 2018, the couple were in a remote part of the country when they apparently vanished. Prosecutors claim they were snatched from their camp, killed then thrown off a bridge into a crocodile-infested river.

Their part-eaten and badly decomposed bodies were recovered by fishermen some days later – but were unrecognisable. It wasn’t until several months later that their remains were finally identified by a DNA test.

Four suspects have since been charged with murder and kidnap of the married couple, as well as robbery.

Sayefundeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 39, his wife Bibi Fatima Patel, 28, and their lodger at the time Mussa Ahmad Jackson, 35, all deny kidnap, murder, robbery and theft at the trial, which is taking place in Durban High Court.

The fourth suspect was found to have purchased mobile phones belonging to the Saunders, but was not involved in the kidnap and killing, and was given a suspended sentence.

As part of the trip, the couple had met the film crew of BBC TV series Gardeners’ World.

The pair were interviewed by presenter Nick Bailey, who later posted a selfie of them on his Twitter account – believed to be the last photograph taken of them alive.

After the filming, Dr and Mrs Saunders headed off to camp at a dam by a remote forest.

They were last in contact with an employee at their workplace, Silverhill Seeds, on 8 February but were not heard from again. On 10 February 2018, the alarm was raised.

The court was told: “Around 10 February the investigating officer received information that Rodney Saunders and his wife Dr Rachel Saunders from Cape Town had been kidnapped in the KwaZulu-Natal region.

“It is alleged that between 10 and 15 February at the Ngoye Forest the accused did unlawfully and intentionally kill Rachel Saunders and between the same dates did unlawfully and intentionally kill Rodney Saunders.”

On 15 February 2018, Del Vecchio and Patel were arrested at their home in Endlovini in connection with the disappearance.

It is believed both Dr and Mrs Saunders died from being beaten to death with a blunt instrument, having been kidnapped and robbed.

Their bodies were later dropped into a crocodile-infested river.

The trial continues.

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