British Botanist Couple Murdered and Thrown to Crocodiles in South African Nature Reserve

October 05, 2022

By: Mariah Fritz

Photo: Pacific Bulb Society 

A British botanist couple was murdered, then thrown into crocodile-infested waters in a remote South African nature reserve, according to Evening Standards.

The victims were 74-year-old Rod Saunders, and his 63-year-old wife Rachel Saunders. They spent a year and six months hiking through wild forests and mountains for rare seeds for their successful worldwide mail-order business, the court heard. “The tragic couple were keen adventurers who set up a successful business in Cape Town selling seeds they found in remote areas to customers around the world,” Evening Standards reported “and the court was told of their last journey.” 

The botanists were targeted, kidnapped, and beaten to death by a gang. Then their bodies were put in sleeping bags, and thrown into the river by predators. Evening Standards reported that fishermen retrieved the couple out of the water days later, and their bodies were decomposing due to the crocodiles and other dwelling river creatures. They became unrecognizable and were deposited at mortuaries.

After a month of dead ends trying to identify the Saunders, the police ordered all unclaimed or unidentified bodies to be DNA tested. This led to the couple finally being identified, and four suspects had already been arrested by this point. Sayefundeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 39, his wife Bibi Fatima Patel, 28, and their lodger Mussa Ahmad Jackson, 35, were arrested for kidnap, murder, robbery, and theft at Durban High Court. These three suspects deny all charges, and the fourth suspect, who was not involved in the kidnap and killing, was given a suspended sentence for bringing forth evidence of cell phones that originally belonged to the Saunders.

On February 5, 2018, the couple left their Cape Town home to film with a BBC TV documentary crew at their rendezvous of the Drakensberg Mountains in Kwa-Zulu Natal. The BBC film crew settled 900 miles away from the rendezvous point while the Saunders stayed in the mountains foraging for seeds such as the rare Gladioli flower seed.

After filming finished, Rod and Rachel parted ways with TV presenter Nick Bailey and went to a camp in a remote forest. They last reported heading for the Ngoye Forest Reserve 90 miles north of Durban, then were never heard from again. The alarm was raised and the search started on February 10.

A statement that was told to the court was released, saying: “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.”

The trail today is still ongoing.