A British couple, Rod and Rachel Saunders, who introduced British viewers on the BBC to the world of botany, were butchered and fed to crocodiles by a gang of kidnappers in South Africa.
WhatsApp logs on the suspects’ phones showed that they must “kill the kuffar and abduct their alias, to destroy infrastructure and to put fear in the heart of the kuffar,” leading police to suspect that the perpetrators have ties to ISIS.
Rod Saunders, 74, and Rachel Saunders, 63, were reportedly ambushed as they sought after rare seeds in a remote nature reserve in the African country. According to the Sun, the duo spent six months every year scouring mountains and forests for wildflower seed stock for their online botany business.
“In February 2018 they drove 900 miles from their home in Cape Town to meet a BBC crew in the Drakensberg Mountains in Kwa-Zulu Natal, where they were filmed looking for rare gladioli,” reported News.com.au. “A selfie with Gardeners‘ World host Nick Bailey and another pic by producer Robin Matthews are believed to be the last snaps taken of them alive.”
After filming the segment for the BBC, the horticulturalist and his wife camped at a dam close to the Ngoye Forest Reserve some 90 miles north of Durban. They were never heard from again.
South African authorities believe that the couple was kidnapped from their camp and beaten to death, and then thrown off a bridge into the River Tugela, where their remains were eaten by crocodiles.
Local police recovered their partly-eaten bodies days later, however, no one could identify their identities until later in 2018, following DNA tests.
In addition to finding their corpses, police launched a full-scale investigation into the murdered couple, and found that money was drained from their bank account. A South African court heard that the couple may have been kidnapped by ISIS terrorists.
“The elite Hawks organised crime unit linked Rod and Rachel‘s phones to local suspects who had shared extremist messages, it is alleged,” News.com.au reported. “A total of four suspects were arrested - three in South Africa around 30 miles from the reserve, and one in the Netherlands.”
This week, the three apprehended suspects went on trial at Durban High Court. They have been charged with kidnapping, murder, robbery, and theft. The suspects, Sayefundeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 39, his wife Bibi Fatima Patel, 28, Mussa Ahmad Jackson, 35, deny the charges.
“It was established that the defendants were drawing money from various ATMs which amounted to theft of 734,000 rand (~$41,000 USD) and there was the robbery of their Land Cruiser and of camping equipment,” the court was told.
The court also heard that Bibi Patel’s handbag contained receipts that corresponded with purchases made with Rachel Saunders’ bank card.
Aslam Del Vecchio, a lodger who stayed with the other two suspects, told police upon his arrest that he helped dispose of the couple’s bodies.
Police say that the victims’ vehicle was recovered on February 19 and contained a large amount of Rachel’s blood in the cargo bed. The indictment also states that the phones of the three suspects indicated that they are members of ISIS.