Prosecutors: Crocodiles Fed on Murdered Botanists

Rod and Rachel Saunders were killed in 2018
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 4, 2022 3:25 PM CDT
Prosecutors: Botanists Were Killed, Dumped in River
   (Getty Images / Cassia Bars)

Well-respected British botanists who were searching for rare Gladioli flower seeds in South Africa met a gruesome fate, having been killed and dumped in crocodile-infested waters, a South African court heard on Tuesday. Rod and Rachel Saunders, ages 74 and 63, respectively, filmed a segment for BBC Gardeners' World in February 2018, reports the Telegraph. They were looking for seeds in the Drakensberg Mountain area and parted ways with the crew on Feb. 8, saying they intended to camp at a nearby dam. Employees at the couples' mail-order business, Silverhill Seeds, say that was also the last day they heard from the Saunders.

The Daily Beast reports that on Feb. 10, a ransom demand was made to police, who eventually arrested Sayefundeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 39, and wife Bibi Fatima Patel, 28. The court on Tuesday heard that police believe Del Vecchio and Patel killed the couple and withdrew $42,000 of their money from ATMs; a third suspect who has been cooperating with authorities alleges the couple was viewed as foreigners who were stealing valuable seeds. On Feb. 14 and 17, fishermen recovered mutilated remains in sleeping bags from a river.

The Beast has this line: "Local fishermen reported that remnants of the sleeping bags, including zippers, were seen in the teeth of crocodiles months after the bodies were retrieved from the dangerous water." The remains were positively identified using DNA months later, and the couple's blood was found in their Land Cruiser. It's alleged they were beaten to death before being tipped into the river enclosed in their sleeping bags. The trial will run for several weeks. (More murder stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.