The body of missing Cape Town-based botanist 63-year-old Rachel Saunders who went missing along with her botanist husband Rodney, 75, in KwaZulu-Natal in February, has been positively identified, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), better known as the Hawks, said on Wednesday.
“An extensive search for the missing Rachel Saunders, 63, has finally yielded results,” Captain Lloyd Ramovha said.
“A multi-pronged investigation by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation and the South African Police Service’s Forensic Science Laboratory has last week led to the positive identification of the mortal remains of Rachel Saunders who was allegedly kidnapped in February 2018 together with her husband Rodney Saunders, 72, in KwaZulu-Natal.”
Rodney’s body was identified in April after investigations led to the arrest of four suspects – 38-year-old Sayfudeen Aslam Del Vecchio; 27-year-old Fatima Patel; 36-year-old Jackson Ahmad Mussa; and 19-year-old Thembamandla Kwanele Xulu.
“Xulu subsequently entered into a plea bargain with the state in terms of Section 105(A) of the Criminal Procedure Act and he was convicted and sentenced on May 25 to three years’ imprisonment, suspended for five years for illegal possession of stolen property (victims’ cell phones),” Ramovha said.
“The other three accused remain in custody and they are expected to appear at the Verulam Magistrate’s Court on 24 August 2018, to face a raft of charges including kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances two counts of murder, possession of stolen property.”
On May 10, two of the suspects were denied bail at the Verulam Magistrate’s Court. Magistrate Irfan Khallil told Patel and Del Vecchio – who are married in terms of Islamic rights – that he was satisfied there was strong prima facie evidence against them.
The suspects had not proven exceptional circumstances to warrant their release on bail, he said, as was required for a schedule six offence. Their release would “undermine public safety” and they might try to escape the country, he said at the time.
Patel and Del Vecchio, together with Malawian Mussa are facing charges of kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances, theft, contravention of the country’s terrorism act and two counts of murder. Del Vecchio is also facing a count of malicious damage to property.
Mussa, who has abandoned a bail application, appeared in court with the accused couple. He lived on Del Vecchio and Patel’s property at the time of the alleged crime and was described as being Del Vecchio’s friend.
The couple lived on a plot in the Endlovini area on the border of the protected Ngoye Forest Reserve, about 150km north of Durban.
Dual British-South African passport holders, the Saunders couple, went missing between 10 and 15 February in the Vryheid area and where they were thought to be searching for rare plants.