Crime: World-Renowned Botanists Allegedly Beaten to Death and Fed to Crocodiles in South Africa

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A British couple missing in South Africa were fed to crocodiles after being kidnapped, robbed, and murdered, prosecutors in the eastern coastal city of Durban said Tuesday.

Respected botanists Dr. Rachel Saunders, 63, and her husband, horticulturist Rod Saunders, 74, went missing from their campsite in the Ngoye Forest Reserve, 90 miles north of Durban On Feb. 10, 2018, the Durban High Court heard Tuesday, reported The London Evening Standard.

According to court documents seen by The Times, the couple — who were trekking the area in search of rare plant seeds — was allegedly beaten to death at some point between Feb.10 and Feb.15, 2018.

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They were then tossed into the Tugela river, where they were eaten by deadly crocodiles, the documents added.

Per The Times, police said a fisherman later found the Saunders' remains, but due to the level of decomposition they could not be identified until DNA tests were carried out.

The Saunders were highly-respected in their field and regularly trekked through remote forests in search of rare seeds for their Cape Town-based online business, Silverhill Seeds.

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In February 2018, they filmed a segment for the BBC 2 show Gardeners' World with host Nick Bailey in South Africa's imposing Drakensberg Mountains as they searched for rare plants. After filming, the couple, who had been married for 30 years, parted from the crew on Feb. 8 and camped in Ngoye Forest Reserve.

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Sayefundeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 39, his wife Bibi Fatima Patel, 28, and their tenant Mussa Ahmad Jackson, were arrested on Feb. 15, 2018, after cellphones belonging to the Saunders were traced to their residence, reported The Independent.

While Del Vecchio and Patel were later charged with kidnapping and murder, Jackson was released after cooperating with the authorities and providing vital information on the case. Del Vecchio and Patel both denied charges of kidnap, murder, robbery and theft in court on Tuesday.

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In Durban High Court this week, evidence was presented which included text messages from Del Vecchio to Patel and Jackson stating that there was an elderly couple nearby to "target" for a "hunt."

Another text to an unidentified person said, "it is very important that the body of the victims is never found."

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Additional information was provided about what the suspects did in the aftermath of their crime.

"It was established on February 13 that the defendants were drawing money from various ATM's which amounted to theft of $42,000 and there was the robbery of their Land Cruiser and of camping equipment," a court was told Tuesday, per The Daily Beast.

"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."

Police initially feared Del Vecchio and Patel had ties to the terrorist organization ISIS, in part because they were believed to have flown an Islamic State flag outside their home. Though they were already on a watchlist when they were arrested, prosecutors do not believe terrorism was a motive for the murders, reported The Daily Beast.

The trial is adjourned until October 25.

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