Missing British woman's body positively identified

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Rachel and Rodney Saunders pictured with BBC presenter Nick Bailey. The photo was posted on Bailey's Twitter account on 8 February.

Rachel and Rodney Saunders pictured with BBC presenter Nick Bailey. The photo was posted on Bailey's Twitter account on 8 February.

JOHANNESBURG - The body of missing Cape Town-based botanist 63-year-old Rachel Saunders has been positively identified, the Hawks said on Wednesday.

Saunders went missing along with her botanist husband Rodney (75) in KwaZulu-Natal in February.

"An extensive search for the missing Rachel Saunders (63) has finally yielded results," Captain Lloyd Ramovha said.

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 105A of the Criminal Procedure Act and he was convicted and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, suspended for five years for illegal possession of stolen property (victims’ cellphones)," Ramovha said.

"The other three accused remain in custody and they are expected to appear at the Verulam magistrate’s court on 24 August to face a raft of charges including; kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances two counts of murder, possession of stolen property."

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On 10 May, 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.