Two British botanists who went missing in South Africa nearly five years ago were allegedly kidnapped, beaten to death and had their bodies eaten by crocodiles.
Microbiologist Dr. Rachel Saunders and her husband, expert horticulturist Rod Saunders, aged 63 and 74, respectively, went missing from their campsite in the Ngoye Forest Reserve on Feb. 10, 2018, the Durban High Court in South Africa heard Tuesday.
The two had just finished filming for the BBC television show, “Gardener’s World,” where they were featured as world-renowned botanists, U.K.’s The Times reported.
“These guys know their South African native plants… and vitally where to find them,” the program’s presenter, Nick Bailey, wrote in an Instagram post that featured the last known photo of the Saunders couple.
Rachel and Rod headed off to camp after parting ways with the film crew.
During their last contact on Feb. 8, 2018, with the staff of Silverhill Seeds, the rare seed supplier that the Saunders couple operated from their home in the South African capital of Cape Town, the two said they planned to camp in the Ngoye Forest Reserve.
However, they were never heard from again.
The elderly botanists were allegedly abducted after spending a night in the reserve, which was located around 90 miles north of the city of Durban.
They were then beaten to death at some point between Feb. 10 and Feb. 15 that year, prosecutors told court.
It is believed that a blunt instrument was used to kill the two, the Evening Standard reported.
The Saunderses’ bodies were then cocooned in sleeping bags and thrown into the Tugela River, the court heard.
Their badly decomposed remains were reportedly recovered by fishermen days later after they were eaten by crocodiles.
They were not identified for weeks until police requested that DNA tests be carried out on all unaccounted-for bodies in local mortuaries.
The Saunderses’ alleged killers, Sayefundeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 39, and his wife Bibi Fatima Patel, 28, were both arrested at their home on Feb. 15, 2018, after an organized police crime-fighting unit, the Hawks, found a link between the victims’ and the suspects’ phones.
Mussa Ahmad Jackson, a lodger at the suspects’ Endlovini home, was also arrested.
Detectives found pamphlets and a flag of the Islamic State terrorist group, also known as ISIS, at the residence at the time of the arrests.
The three suspects’ phones contained WhatsApp messages that led to fears they were members of ISIS, according to an indictment.
Del Vecchio, a convert to Islam, and Patel, the daughter of a Muslim cleric, were already on a watchlist when they were arrested.
In addition to kidnapping and killing the Saunderses, the three suspects were also accused of stealing the victim’s Land Cruiser and using their bank card to withdraw 734,000 South African rands ($37,000) from various ATMs.
A fourth suspect who was found to have bought phones belonging to the Saunderses but was not involved in the kidnapping and killing of the victims was reportedly given a suspended sentence in return for vital evidence.
Court proceedings against Del Vecchio, Patel and Jackson began this week.
They deny the kidnapping, murder, robbery and theft charges at Durban High Court.
The trial was adjourned until Oct. 25 after the judge was forced to recuse herself because of a technicality.