Botanist Rodney Saunders's body positively identified

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Hawks have confirmed that the remains found on the banks of the Tugela River in February are that of missing botanist Rodney Saunders.

Saunders, 74, and his wife Rachel, 63, both prominent botanists who have lived in Cape Town for about 30 years‚ were last seen on 10 February near Bivane Dam on the outskirts of Vryheid in KwaZulu-Natal on a work assignment.

Hawks spokesperson Captain Lloyd Ramovha said the first set of forensic results tested positive and were identified as those of Rodney.

“A dedicated team remains on the ground for the search of Rachel. The focus includes mortuaries where unidentified bodies found within the search period are currently being subjected to forensic analysis and DNA tests. Further results are awaited in this regard,” Ramovha said on Wednesday.

The developments come as the four suspects alleged to be behind their kidnapping appeared before the Verulam Magistrate’s Court where bail was opposed.

The Hawks’ intensive investigation led to the arrest of a couple -- Sayfydeen Del Vecchio, 38, and Fatima Patel, 27, on 16 February following a raid at their dwelling. The pair has been in custody ever since they were arrested and they have appeared in court a few times. 

Themba Xulu, 19, was arrested late in February after he was also linked to the couple’s disappearance when he was found in possession of both victims’ cell phones. His bail application has since been denied. Further investigations led to the arrest of Malawian national, Ahmad Mussa, 36, on 22 March. He is the fourth accused in this case. 

The group made their last court appearance on April 12. 

The matter was adjourned until 25 and 26 April for a formal bail application for Patel and Del Vecchio respectively, who previously abandoned their bail bid. The State will be opposing this application owing to the serious nature of the allegations faced by the accused. 

The group faces charges of kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances, two counts of murder and possession of stolen property. Additionally, Del Vecchio and Patel face charges of arson and possession of a terror group flag. – SAnews.gov.za

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