Botanists Rod Saunders and his wife Rachel spent six months a year searching wild mountains for rare seeds stock for their online business.
It was their pursuit of these rare seeds that led to them travelling to the Drakensberg Mountain region in South Africa, which would ultimately lead to their gruesome murder.
Accompanied by a BBC film crew in February 2018, the pair were interviewed on the popular gardening programme Gardeners’ World by TV presenter Nick Bailey as they continued their horticultural search.
Expert horticulturist Rod and microbiologist wife Rachel were seen in a selfie on Rod’s Twitter in what is now believed to be their last photo alive, before they parter company with the film crew and headed off to camp in a remote forest.
They were last seen alive on 8 February
The married couple were beaten to death with blunt instruments, then put in their sleeping bags and thrown into a river infested with predators. Their unrecognisable bodies were pulled from the river by fishermen days later.
The couple’s bodies were only identified after police could find no trace of them, and ordered all unidentified or unclaimed bodies in morgues to be tested for DNA.
Now three people have been charged with the gruesome killing as well as kidnap, robbery and theft of the married couple. They are currently on trial in South Africa at Durban High Court.
The three defendants are Sayefundeen Aslam Del Vecchio, his wife Bibi Fatima Patel, and their lodger at the time Mussa Ahmad Jackson. All three deny the charges against them.
An additional fourth suspect was also involved in the case and found to have bought cell phones belonging to the Saunders. However they were cleared of the kidnap and murder, and given a suspended sentence in exchange for their evidence in the case.
The Durban High Court was told: “Around February 10 the investigating officer received information that Rodney Saunders and his wife Dr Rachel Saunders from Cape Town had been kidnapped in the Kwa-Zulu Natal region.
“It was established on February 13 that the defendants were drawing money from various ATM’s which amounted to theft of R734,000 (£37,000) and there was the robbery of their Land Cruiser and of camping equipment.
“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.”
One piece of the incriminating evidence against the three include shopping receipts bought on Dr Saunders’s bank card, which were recovered from Bibi Patel’s handbag.
Another piece of evidence included a text message sent on 10 February from Del Vecchio to his wife and lodger stating there was an elderly couple in the forest. The message also said that it is a good ‘hunt’ and he has the ‘target’.
The trial continues.