Hawks confirm identity of body found in river

Rod Saunders, 74, and his wife, Rachel, 63.

DNA tests have confirmed that the body found in the Tugela River in February, is that of missing botanist Rodney Saunders, of Kenilworth.

Mr Saunders and his wife, Rachel, went missing in February while they were in rural KwaZulu-Natal on a work assignment.

Hawks spokesman Captain Lloyd Ramovha said the first set of forensic results was released on Wednesday April 25. Mr Saunders’s body was found on February 17 by a local fisherman. 

“Four suspects appeared in the Verulam Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday. The Hawks’ intensive investigation led to the arrest of a couple, Sayfydeen del Vecchio and Fatima Patel, 38 and 27, respectively, on February 16, 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,” he said. 

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

The matter was adjourned until April 25 and 26 for a formal bail application for Ms Patel and Mr Del Vecchio, respectively, who previously abandoned their bail bid.

The group face charges of kidnapping, robbery with aggravating circumstances two counts of murder, possession of stolen property. Additionally Mr Del Vecchio, who originates from neighbouring Mozambique, and Ms Patel face charges of arson and possession of a terror group flag.

During their court appearance, Mr Xulu has been separated from his co-accused as the charges that he faces are of a less serious nature. He is due back in court on Thursday. He is believed to be negotiating with the State. 

Captain Ramovha said a dedicated team remained on the ground, searching for Ms Saunders. 

“The focus includes the 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,” he said. – The Mercury

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