Botanists Rod and Rachel Saunders were brutally beaten and thrown into crocodile-infested waters just days after they appeared on BBC’s Gardeners’ World.
According to LADbible, the married couple used to spend six months every year in South Africa searching wild mountains for rare seeds to sell through their online business, Silverhill Seeds. In pursuit of exotic gladioli seeds, the couple found themselves in Drakensberg—an impressive geological feature which is world-renowned for its scenery and extensive hiking trails.
In 2018, the year of their murder, the Saunders—while on their annual pilgrimage to South Africa—were accompanied by a BBC film crew. The pair was interviewed for the popular British TV show Gardeners’ World, where they were asked to talk about their seed company and horticultural search.
On 8 February of the same year, presenter Nick Bailey took a (now-harrowing) selfie smiling with the couple following their interview. This was the last recorded image of the Saunders when they were alive.
After parting ways with the BBC film crew, the couple continued their voyage and sought out a camp in a nearby remote forest within the Kwa-Zulu Natal province.
In a devastating turn of events, only a few days later, local fishermen found and recovered two disfigured bodies in a nearby river. The couple had been brutally beaten, zipped into their sleeping bags and thrown into crocodile-infested waters. Their bodies were only identified after police hadn’t found any traces of them and ordered all unidentified bodies in morgues to be tested for DNA.
As reported by The Telegraph, four years since the death of the British couple, three suspects are now finally on trial at the Durban High Court—accused of kidnapping, robbery, and murder. Sayefundeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 39, his wife Bibi Fatima Patel, 28, and their lodger at the time, Mussa Ahmad Jackson, 35, have all denied charges.
The High Court reported: “Around 10 February 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 13 February that the defendants were drawing money from various ATMs which amounted to theft of R734,000 (£37,000) and there was the robbery of their Land Cruiser and of camping equipment.”
The Court continued, “It is alleged that, between 10 February and 15 February 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 particularly shocking piece of evidence uncovered during the criminal trial was a series of text messages sent by Del Vecchio to his wife and lodger on 10 February 2018. The texts mention an elderly pair in the forest, followed by the chilling words “good hunt” and “target.”
When the murders were first reported, The Guardian stated that the police had claimed the couple were kidnapped and murdered by Islamic extremists who talked about killing non-believers. Lawyers for the accused, however, have since told news sources that the police greatly exaggerated the links to the Islamic state.
Many other publications have speculated over the true reason as to why the pair faced such a horrific demise. Nevertheless, as the trial continues, we can expect to hear many more harrowing accounts, detailing how the Saunders couple died, and indeed, why.
A Texas woman is facing the death penalty after being found guilty of killing a 21-year-old expectant mother to steal her unborn baby and pass the infant off as her own.
Taylor Rene Parker, 29, was first arrested in Oklahoma for the gruesome murder of Reagan Michelle Simmons-Hancock and her infant daughter in their New Boston home in October 2020. According to prosecutors, Parker—who had been faking her own pregnancy for nearly ten months—bashed Simmons-Hancock’s skull in with a hammer and stabbed her more than 100 times before removing her unborn baby from her womb using a scalpel.
The Texas woman also reportedly carried out these violent acts while the young mom’s three-year-old daughter was at home.
After the attack, Parker took off with the newborn baby in a car but was quickly pulled over by a Texas State Trooper in De Kalb for speeding. At the time, she told the officer that she had just given birth by the side of the road and that the baby was not breathing. Parker and the infant were then rushed by ambulance to McCurtain Memorial Hospital in Idabel—where hospital staff grew suspicious after the 29-year-old refused to be checked out by doctors.
“She didn’t want them to check her,” Special Agent Chad Dansby told People in 2020. “We were told that, so I talked her into letting the doctor check. They called the doctor and he pretty much told us she didn’t have a baby. It was just a matter of getting her to tell us what happened.”
It was later revealed that Parker—who could not conceive after a hysterectomy—had intensively researched how to fake a pregnancy and watched numerous videos on delivering babies prematurely at 35 weeks, the exact number of weeks Simmons-Hancock had been pregnant with her child.
In fact, Parker had disguised herself to look pregnant, faked ultrasounds, posted maternity pictures on social media and even hosted a gender reveal party for her pretend baby in the months leading up to Simmons-Hanock’s murder.
According to prosecutors, Parker crafted the elaborate lie just to keep her boyfriend around and told him that she was due to give birth on the day of the murder. Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp explained to jurors that Parker is “an actress of the highest order” whose scheme even involved a bomb threat to a hospital, in turn, delaying her scheduled induction.
“Parker didn’t want anymore children,” Crisp told the jury. “She killed Reagan and ripped her baby out to keep her boyfriend.” What’s more is that, after the killing, Crisp stated Parker had stuffed Simmons-Hancock’s placenta down her pants to make it look like she had actually given birth on the side of the road.
“In the past two weeks, the evidence has never been more clear,” Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards further told the jury, as reported by the New York Post. “She’s a liar, a manipulator, and now she’s gonna be held accountable for it.” In her closing statement, Richards also reminded jurors that the young mom was struck in the head at least five times, with such force that the blows compressed her skull into her brain.
“The pain Reagan must have felt when Taylor started cutting her abdomen, hip to hip… indescribable,” Richards said. “When Taylor had the baby and Reagan was still alive, that’s when Taylor started slashing and cutting. She can’t leave her alive. It was no quick death. She just kept cutting her. I guess Reagan would not die fast enough for Taylor to get out of there and get on with her plans.”
Although the baby died at the hospital, Parker’s attorneys argued that she was never alive and moved to dismiss the kidnapping charge, which would have lowered the capital murder charge the 29-year-old stands convicted of. “That’s why in opening statements we spent so much time on definitions. You can’t kidnap a person who has not been born alive,” attorney Jeff Harrelson said in his final argument.
However, several medical professionals have testified that the baby had a heartbeat when she was born. “We have methodically laid out what she [Parker] did, why she did it, all the moving parts, and all the collateral damage. The best evidence the state of Texas has that baby was born alive is that Parker said it wasn’t,” Crisp stated.
Parker’s sentencing trial is scheduled to begin on 12 October 2022. And while prosecutors seek death penalty in the case, jurors may opt for her life imprisonment without parole.