Picture: SIMON MATHEBULA
Picture: SIMON MATHEBULA

The body of British botanist Rachel Saunders‚ who had been missing since February‚ has been found‚ the Hawks confirmed on Wednesday.

"A multipronged investigation by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation and the police’s forensic science laboratory last week led to the positive identification of the mortal remains of Rachel Saunders‚ who was allegedly kidnapped in February 2018 together with her husband, Rodney Saunders‚ in KwaZulu-Natal‚" Capt Lloyd Ramovha said.

He said Saunders’s body had been found after police had been searching morgues for unidentified bodies since April. One of the unidentified bodies turned out to be that of Rachel Saunders‚ he said.

He would not immediately disclose how she had died or at which morgue the body had been found‚ stating only that this would be revealed in court.

The remains of Rodney Saunders had been found on the banks of the Tugela River in KwaZulu-Natal in February.

The couple‚ who were both prominent botanists who had lived in Cape Town for about 30 years‚ were last seen on February 10 near Bivane Dam on the outskirts of Vryheid in KwaZulu-Natal.

Four people have been arrested in connection with their killing. They are alleged Islamic State (IS) acolytes Sayfudeen Aslam del Vecchio‚ Fatima Patel‚ Ahmad Jackson Mussa and their their teenaged neighbour‚ Thembamandla Xulu.

Xulu had entered into plea negotiation with the state.

"He was convicted and sentenced on May 25 to three years’ imprisonment‚ suspended for five years for illegal possession of stolen property," Ramovha said, referring to the victims’ cellphones.

Startling allegations that the vanished couple may have been stalked as a "good hunt" by Del Vecchio and Patel‚ apparently to "strike fear into the hearts of those opposed" to IS‚ have already been placed before the Verulam Magistrate’s Court.

TimesLIVE earlier reported that Mussa had led police to the river.

Reports are that the missing couple had been placed in sleeping bags and thrown into the water.

Police search-and-rescue unit officers were dispatched to the area to search for the couple‚ with their effort hampered by the presence of crocodiles and later heavy rains.

Rodney Saunders’s remains had been found long before the first search of the banks‚ and were subsequently tested and positively identified.

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