Renee MacRae trial: William MacDowell found guilty of murdering woman and son Andrew - what’s his sentence?

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Renee MacRae’s sister Morag Govans said after the verdict: ‘Today there is finally justice for them. It’s a day we feared would never come’

The man convicted of murdering Renee and Andrew MacRae in 1976 intends to appeal his conviction. William MacDowell, 80, was found guilty by a jury last month at the High Court in Inverness of the murders of his son Andrew, 3, and Mrs MacRae in 1976.

Police have never found the bodies of the 36-year-old mother or Andrew, with officers urging the killer to disclose what he did with them so they can be “provided with the dignity they deserve”.

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Mrs MacRae’s family has said if her murderer has “a shred of decency” he will reveal where the bodies of her and her son are. He will die behind bars after a judge told him he must serve at least 30 years.

However, a notice to appeal against MacDowell’s conviction and sentence has now been lodged at the appeal court in Edinburgh, a court official confirmed. MacDowell, of Penrith in Cumbria, denied the murders and one charge of attempting to defeat the ends of justice.

William MacDowell has been found guilty of murdering Renee and Andrew MacRae.William MacDowell has been found guilty of murdering Renee and Andrew MacRae.
William MacDowell has been found guilty of murdering Renee and Andrew MacRae. | NWLD composite

He had lodged two special defences – one of alibi, that he was elsewhere at the time, including in the Mercury Motor Inn with three colleagues before going home.

The other of incrimination, alleged that if the murders did happen, they were committed by Mrs MacRae’s estranged husband Gordon MacRae acting with others.

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What happened to Renee MacRae?

Mrs MacRae of Inverness, had not been seen since the night of 12 November, 1976, and her disappearance sparked a huge police investigation.

Renee and Andrew MacRae.Renee and Andrew MacRae.
Renee and Andrew MacRae. | PA

The court heard Mrs MacRae’s blood had been found in her BMW, which had been found ablaze in the Dalmagarry layby, and a man had been seen with a pushchair with something heaped on it along the A9.

MacDowell and Mrs MacRae – a mother-of-two who was separated from her husband – had been having an affair for more than four years when she vanished, with MacDowell having been questioned numerous times about his connection to the estranged wife of his former boss.

During his first police interview, he refused to admit any association with her, only revealing this in a second interview later the same day.

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Even when the case came to trial, MacDowell, who was brought into court each day in a wheelchair by his wife Rosemary, had claimed the crime, if it did happen, was committed by Mrs MacRae’s estranged husband Gordon MacRae and others unknown.

Mr MacRae, who was the director of Inverness firm Hugh MacRae Builders Limited, was asked by the advocate depute if he played any part in the deaths of the pair. The 85-year-old told the jury: “Absolutely none.”

The trial was told that after the couple split, they had an “amicable” relationship, with Mr MacRae aware his estranged wife was involved with someone else and that Andrew was not his child.

The court also heard Mrs MacRae had been told by MacDowell they would move to Shetland to live a new life, despite him having no intention of doing so, and he was worried about their affair becoming known.

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During his closing speech Alex Prentice KC, prosecuting, told a jury at the High Court in Inverness that William MacDowell murdered Renee MacRae, 36, and their three-year-old son Andrew MacRae at the Dalmagarry layby, and then covered up the killing.

The advocate depute told the court: “A blood-curdling scream in the dark, I suggest, was the last utterance of Renee MacRae while alive. Life for Bill MacDowell would change dramatically if it all came out in the open. He would lose his job, his family and his home.”

Mrs MacRae’s burnt out BMW.Mrs MacRae’s burnt out BMW.
Mrs MacRae’s burnt out BMW. | Crown Office.

What did the judge say to MacDowell?

He was sentenced to life in prison with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 30 years. Passing sentence after MacDowell, of Penrith, Cumbria, was found guilty of murder at the High Court at Inverness, judge Lord Armstrong, told him: “These murders appear to have been premediated, planned and carried out in the most calculated way – not a spontaneous event or spur of the moment.”

He added: “These appear, in effect, to have been executions. You murdered your victims and then disposed of their bodies and personal effects, including the boy’s pushchair. You then took steps to conceal the crimes you had committed.”

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As well as being convicted of the murders of Renee and Andrew MacRae, MacDowell was also found guilty of attempting to defeat the ends of justice by disposing of their bodies and personal effects.

William MacDowell.William MacDowell.
William MacDowell. | Police Scotland

What has Mrs MacRae’s family said?

On behalf of the family, Morag Govans, Renee’s sister and Andrew’s aunt, said: “Almost 46 years on, the pain of losing Renee and Andrew in such a cruel and brutal fashion never fades. Today there is finally justice for them. It’s a day we feared would never come. “They were both so precious to us and a day never passes without them both in our thoughts.

“Renee was a compassionate and caring mother. Both Andrew and his elder brother Gordon were her life. She adored them and was so proud of her boys.

“Andrew would be 48 today, he was never given the chance to build his own life. The passage of time has not eased the anguish we feel, we have never been able to lay Renee and Andrew to rest or properly mourn their loss. Not knowing where their remains lie only compounds the pain. “

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“Thinking of the terror they both must have felt before they died continues to haunt us. We will never comprehend why their lives had to be taken in such a calculated and callous manner by William MacDowell. If he has a shred of decency in his body, he will now reveal where they both lie.”

A pushchair identical to that owned by Mrs MacRae.A pushchair identical to that owned by Mrs MacRae.
A pushchair identical to that owned by Mrs MacRae. | Crown Office

When was MacDowell arrested?

The investigation into the disappearances of Renee and Andrew MacRae has been one of Scotland’s longest running and enduring cases and has been subject to an ongoing police investigation since the events of November 1976.

The case was subject to an extensive review led by detectives from Police Scotland’s Major Investigations Team, which initially started in 2017, and a re-investigation started in 2018.

This involved looking at all the available material gathered over more than four decades, reviewing previous witness statements and re-interviewing people who had given information about the case.

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There was also a major operation in 2019 to drain and search Leanach Quarry near Inverness for evidence. More than 100,000 tonnes of material was removed, with more than 5,000 tonnes subject to a search by specialist officers over a five month period. Despite this no evidence was found there.William McDowell was ultimately arrested in Cumbria in September 2019.

Detective Chief Inspector Brian Geddes said: “Renee and Andrew’s family, and friends, have waited decades for justice and I hope that the outcome in court today can provide some form of closure for them. They have carried themselves with absolute dignity throughout and they are very much in my thoughts today.

“The murders of Renee and Andrew MacRae have had a significant impact on people in Inverness, and beyond for decades.“It is fitting to know that despite the passage of time, justice has finally been served.”

He added: “Although justice has now been done, Renee and Andrew’s bodies have not been found and I would urge anyone who may have information about where they are to come forward so they can be provided with the dignity they deserve. In particular I would appeal directly to William McDowell to speak to us and allow to bring closure to their family.”

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