Renee MacRae: William MacDowell on trial accused of murdering woman and son Andrew in 1976 - court case latest

William MacDowell is on trial accused of murdering Renee and Andrew MacRae who were last seen in 1976

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The estranged husband of Renee MacRae, who vanished more than 45 years ago, has told a court the man accused of her murder “didn’t say a word” when he was asked if he could help in the search for her and her three-year-old son.

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

Gordon MacRae took to the witness stand at the High Court in Inverness on Wednesday during his evidence he also denied any involvement in the deaths of his wife and her son.

William MacDowell, 80, who is on trial accused of murdering Mrs MacRae and Andrew, denies all charges against him, and has said he was at home that evening after work.

He has lodged a special defence of incrimination and alibi, and claims it was Mr MacRae, acting with others, who committed the alleged crime.

The MacRaes married on 17 May, 1963, but they split in 1975. The court heard that in July of the following year, she moved into Cradlehall Park, near Inverness, in a home provided by her estranged husband.

Renee MacRae disappeared with son Andrew after leaving their home near Inverness on 12 November 1976. (Photo: Police Scotland)Renee MacRae disappeared with son Andrew after leaving their home near Inverness on 12 November 1976. (Photo: Police Scotland)
Renee MacRae disappeared with son Andrew after leaving their home near Inverness on 12 November 1976. (Photo: Police Scotland)

What are the charges against MacDowell?

William MacDowell, of Penrith, Cumbria, is accused of murdering his son Andrew MacRae and 36-year-old Mrs MacRae in November 1976.

MacDowell is charged with assaulting Mrs MacRae and their three-year-old son at the Dalmagarry layby on the A9 trunk road south of Inverness, or elsewhere, by means unknown, and as a result murdering them.

He is also charged with disposing of their bodies and belongings by means unknown.

MacDowell is also accused of setting fire to the BMW, disposing of a pushchair, and of a boot hatch from a Volvo, and it is alleged he did so to avoid detection, arrest and prosecution.

What did Gordon MacRae say in his evidence?

The 85-year-old told the court that he and Mrs MacRae did not have a brilliant marriage, but when they split they had an “amicable” relationship.

The court was told he knew she was involved with somebody else, but despite repeatedly asking if it was someone he employed at Hugh Macrae Builders Limited, she would not reveal who it was, and he said he would sack them if he had found out.

Mr MacRae told the jury on Wednesday that he asked MacDowell, who was company secretary, into the boardroom in the days following the discovery of a burnt-out BMW in the case, and after he found out it was MacDowell who was involved with her.

Mr MacRae said he told him: “If you can help the police in any way, please do.

“He didn’t say a word the whole time in the boardroom. Not a word.”

He then fired MacDowell because of the relationship, the court was told, and he has never seen him again.

Murray Macara KC, cross-examining Mr MacRae, asked: “When police became involved, did you at any stage feel police suspected you might be involved in Renee’s disappearance?”

Mr MacRae said he did not, and then told the court he remembered that police had asked to search his house.

Advocate depute Alex Prentice KC put it to Mr MacRae at the end of his evidence session: “Did you have any part whatsoever to play in the death of Renee MacRae or Andrew MacRae?”

The 85-year-old told the jury: “Absolutely none.”

Murray Macara KC, cross-examining Mr MacRae, put it to him that he was “in some way complicit” in the disappearance of the mother and son on the night of 12 November, 1976, which he denied.

Mr Macara told the court that Mr MacRae used to visit a nearby quarry with a then girlfriend and said to her: “If you fall out with me this is where you would end up.”

Mr MacRae described that as “absolute nonsense”, and repeated the denial when the prosecution KC put it to him that he said if there was a landslide there would be “hundreds of tonnes, thousands of tonnes of earth on top of the body”.

What other evidence has been given so far?

On Tuesday Catherine Johnstone told the court her mother had heard a “blood-curdling scream” at their home just a few hundred yards from the layby at Dalmagarry Farmhouse, but could not detect where the noise came from.

The woman, who was 24 at the time, was with her friend Fiona McKenzie in her Datsun Cherry and said she saw a saloon car that night.

“There was a car in the layby. It was a dark car parked on the curb of the layby,” she said.

As they continued their journey to Ms McKenzie’s home, between 7.30pm and 8pm, the court was told: “There was a 4×4-type vehicle passing at speed travelling south. I was travelling north.”

The 68-year-old of Inverness added: “My friend commented and said ‘that’s in a hurry’.”

Detective chief inspector Brian Geddes, 45, read a statement taken by officers from Ms Johnstone’s mother Eva McQueen, who died in 2014, which said she and her husband Charles were leaving their farmhouse when she heard a “distinct screech”.

The trial, before Lord Armstrong, continues and is expected to last four weeks.