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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Dan Barker and Maryam Zakir-Hussain

Murderer who killed lover and son 45 years ago to die behind bars


A married man who murdered his lover and their young son more than 45 years ago has been sentenced to life in prison, ending one of the longest unsolved murder cases in Scottish criminal history.

William MacDowell was handed a life sentence with a recommendation that he serves a minimum of 30 years for killing Renee and Andrew MacRae in November 1976.

Her burnt-out BMW was found in a layby south of Inverness on the A9, but police never found the bodies of the 36-year-old mother or her son, three, with officers now urging the killer to disclose what he did so they can be “provided with the dignity they deserve”.

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 premeditated, 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.

Renee MacRae and her son Andrew disappeared without trace on 12 November 1976 (PA)

“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.”

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.

Ms MacDowell, who sat in the public gallery, stared down at the floor and, as her convicted husband was wheeled out of court by security officers, they looked at each other for the last time before he is put behind bars.

The BMW of Renee MacRae (PA)

The court heard that MacDowell killed or abducted Ms MacRae and their son in the layby on the A9 near Dalmagarry, south of Inverness, on 12 November 1976.

Ms MacRae’s sister, Morag Govans, said afterwards; “More than 45 years of the pain of losing Renee and Andrew doesn’t ease. Not a day passes when both are not in our thoughts.”

She said that if MacDowell has “a shred of decency in his body, he will now reveal where they both lie”.

Operation Abermule, the latest investigation, was set up to find the murderer and to discover the resting place of the pair’s bodies almost 46 years after the crime. So far, it has only achieved one of its aims – with MacDowell convicted of the two murders.

But Detective Chief Inspector Brian Geddes, of Police Scotland, said he would “remain optimistic” that the bodies could still be found.

“We set out with that as our objective and we, the organisation, whoever comes after me, will not give up on that until there is no longer any hope,” he said. “And there is hope at the moment, so we’ll remain optimistic.”

MacDowell admitted to the affair years after her disappearance (PA)

The next step will be to “attempt some re-engagement” with MacDowell and “see if he’s willing to speak”, the officer added.

MacDowell, who was married while having a relationship with Ms MacRae, had been trying to keep their affair secret.

He admitted the affair – but not the murder – years after their disappearance.

Additional reporting by PA

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