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Daily Record
Daily Record
Norman Silvester

Reporter recalls calculated confession of man who murdered Renee MacRae and her three-year-old son

Double killer William ­MacDowell confessed in front of his wife that he’d been ­having an affair with missing woman Renee MacRae.

The 80-year-old – who was convicted of the 1976 killing of Renee and their four-year-old son last week – had not spoken to police when he made the ­startling admission to the Sunday Mail’s Alan Dow.

Alan, now 79, called it a “calculated confession” as MacDowell knew that police would be looking to speak to him, nine days after the mum from Inverness had gone missing.

Alan recalled: “I had been at ­MacDowell’s house a few times but he had never been in. I called again at lunch time on the Saturday and his wife Rosemary answered the door.

“She told me that he would be willing to talk with me and I was invited into the front room. Rosemary seemed quite relaxed about the affair as if it was something that she had come to terms with.

Renee MacRae, 36, who disappeared with son Andrew after leaving their home near Inverness on November 12 1976 (Police Scotland)

“She didn’t seem angry in any way. The wife was a strong character and no shrinking violet. MacDowell too seemed a very cool customer, calm and collected, ­charming and smooth talking.

“To me it was a calculated ­confession that he was the secret lover.” MacDowell, then 35, had lured Renee and her son Andrew to a lay-by on the A9 south of ­Inverness in ­November 12, 1976 with the promise of a weekend away.

He then murdered them both, set fire to Renee’s car before dumping their bodies and Andrew’s pushchair. The married father of two carried out the horrific crimes fearing his affair was about to be exposed and his marriage and career put at risk.

At the time MacDowall had been working as company secretary for Renee’s estranged husband Gordon who owned a construction ­business. MacDowall was also the real father of Andrew, who was Renee’s youngest son.

William (Bill) MacDowell and wife Rosemary in 1977 (Peter Jolly)

The accountant told Alan that he had been sacked that week after Gordon learned of the affair following his wife’s disappearance.

And Alan said he taken aback by the double killer’s apparently lavish lifestyle. He said: “The house had been built by MacDowell himself and seemed well above his pay grade.

“There were several acres of land and his wife and two daughters all had their own horses. He also drive a white Range Rover which was quite a status symbol at the time. It wouldn’t have surprised me if there were other affairs.

“I am sure Renee wasn’t the only one. I remember him being quite vain and combing his hair and taking off his glasses before being photographed.

"The only things that he didn’t admit to in the interview was the murder and the fact that he was Andrew’s father. I was certain, even then, that I was looking into the cold eyes of a killer and was glad when he was finally brought to justice last week.”

At that time 32-year-old Alan had known MacDowell was the prime ­suspect in their disappearance and that he had also been having a four-year affair with the missing mum.

William (Bill) MacDowell with wife Rosemary at Inverness court (Peter Jolly)

MacDowell was jailed for life at the High Court in Inverness 46 years after the mum and her son disappeared. The investigation had become one of Scotland’s ­longest running missing person’s cases.

Alan, who wrote the story that would change the course of the police ­investigation, was on the list of ­prosecution witnesses for last month’s trial.

Police launched a reinvestigation codenamed Operation Abermule in August 2018 after three previous ­inquiries in 1976, 1987 and 2004 had failed to prove MacDowell was the killer. They have never been able to establish how Renee and Andrew were killed or find their bodies.

Renee had married Gordon in 1963 and they had a son, ­Gordon Jr. In 1972 she embarked on the affair with ­MacDowell after meeting him through her husband’s ­construction business and Andrew was born in October of the following year.

Two years later Renee split from her ­husband and he moved out of the ­marital home unaware of her ­ongoing relationship with the accountant.

The trial heard crucial evidence from Renee’s best friend Val Steventon who she had told about the affair and about her plans to spend the weekend of ­November 12 with MacDowell and Andrew.

Police were alerted when Renee’s BMW was found ablaze that night but there was no sign of the mother and son.

Police and army search woodside near Inverness, November 1976 (Daily Record)

MacDowell – who was living in ­Penrith in Cumbria with Rosemary at the time of his arrest – joins a handful of killers found guilty of murder without a body.

There have since been appeals by Police Scotland, asking MacDowell to reveal where he buried Renee and Andrew. MacDowell was told by the trial judge that he must serve 30 years before he can be considered for parole, meaning he will die in prison.

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