Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Dan Barker

Woman who vanished with young son in 1976 was devoted mother, murder trial told

PA Wire

A woman who vanished more than 45 years ago was a devoted mother who would never have left her son behind, her sister has told a murder trial.

William MacDowell, of Penrith in Cumbria, is accused of murdering Renee MacRae, 36, and their son Andrew MacRae in November 1976, and is on trial at the High Court in Inverness.

On Thursday, Morag Govans told the jury of her sister Mrs MacRae’s dedication to her children.

She said: “Renee was a devoted mum to her two boys. She adored her boys. That’s what she lived for.”

The 84-year-old told the trial she and her sister used to phone each other every Sunday, and her concerns grew for her welfare when detectives visited her home after the disappearance.

Ms Govans said: “I was very worried. I knew something dreadful had happened to Renee and Andrew. I knew Renee would never have gone away and left her other son Gordon behind.

“I know Renee wouldn’t have put me through that. She would have contacted me if she had gone anywhere.”

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.

Renee MacRae, 36, and three-year-old Andrew vanished in November 1976 (Police Scotland/PA) (PA Media)

The 80-year-old is also charged with disposing of their bodies and belongings by means unknown.

He denies the charges against him, and has lodged two special defences of incrimination and alibi.

Before Mrs MacRae’s burnt-out BMW was found on November 12, 1976 in the layby, she had told her estranged husband Gordon MacRae she was going to her sister’s house.

But the court was told that Valerie Steventon, one of her closest friends, had a conflicting story.

Mrs Govans told the trial: “She told me she was away with Andrew’s father for the weekend.

“I phoned Gordon MacRae and told him what Valarie told me and I told the police.”

She said after the disappearance she called MacDowell, but his wife answered and said he did not want to speak to her.

She later went to his house but did not get an answer, the court was told.

MacDowell was the father of Andrew, but the court was told Mrs MacRae kept his identity a secret from others.

Renee MacRae and their son Andrew, three, disappeared in November 1976 (Police Scotland/PA) (PA Media)

Sheila Fraser, 80, knew Mrs MacRae through her husband and was visited by her in the weeks before her disappearance.

She said Mrs MacRae told her she was about to embark on a move to Shetland with MacDowell.

The 80-year-old told the court Mrs MacRae appeared to be looking forward to the move and everything had been packed up ready for the move.

“She never said when but it was imminent, Ms Fraser said. “She looked very well but I hadn’t seen her for so long, and it was lovely to see little Andrew.”

MacDowell’s defence of incrimination and alibi has stated he was with others and then later at home on the evening of the disappearance.

He claims Mr MacRae, along with others, committed the alleged crimes.

Part of his alibi is that he went to the Mercury Motor Inn in Inverness and was in the company of three men, including John Davenport, until about 7.15pm that night.

Mr Davenport told the court that MacDowell had told the group present he was to meet his wife at 7pm that evening, and made the reference a couple of times.

The court also heard a statement from the late Charles MacRae, the brother of Mr MacRae, who told officers she appeared “off” her husband and that pills and drink had been found in her home.

The trial continues.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.