36-year-old Renee and 3-year-old son Andrew. Photo Credit: The Scotsman.
This year marked the 42nd anniversary of the disappearance of Renee MacRae and her toddler son Andrew after they left their home in Cradlehall on the outskirts of Inverness on November 12, 1976.
Renee, 36, had taken both her sons with her: 9-year-old Gordon and 3-year-old Andrew. She dropped Gordon off at her estranged husband, Gordon’s house before going to visit her sister, Morag, in Kilmarnock.
Later that same night, her BMW was discovered on fire in a lay-by off the A9 near 12 miles from Inverness and eight miles. The only evidence gathered from the car was a single spot of blood on the rug of the car boot which proved a match for the mother and son’s shared blood group. Yet there was no sign of them.
Neither Renee nor young Andrew have been seen since and the case is Scotland’s longest running missing persons investigation.
Officers inspecting Renee’s burnt out BMW. Photo Credit: Police Scotland.
Concerns were raised about their disappearance after she failed top pick up her elder son from school on Monday. She was a loving and committed mother and it was not in her nature to do this. Soon, Renee’s best friend, Valerie Steventon, revealed that on the evening of her disappearance Renee had actually set off to meet her lover Bill McDowell in Perth. Bill was an accountant and secretary at her husband’s building company and was married with two children. He was also the biological father of Andrew. The couple had been planning a holiday together which Renee saw as a precursor to a new life in the Shetland Islands. Bill had told Renee that he had found a job with Texaco and a house for them all to live in but Valerie said this “turned out to be a pack of lies.”
When the case broke, detectives confronted Bill in his home, where he admits that they did have an affair for four years. However he denied that he ever had any plans to leave his wife for Renee, adding that he’d grown tired of the affair. Renee’s house, on the other hand, was packed up as though she was about to move. As well as this, the morning of the day she went missing, she had been talking to Valerie about how she didn’t want to go on the trip her and Bill had planned because she had too much packing to do. Bill has always maintained that they never did meet that night.
Renee’s husband, Gordon had always suspected that his wife had been having an affair but he was not sure who with. He had moved out of the family home after splitting up with his wife but the two had remained good friends and only ever had good things to say about each other. He continued to support the family financially which he could do easily as his business had an annual turnover of £30 million.
He had no idea he wasn’t Andrew’s biological father when Bill’s name came out as the man Renee had been having an affair with, he was fired as Gordon had always considered Bill to be a good friend.
Significantly, though, Bill told police officers that he and Renee had a certain way of communicating. They would let the phone ring a certain number of times leading to a missed call to contact each other. Bill said that his phone had rung in such a way twice since her disappearance and that she must, therefore, still be alive.
Renee MacRae pictured with Bill McDowell. Photo Credit: The Press Association.
A police search began with other forces such as the Scottish Crime Squad and the sub-aqua team from Stirling came up to Inverness for assistance. The search continued to expand with 80 local police ranks and the army base at Fort George supplying 70 soldiers. Renee’s house, Gordon’s offices, 533 houses in Inverness and sheds, garages, crofts and outbuildings were all searched. The car which was found ablaze was checked by a BMW expert and a bomber from Canberra RAF Strike Command used heat cameras to scan the A9 from above. Meanwhile, geologists, shepherds, gamekeepers and trackers searched the area whilst the police carried out up to 5000 interviews.
Yet after this extensive search all they had was a witness reporting seeing a man dragging something they thought was a dead sheep not far from the car, while another saw a man with a pushchair near the quarry. Renee was reported to have been wearing a white sheepskin coat when she disappeared. Police concluded that Renee and Andrew MacRae had been murdered and that the individual or individuals responsible had made meticulous plans, disposing of their bodies without leaving any clues.
Then suddenly Bill McDowell walked into Inverness Police’s HQ to make a voluntary statement. Upon spotting his car outside the police station, his wife, Rosemary, walked in and dragged him away, telling officers to leave him alone.
Had he been about to confess?