Disappearance of Renee MacRae

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Renee Macrae
Christina Catherine MacDonald

February 1940
Disappeared12 November 1976 (aged 36)

Renee MacRae (born Christina Catherine MacDonald, February 1940)[1] is a Scottish woman, missing since 1976, and who is presumed to have been murdered. Her disappearance, along with her 3-year-old son, Andrew, is currently Britain's longest running missing persons case,[2] and within Scotland, the case is as notorious as Glasgow's Bible John murders. On 11th September 2019 William (Bill) MacDowell was charged with the murder of Renee and Andrew. Their bodies have never been found.


Renee MacRae and her son, Andrew, c. 1976

MacRae lived in Inverness and was married to Gordon MacRae, though the couple were separated. She had two sons, 9-year-old Gordon and 3-year-old Andrew. On Friday 12 November 1976 MacRae left her home in Cradlehall with both her sons. She dropped her elder son Gordon at her estranged husband's house and turned south on to the A9 in the direction of Perth to visit her sister in Kilmarnock. Neither MacRae nor her son Andrew have ever been seen again. Later the same night, 12 miles away, a train driver spotted MacRae's burning BMW car in an isolated lay-by.[3] When the police reached the vehicle, it was charred and empty, apart from a rug stained with blood matching MacRae's blood type.

One of the most intensive searches ever mounted in Scotland failed to find a trace of them. It was concluded that they had been murdered, that the murderer had made careful plans and had disposed of the bodies without leaving any clues.[3] Witnesses on the A9 reported seeing a man dragging something they thought was a dead sheep not far from the car, while others saw a man with a pushchair near the quarry. MacRae was reported to have been wearing a sheepskin coat when she disappeared.[4]

As police investigated, it became apparent that MacRae's personal life was not straightforward. Circa 1971, unbeknownst to her husband, MacRae began to have an affair with Bill MacDowell, who was married with two children and worked for Gordon MacRae as an accountant and company secretary. Nobody knew about the affair except Valerie Steventon, MacRae's best friend.[3] She revealed that MacRae had not been planning to visit her sister that night, but had intended to travel to Perthshire to visit MacDowell, who happened to be Andrew's biological father. MacRae had first confided to her friend about her conducting an affair in the spring of 1973, when she had been pregnant with Andrew. According to Steventon, "Renee was completely besotted by Bill", and he had told her that he had a job with Texaco in Shetland and had found a house where they could live. Although, according to Steventon, these details "turned out to be a pack of lies."[3] MacDowell admitted their affair but has not spoken about the case again except to deny any involvement.


The revelation of MacRae's four-year affair with MacDowell led senior officers to admit that the case was "mired in a sea of deceit and untruthfulness from its start."[1] Detective Sergeant John Cathcart coordinated the search and after eight months he had a breakthrough. While excavating Dalmagarry quarry he was hit by a stench after removing a layer of topsoil. Convinced it was a sign of corpses, he continued digging, but was told by a superior officer to stop as the bulldozer they were using had to go back to the contractors due to short funds.[5]

The inquiry was wound down two years later. However, a 2004 Grampian Television documentary, Unsolved, screened throughout Scotland, renewed interest in the case and the investigation was reopened. In 2004, Chief constable Ian Latimer launched a cold case review, which led to £122,000 being spent on an excavation of Dalmagarry quarry in August.[4] Over the course of three weeks, 20,000 tons of earth from the quarry had been excavated and 2,000 trees were removed. All that was found were two crisp packets, some men's clothing and rabbit bones.[5] As of August 2006, £250,000 has been spent re-investigating the case.[6]

In recent years speculation has focused on the bodies having been buried under the A9, which was in the middle of a major programme of upgrading at the time of the disappearance.[4] An 80-year-old farmer with supposed divining skills took his divining rods to Dalmagarry and declared the bodies to be under a track, 12 ft down. He now thinks the bodies are under the A9, at a spot he has marked with a yellow circle.[5] In 2010, the Scottish Government announced that a £2.6 million contract had been awarded for an overtaking lane at the location, which renewed interest from the farmer, who claims to have discovered "anomalies" in a radar survey of the area.[4] However, a spokeswoman for Northern Constabulary said that after studying aerial photographs taken by the RAF during the construction of the A9, they were satisfied the bodies were not buried under the road.[4]

On 2 October 2018 it was reported that Leanach quarry, near to Culloden Battlefield was being searched by Police Scotland in relation to the case.[7]


Northern Constabulary named a suspect in a report to the Procurator fiscal in October 2006, but the Crown Office declared there was insufficient evidence to go to court.[8] From the start the prime suspect was MacDowell. He has always been reluctant to speak to the media, however in 2004, he broke his 28-year silence and insisted that he did not kill her.[9] A week after the disappearance, MacDowell walked into Inverness police HQ to make a voluntary statement, however his wife dragged him out of the building and nothing was said ever again.[10]

More than 40 years after the disappearance, further details emerged of a suspect who had fled to the US the day after being interviewed by an investigator in the aftermath of the disappearance. James Taylor said his late friend Sandy Thompson, a senior officer who worked closely with MacRae's contacts, who carried out fieldwork investigating the case had been sure MacRae was murdered and buried on the A9 near a flyover. Taylor reported his concerns to Police Scotland following an appeal for information to mark the 40-year anniversary of the case. He said that Sandy Thomson spoke to a foreman in the roads department who had said someone had dug up a section of the road on the day Renee disappeared. There was one man he spoke to about the road and showed the evidence they had gathered. Taylor recalled: "Sandy said he knew right away when the man looked at it that the woman was dead, that was where she was buried and this man knew far more about it than he was telling." The man fled to the US the next day before returning to the UK later when the case had gone cold.[11]

In September 2019, detectives from Police Scotland's Major Investigation Team arrested a 77-year old man in connection with the disappearance. At Inverness Sheriff Court on Wednesday 11th September MacDowell was charged with the murders of Renee and Andrew MacRae.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Renee Macrae - are police nearing the truth?". The Scotsman. 14 August 2004. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  2. ^ Bindel, Julie (2008-04-30). "The bone detective". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2009-05-13.
  3. ^ a b c d Miller, Russell (8 May 2005). "Searching high and low". The Times. p. 1. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e Ross, David (16 February 2010). "Dig up past plea to solve 34-year mystery of Renee MacRae's death". PressReader. The Herald. Retrieved 20 April 2017. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  5. ^ a b c Miller, Russell (8 May 2005). "Searching high and low". The Times. p. 3. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  6. ^ "No matter what the cost". Inverness Courier. 22 August 2006. Archived from the original on 21 October 2007. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  7. ^ "Quarry searched for missing mum and son". Inverness Courier. Retrieved 2 October 2018.
  8. ^ "No prosecution over missing Renee". BBC News. 2006-12-13. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
  9. ^ "THE MACRAE MYSTERY: I DIDN'T KILL RENEE; Prime suspect breaks his silence as police hunt for mum and tot's bodies". Sunday Mail. The Free Library. 15 August 2004. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  10. ^ Hamilton, Tom (31 October 2009). "A burned out car, a missing mum and a secret that shocked the Highlands". Daily Record. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  11. ^ Marshall, Chris (4 March 2017). "Suspect in MacRae case 'fled to the US'". The Scotsman. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  12. ^ "Renee and Andrew Macrae: Man, 77, arrested". BBC News. 2019-09-11. Retrieved 2019-09-11.

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