Woman was deeply in love with man accused of her murder in 1976, trial told

·3-min read
Renee MacRae disappeared with her young son in 1976 (Police Scotland/PA) (PA Media)
Renee MacRae disappeared with her young son in 1976 (Police Scotland/PA) (PA Media)

A woman who vanished along with her son more than 45 years ago was “deeply in love” with the man accused of murdering her, even though he frequently lied to her, a court has heard.

William MacDowell, of Penrith in Cumbria, is accused of killing his son Andrew MacRae and the child’s 36-year-old mother Renee MacRae in November 1976.

MacDowell, now 80, is on trial at the High Court in Inverness and denies all charges against him.

Mrs MacRae’s close friend Valarie Steventon was unable to attend court due to health reasons, but in a statement read out to the jury she said: “Renee was deeply in love with MacDowell.

“Although she knew that he frequently lied to her, it didn’t alter her affection for him.”

Ms Steventon said Mrs MacRae confided in her, and had told her she was having an affair with married MacDowell and that her husband Gordon MacRae was also seeing someone else.

Ms Steventon said her friend had often said she was going to end the affair, but because of her love for MacDowell she found it difficult to do so.

The witness said Mrs MacRae used to see MacDowell on Wednesdays, under the guise of attending keep-fit classes, and their affair started after they met at a party in Inverness.

Mrs MacRae had been preparing for a move to Shetland with MacDowell – but the court has previously heard he did not apply for a job with Texaco on the islands.

Ms Steventon said that after Mrs MacRae’s burnt-out BMW was discovered, Mr MacRae called her and she told him that Mrs MacRae was with MacDowell.

“I assured him they were quite safe and he asked me how I knew they were safe,” Ms Steventon said. “I think I just said they are with Andrew’s father.”

Ms Steventon said she phoned around hotels looking for Mrs MacRae the day after, in part to alert her about her BMW being found, but to no avail.

After the disappearance, on the Sunday, she phoned MacDowell’s house and to her surprise he answered.

“I didn’t speak to him and replaced the receiver,” Ms Steventon said.

“I was very surprised he answered the phone and from that moment onwards I felt very concerned about what happened to Renee and her car.”

Ms Steventon said MacDowell and Mrs MacRae had the “odd tiff about petty things”, and that MacDowell would tell her there was “no future in their association”.

Mrs MacRae never said that she experienced any violent or aggressive behaviour from MacDowell, and she spoke very fondly of him, the witness added.

The jury also heard a statement on Friday from the late Kenneth Rock, who looked after the cars at Hugh Macrae Builders Limited, and was shown a video interview with him.

He said that after MacDowell was sacked by Mr MacRae, he was tasked with retrieving the company car.

In the statement, Mr Rock had said: “I got there and he refused to bring it in. He was actually cleaning it. He was cleaning it out and said he would return it when he finished.”

Mr Rock said MacDowell was “scrubbing” the car out, and it looked like he had the boot up.

He told a police officer in the video interview: “I think he returned it the next day. Then, I think it was handed over to your people.”

The court was told Mr Rock had said he did not think it was unusual for MacDowell to be cleaning his car.

MacDowell is charged with assaulting Mrs MacRae and Andrew at the Dalmagarry layby on the A9 trunk road south of Inverness, or elsewhere, by means unknown, and as a result murdering them.

He is also charged with disposing of their bodies and belongings by means unknown.

He denies the charges against him and has lodged a special defence of incrimination and alibi.

The trial, before Lord Armstrong, continues next week.