Accused William MacDowell admitted lying to Renee MacRae, murder trial hears

·5-min read
William MacDowell is on trial for murder at the High Court in Inverness (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Archive)
William MacDowell is on trial for murder at the High Court in Inverness (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Archive)

A married man accused of murdering his lover and their child told police officers he lied to her but never harmed her, a court has heard.

William MacDowell, 80, has denied murdering Renee MacRae, 36, and Andrew MacRae, three, at the Dalmagarry layby, on the A9 near Inverness on November 12 1976.

The High Court in Inverness heard in the days following the disappearance of Renee MacRae and her son that MacDowell gave four different statements: in the first denying any involvement with Mrs MacRae, but in a later interview admitting it.

Detective Chief Inspector Brian Geddes read out MacDowell’s statements to the jury that MacDowell and Renee MacRae had spoken about going to a hotel for a weekend away but he decided he had no intention of going and made his excuses.

Renee MacRae and her son Andrew went missing in November 1976 (PA) (PA Media)
Renee MacRae and her son Andrew went missing in November 1976 (PA) (PA Media)

“I always had to lie to her as she always wanted me to go off with her. If she had her way it would have been every weekend. This is why I had to keep telling her lies and leading her on,” MacDowell, who now lives in Penrith, Cumbria, told police on November 18 1976.

“I never harmed Renee in any way apart from mentally perhaps. I couldn’t do that,” he told detectives quizzing him about the disappearance.

In another police interview, he told officers she “kept wanting me to go away with her saying we would hit it off” but that he “always made it clear” to her that he could not leave his own wife and children for her.

“If I was misleading her, it was only because I was afraid of what she might do,” he said, and the jury heard she had been taking pills first prescribed to her, but later obtained from a friend.

His eyes were wide and staring and I thought, then, this was not a natural stare and was caused by fear or panic

Jean Wallace, witness

MacDowell told officers at the time he could not throw any light on her disappearance and had no idea where she might be, the court heard.

Jean Wallace told detectives that on November 12 1976 she saw a lone man with a pushchair at a place she later located as within the Dalmagarry layby area, according to a police statement taken in 1977.

Jurors heard how Mrs Wallace told the police the man she saw was “bending over” the pushchair, and had “one arm supporting some stuff heaped on the pram”.

“I got the impression something brown was involved. Whatever was on the pushchair was covered by clothing and overhanging the side of the pushchair,” the court heard.

As she and her husband drove past him, she told police: “The man turned, he looked directly towards me.

“His eyes were wide and staring and I thought, then, this was not a natural stare and was caused by fear or panic.”

Mrs Wallace, who has since died, at the time told officers she asked her husband if there was something wrong with their car because she could smell rubber burning, the court heard.

On that night, Mrs MacRae’s BMW was found burned out in the layby, and it was later recovered by police.

Donald MacArthur, a detective chief inspector in Inverness, said forensic experts had recovered a “heavy deposit of blood” from the underside of the BMW’s boot carpet which he said was about the size of a half crown coin, approximately 3cm in diameter.

John Bissett, 67, told the court he was driving along the Shenachie road, which came out near the A9’s Dalmagarry layby, where Mrs MacRae’s burnt out BMW was found, when he and a friend saw a vehicle parked up in a passing place.

“As we approached the car we saw what we took to be a person or persons at the back of the car. They seemed to be hiding. He or she or they didn’t want us to see what they were up to,” said Mr Bissett.

“We assumed it was possibly poachers in the area, it’s not an uncommon practice,” he said.

“One thing that did strike us at the time was it was a very smart car for poachers to be using.”

The court heard from Ewan MacDonald, 70, a police officer at the time who took Mr Bissett and his friend out to find a car similar to the one they had seen, and told a court they pointed to a Volvo.

Murray Macara KC, acting for MacDowell, questioned Mr MacDonald why officers did not take the two witnesses to car parks separately as they would do if they were taking part in an identity parade.

Asked about him being “quite scathing” about the initial investigation, the 70-year-old said he did not have strong views but some of his colleagues felt there might have been “missed opportunities” in the investigation.

MacDowell is also accused of disposing of the bodies of Mrs MacRae and her son and also disposing of a boot hatch from his Volvo car to defeat the ends of justice, which he denies.

He has lodged a special defence of incrimination and alibi, part of which is he was at the Mercury Motor Inn, Inverness, that evening before going home via his work and a shop.

James MacBeath, 69, was one of the men MacDowell had visited that evening in the hotel.

The former construction buyer told the court the accused appeared “agitated” that night, and Mr MacBeath added: “He looked at his watch several times and said he had to be somewhere about seven.

“The conversation was much of a general nature but two or three times he said he was going to go out with his wife at seven o’clock. I think he said he was going to meet her, giving the impression they were going out together.

“The first time he mentioned this was when he came into the bar and joined us.”

But, he told the court, the time he left the hotel meant he would have been late for the meeting.

The trial, before Lord Armstrong, continues.