Penrith man found guilty of murdering Renee MacRae and three-year-old son

Renee MacRae (left) and her son Andrew (right).
William MacDowell has been found guilty of murdering both Renee MacRae (left) and their three-year-old son Andrew (right) in 1976. Credit: ITV News

A married man who murdered his lover and their young son more than 45 years ago will die behind bars.

William MacDowell, 80, was sentenced to life in prison, with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 30 years for killing Renee and Andrew MacRae.

Renne, 36, and Andrew, three, left their home in Inverness on November 12, 1976, heading south on the A9.

Their BMW car was discovered on fire in a lay-by near Dalmagarry later that evening. Neither Renee nor Andrew have been seen since and police have never found their bodies.

MacDowell was arrested in September 2019 after an extensive review and re-investigation carried out by detectives, from Police Scotland’s Major Investigation Team and local officers, building on decades of work carried out since 1976.

Mrs MacRae, 36, disappeared with Andrew more than 40 years ago. Credit: Police Scotland/PA

A jury of eight women and seven men in the case, at the High Court in Inverness, Scotland, convicted MacDowell for the killings on Thursday.

Passing sentence after MacDowell, of Penrith, Cumbria, was found guilty of murder, judge Lord Armstrong, told him: “These murders appear to have been premediated, planned and carried out in the most calculated way - not a spontaneous event or spur of the moment.”

He added: “These appear, in effect, to have been executions.

“You murdered your victims and then disposed of their bodies and personal effects, including the boy’s pushchair.

“You then took steps to conceal the crimes you had committed.”

William MacDowell and Renee MacRae had a four-year affair before the murder Credit: Crown Office/PA

As well as being convicted of the murders of Renee and Andrew MacRae, MacDowell was found guilty of attempting to defeat the ends of justice by disposing of their bodies and personal effects.

In a statement on behalf of the family, Mrs MacRae's sister, Morag Govans, said: “Almost 46 years on, the pain of losing Renee and Andrew in such a cruel and brutal fashion never fades.

“Today there is finally justice for them. It’s a day we feared would never come. They were both so precious to us and a day never passes without them both in our thoughts.

“Renee was a compassionate and caring mother. Both Andrew and his elder brother Gordon were her life. She adored them and was so proud of her boys.

“Andrew would be 48 today, he was never given the chance to build his own life.

Mrs Macree's BMW was found burnt out on the night she and her son were murdered. Credit: Crown Office

“The passage of time has not eased the anguish we feel, we have never been able to lay Renee and Andrew to rest or properly mourn their loss.

“Not knowing where their remains lie only compounds the pain. Thinking of the terror they both must have felt before they died continues to haunt us.

“We will never comprehend why their lives had to be taken in such a calculated and callous manner by William MacDowell.

“If he has a shred of decency in his body, he will now reveal where they both lie.”

The investigation into the disappearances of Renee and Andrew MacRae has been one of Scotland’s longest running and enduring cases.

Latterly, it was subject to an extensive review led by detectives from Police Scotland’s Major Investigations Team, which initially commenced in 2017, and a re-investigation started in 2018.

The review and re-investigation involved assessing all the available material gathered over more than four decades, reviewing previous witness statements and where possible re-interviewing people who had given information about the case.

During 2019 the enquiry involved a major operation to drain and forensically search Leanach Quarry near Inverness for evidence. More than 100,000 tonnes of material was removed in total, with 5,000 plus tonnes subject to a thorough search by specialist officers over a five month period.

Even though no evidence was found at Leanach Quarry it was viewed by police as a significant line of enquiry which had to be exhausted.

Detective Chief Inspector Brian Geddes said: "Renee and Andrew’s family, and friends, have waited decades for justice and I hope that the outcome in court today can provide some form of closure for them.

“Although justice has now been done, Renee and Andrew’s bodies have not been found and I would urge anyone who may have information about where they are to come forward so they can be provided with the dignity they deserve.

“In particular I would appeal directly to William McDowell to speak to us and allow to bring closure to their family.”

Throughout the trial MacDowell had denied the murders and one charge of attempting to defeat the ends of justice.

He lodged two special defences - one of alibi, that he was elsewhere at the time, including in the Mercury Motor Inn with three colleagues before going home.

The other, incrimination, alleged that if the murders did happen, they were committed by Mrs MacRae’s estranged husband Gordon MacRae acting with others.