A pensioner has been jailed for at least 30 years after murdering his lover and their three-year-old son more than 45 years ago in Britain’s longest missing persons case.
William McDowell, 80, was convicted by a jury at the High Court in Inverness of murdering both Rene McRae and their young son Andrew in November 1976.
Police have never found the bodies of the 36-year-old mother or her three-year-old son, with officers now appealing for the killer to reveal what he did to them so they can be “given the dignity they deserve”.
Sentencing after McDowell was found guilty of murder at the High Court in Inverness, Judge Lord Armstrong told him: ‘These murders appear to have been premeditated, planned and carried out in the most measured manner – not a spontaneous event or a spur of the moment. .’
He added: “These actually appear to have been executions. You killed your victims and then disposed of their bodies and personal belongings, including the boy’s pram. You then took steps to cover up the crimes you committed.
As well as being convicted of the murders of Renee and Andrew McRae, McDowell was also found guilty of attempting to pervert the ends of justice by disposing of their bodies and personal belongings.
Mrs McRae, who was separated from her husband, was having an affair with a married McDowell at the time she and Andrew disappeared.
However, McDowell’s wife, Rosemary, has supported him for decades and even pushed him into court earlier today in his wheelchair.
William McDowell with his wife Rosemary at Inverness Crown Court today before the jury delivered their verdict
William McDowell, 80, was found guilty of murdering 36-year-old Renee McRae (left) and their son Andrew (right) in a secluded area south of Inverness on November 12, 1976.
Inverness High Court was earlier told by Alex Prentice QC, prosecuting, that now 80-year-old William McDowell (pictured) was the only man with a motive to kill because of the risk of his more than four-year affair with exposing Ms MacRae and he loses everything
The court heard that McDowell, from Penrith, Cumbria, killed or abducted Mrs McRae and her son at a bus stop on the A9 near Dalmagary on November 12, 1976.
Their BMW car was found in flames near Dalmagari later that evening. Neither Renee nor Andrew have been seen since and their bodies have never been found.
McDowell was arrested in September 2019 following an extensive review and re-investigation by detectives from Police Scotland’s Major Investigation Team and local officers, building on decades of work carried out since 1976.
The investigation also included a major operation in 2019 to drain and forensically search the Leanach quarry near Inverness for evidence.
This involved the removal of more than 100,000 tonnes of material, with more than 5,000 tonnes subject to a thorough search by specialist officers over a period of five months.
However, no evidence was found at the scene.
On behalf of the family, Morag Govans, Renee’s sister and Andrew’s aunt, said: “Nearly 46 years later, the pain of losing Renee and Andrew in such a cruel and brutal way has never faded.
“Today there is finally justice for them. It’s a day we feared would never come.
“They were both so precious to us and never a day goes by without them both in our thoughts.
“Renee was a compassionate and caring mother. Both Andrew and his older brother Gordon were her life. She adored them and was so proud of her boys.
“Andrew would have been 48 today, he was never given the chance to build his own life.
“The passage of time has not eased the grief we feel, we have never been able to put Renee and Andrew to rest or properly grieve their loss.
“Not knowing where their remains lie only adds to the pain.
“Thinking about the horror they must have experienced before they died continues to haunt us.
“We will never know why their lives had to be taken in such a calculated and callous way by William McDowell.
“If he has an ounce of decency in his body, he will now reveal where they both lie.”
William McDowell with his wife Rosemary McDowell in the High Court at the Inverness Justice Centre. He was sentenced to life in prison with a recommendation to serve a minimum of 30 years for the November 1976 murders of Renee and Andrew McRae.
Renee McRae and her son Andrew, who have been missing since 1976. McDowell was today convicted of their murders
William McDowell (left) and his wife Rosemary (right). Today he was convicted of the murders of Renee and Andrew McRae
Chief Inspector Brian Geddes said: “The family and friends of Renee and Andrew have waited decades for justice and I hope the outcome in court today can provide some form of closure for them.
“They conducted themselves with absolute dignity throughout and are very much in my thoughts today.
“The murders of Renee and Andrew McRae have had a significant impact on people in Inverness and beyond for decades.
“It is fitting to know that despite the passage of time, justice has finally been served.”
He added: “Although justice has now been served, the bodies of Renee and Andrew have not been found and I would urge anyone who may have information on their whereabouts to come forward so they can be given the dignity they deserve.
“In particular I would appeal directly to William McDowell to speak to us and allow us to end their family.”
The now 80-year-old killed Mrs MacRae, who he admitted repeatedly lying to during their four-year relationship, and their child Andrew in a gully near Dalmagarry on the A9, about 12 miles south of Inverness.
A massive police investigation has been launched since their disappearance, with roadblocks set up on the busy road in an attempt to find as many witnesses as possible.
But despite investigations in 1986, 2004 and 2018, Renee and Andrew’s remains have never been found.
Operation Abermule, the latest investigation, was launched to find the killer and to locate the resting place of the two bodies almost 46 years after the crime.
So far, she has achieved only one of her goals – to have McDowell convicted of both murders.
But Mr Geddes said he would “remain optimistic” that the bodies could still be found.
He said: “We set out with this as our goal and we, the organization, whoever comes after me, will not give up on this until there is no hope.
“There is hope right now, so we will remain optimistic.”
Debris taken from the disused Leanach Quarry near Inverness, which was searched as part of the investigation into the disappearance of the mother and son
The next step will be to “try to re-contact” McDowell and “see if he is willing to talk,” the officer added.
McDowell, who was married while having an affair with Ms McRae, who was separated from her husband, tried to keep their affair secret.
Mr Geddes said: “The motive we have was that the pressures on his lifestyle were increasing, or at least the circumstances which could affect his lifestyle as it was at the time, and that he had to take actions to maintain that lifestyle and to maintain the standard of living that he had, which was obviously a good standard of living at the time.
He added: “We would like to know more answers on behalf of the family, whether they want to know the details of what happened down there.
“But as an investigator, we would like to know every fact and every part of the circumstances that occurred.”
The latest investigation and subsequent court case involved more than 1,500 witnesses, many of whom have either died or are no longer able to testify in court.
“There’s no doubt that the team we’ve had since 2018 has uncovered evidence that hadn’t been focused on before,” Mr Geddes said.
“We have certainly improved the known circumstances around Friday, November 12 and beyond.
The police officer said he could “sympathize with many of the frustrations as to why it has taken so long” for a verdict.
But he stressed: “We have now achieved what we set out to do in 2018.
“And that’s in no small measure to what was done in 1976, 1987, 2004 and beyond.” It all helped us get here.
Lord Armstrong had previously told jurors if they found McDowell not guilty – or that the case had not been proven – the 80-year-old could not be tried again unless there were exceptional circumstances.
McDowell presented two special defenses – one of an alibi that he was elsewhere at the time, including at the Mercury Motor Inn with three co-workers, before going home.
The other, a prosecution, argued that if the murders did occur, they were committed by Mrs MacRae’s estranged husband Gordon MacRae, acting with others.
Lord Armstrong, who dismissed the jury shortly after 10.10am, told them: “What you have to do now is to consider all the evidence relied upon by the Crown and the submissions made to you by the Deputy Solicitor and equal attention to the defense and what Mr. (Murray) Makara said on behalf of William McDowell.