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HIGH COURT IN INVERNESS: Murder suspect seen 'scrubbing out the boot of his car' trial of William MacDowell is told

By Ali Morrison

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The High Court in Inverness.
The High Court in Inverness.

The court was told the action was witnessed when a colleague arrived at his home to retrieve the company vehicle.

Building company secretary William MacDowell had just been sacked by his boss Gordon MacRae who had discovered that weekend his employee for many years had been having a secret affair with his wife, Renee.

Mr MacRae had also learned that MacDowell was the father of Mrs MacRae's three-year-old son, Andrew.

A jury trial at the High Court in Inverness had been told that mother and child have not been seen since November 12, 1976 – three days before MacDowell's dismissal.

Renee MacRae.
Renee MacRae.

Mrs MacRae had told friends she was going to her sister's home in Kilmarnock for the weekend. But others claimed that she was intending on spending the weekend with MacDowell.

MacDowell, now aged 80, stands accused of Mrs MacRae's and Andrew's murders and disposing of their bodies at an unknown location.

He also denies destroying evidence by burning her blue BMW car, which was discovered in an A9 lay-by, 12 miles south of Inverness.

MacDowell has lodged special defences of alibi that he was elsewhere at the time and that Mrs MacRae's estranged husband, Gordon, along with unknown others, were responsible for the crimes.

Andrew MacRae.
Andrew MacRae.

A former MacRae's employee, Kenneth Rock, who had responsibility for the company cars had been told by Mr MacRae to get MacDowell's Volvo returned.

Mr Rock is now deceased.

But former Detective Constable Ruth Mason, who was part of the huge reinvestigation of the mother and child's disappearance code-named "Operation Abermule" had interviewed Mr Rock and read out sections of his statement.

Mr Rock told her: "Gordon asked me to get the car returned from Bill MacDowell. He refused to bring it in. He was cleaning it out and said he would return it when he had finished.

"He didn't say why. He was scrubbing it out. The boot was up. I think it was handed over to you people (the police)."

Mrs Mason also read out a statement given by Mrs MacRae's best friend and close confidante Valerie Steventon. She was too unwell to give her evidence personally.

She spoke of Mrs MacRae being "deeply in love" with MacDowell and she was told that for the weekend of the disappearance, a chalet had been booked at a Rannoch hotel for the pair to spend the weekend together before a move to a new life in Shetland.

She said MacDowell insisted that Andrew come along, claiming he wanted to get to know the boy well, and that Mrs MacRae should not tell anyone else.

Over the months previous, Mrs Steventon said, MacDowell kept seeking assurances from his lover that he and the affair remain anonymous.

Mrs Steventon believed that they were all to return on the Monday but then heard that Mrs MacRae's BMW had been found burnt out.

She said: "I phoned all the hotels in the Rannoch area and I got a negative from each. On the Sunday afternoon I kept ringing Renee's house. I drove out to the A9 and sat in a lay-by looking for a white Range Rover (MacDowell's.) I then phoned MacDowell's house at 10pm that night and he answered, but I didn't speak to him.

"From that moment, I felt very concerned. I am certain if she was alive she would have been in touch with me by now."

Mrs Steventon said her friend thought that MacDowell could lie to her frequently, but seemed to accept it. The jury heard that Mrs MacRae also doubted that the move to Shetland would actually take place.

But she gave details of what Mrs MacRae said she had been told by MacDowell of plans to make a new life together.

Mrs Steventon said that initially MacDowell had talked of Mrs MacRae, her two sons and himself emigrating. But that changed in August 1976 to a plan to move to Shetland. MacDowell said he had applied for a job with Texaco and the company were giving them all a house with a verandah and big kitchen and she wanted to fit a new bathroom.

"She was very excited and said that Bill has got a job in Shetland working for Texaco and the four of us are going. He said he would show her the plans for the house," Mrs Steventon said.

A joint minute agreed between prosecution and defence indicated that MacDowell had never applied for a job with Texaco.

Mrs Steventon's statement referred to MacDowell giving Mrs MacRae vouchers from his company without her husband's knowledge, to buy items for the new home.

However Mrs MacRae appeared to be suspicious, tried to locate a container MacDowell had claimed to buy for the move without success and tried to secretly ascertain if MacDowell had resigned his job at MacRae's as he had said.

The trial continues.

View our fact sheet on court reporting here

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