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Sister of Renee MacRae says she would have preferred William MacDowell to have spent longer in prison

By Neil MacPhail

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Andrew and Renee MacRae.
Andrew and Renee MacRae.

The death of William MacDowell in custody has almost certainly cheated his victims’ family of their ultimate closure – bringing their bodies home.

MacDowell was brought to justice 47 years after murdering his secret lover Renee MacRae and son Andrew, but has now taken the terrible secret of what he did with their remains to his grave.

Morag Govans never gave up hope that one day the mother and son – her sister and nephew – would be laid to rest and mourned with a proper funeral.

MacDowell’s death, at Forth Valley Royal Hospital in the central belt, was confirmed on Wednesday and yesterday police confirmed that the 81-year-old had given them no further information since his conviction last September.

“The fact that he chose not to do that speaks volumes about what kind of man he was – a cold, calculating murderer of an innocent mother and child,” Mrs Govans said.

Many years ago she had a memorial bench to Renee and Andrew installed at the family graveyard in Kirkhill near Inverness.

Bill MacDowell heading in to court. Picture: Staff photographer.
Bill MacDowell heading in to court. Picture: Staff photographer.

The 84-year-old, who lives in Scorguie, said yesterday: “It is where they would have been brought home to if we had the chance. That has been denied us.

“When I heard he had died my first thoughts were, as always, for Renee and Andrew.

“I was very pleased when MacDowell was brought to justice for his horrific crimes, and I hoped that after his conviction he would take the chance to say where their remains are.

“In some ways I would have preferred him to have lived to spend a longer time in prison to reflect on what he had done and let us know what happened to Renee and Andrew.”

Highland journalist Bill McAllister, who followed the case that gripped the nation after Renee and Andrew went missing in 1976, summed up local feeling: “MacDowell will have a funeral and, presumably, a gravestone at his final resting place. But there is no such closure for the family and friends of the MacRae victims.

“Andrew would have been over 50 now, and his older brother Gordon has been deprived of a mother and brother for most of his life.

“By contrast, MacDowell served less than five months of his 30-year minimum sentence. There will hardly be an outpouring of sympathy in Inverness for the killer in the Highlands’ most enduring murder mystery.”

MacDowell was found guilty of murdering Renee and Andrew after a lengthy trial at the High Court in Inverness last autumn.

Following his conviction Mrs Govans spoke outside the court on behalf of the family: “Almost 46 years on, the pain of losing Renee and Andrew in such a cruel and brutal fashion never fades,” she said at the time. “Today there is finally justice for them. They were both so precious to us and a day never passes without them both in our thoughts.

“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.”

Renee (36) and three-year-old son Andrew 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 and neither Renee nor Andrew have been seen since.

MacDowell, who was by then living in Penrith, was arrested in September 2019 after an extensive reinvestigation by detectives from Police Scotland’s Major Investigation Team and local officers.

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