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The Renee and Andrew MacRae case: Four statements from a killer

A black and white image of a young Bill MacDowell and a colour photo of Bill MacDowell, then and now.
Bill MacDowell gave different versions of what happened to police

In one of the biggest moments in modern Scottish legal history, Bill MacDowell was found guilty of murdering his lover and their son.

The 81-year-old’s defence team has indicated he will appeal the conviction in the Renee and Andrew MacRae case.

But as things stand, he is set to die in prison after being handed a life sentence with a minimum of 30 years.

During his near-three-week trial, dozens of witnesses – or statements from deceased witnesses – gave the jury a narrative.

In this analysis, we look at exactly what Bill MacDowell told police in the days and weeks after Renee and Andrew disappeared.

It is a story that starts with MacDowell insisting he had “no association” with the woman he rather formally refers to as “Mrs MacRae”.

But as it becomes clear that a blanket denial just won’t wash, it becomes a tortuous narrative of a self-confessed liar who was apparently trying to keep his wife and his mistress apart.

In the following months, there were other interviews, too.

Could something have come out all those years ago when he asked to be excused from an interview to go to the bathroom?

And what exactly happened when his wife Rosemary arrived and interrupted a police interview?

Bill MacDowell: The statements

In one afternoon during the trial, Detective Chief Inspector Geddes – the “present-day” senior investigating officer (SIO) – went back in time.

He read out four different statements given by MacDowell within a week of the disappearance of Renee and Andrew on November 12, 1976.

On the morning of Monday, November 15, MacDowell gave his first statement to police.

During the interview, at MacRae’s HQ in Inverness, he sketched out his movements on that fateful night.

He told police he was 35 and a company secretary – so far, so good – and that he had been at home from 8.15pm that night.

The key line in this first statement was: “I deny any association with Mrs MacRae.”

Black and white picture of Renee and Andrew MacRae
To go with story by Ewan Cameron. Renee MacRae and Andrew murder trial Picture shows; Renee MacRae and Andrew. N/A. Supplied by N/A Date; Unknown

Later the same day, however, MacDowell was interviewed again to admit he was much more involved with Mrs MacRae.

In fact, he said: “During February 1972, I became involved in an affair with Renee.”

This statement, typed out at the time and read out in court four decades later, revealed a lot more about the double life MacDowell was leading.

In it, he talked about how Renee had told him her husband, Gordon, was “unkind and unfaithful”.

The doomed affair

He talked about Renee having a son, Andrew, in 1973 – later established to be MacDowell’s child.

He said after having the boy, and then after separating from Gordon, Renee changed.

MacDowell said: “She then wanted something to develop from our relationship.”

Then, there was a confused tale of MacDowell admitting to a night away with Renee in Perthshire.

He also confessed to having sex with her “one or two” times a week.

But he also spoke about Renee having blackouts, her car going off the road, and mentioned pills and an overdose.

A few lines touched on the dilemma we can imagine MacDowell had at the time.

He said: “She kept wanting me to go away with her. I suppose I was guilty of leading her on.”

But he also insisted that he “always made it clear” he could never leave his wife and two daughters.

Repeating his insistence that he was home all evening, he added: “I can’t throw any light on her disappearance.

“She never said to me she was going away and I was surprised at that.”

What happened next?

On November 18, MacDowell had another statement for police.

This statement had more detail. In it, we learn that Renee and MacDowell had made tentative plans to go away that weekend.

The Loch Rannoch Hotel in Perthshire was mentioned.

But MacDowell said it never happened, in the end: “We made no booking, as I was not certain of going. We were going to use Renee’s name and not mine.”

Black and white photo of Renee MacRae and Bill MacDowell
Bill MacDowell and Renee MacRae

He also gave an insight into the nuts and bolts of their affair – there was a “ring twice and hang up” phone code.

MacDowell described this as “the usual system” to “make sure the way was clear”.

He told of his reaction to the news Renee’s car had been found burnt out – ringing Renee’s phone and Gordon’s phone, but getting no reply.

This time, MacDowell admitted: “I always had to lie to her, she was always wanting me to go off with her.

“I had to tell her lies.”

But he added he was “quite definite” that he didn’t meet her and hadn’t see her since Monday night.

“I never harmed Renee, in any way, apart from mentally, perhaps.”

The final statement – for now

The next day, November 19, MacDowell’s last statement of the four was given.

This time, MacDowell has a solicitor with him and is described as unemployed.

He re-iterated that the arrangements to meet Renee were not definite, adding: “I had decided by Monday night that I would not be going away.”

He spoke again about his movements in the evening, but added a strange passage.

Detailing how he drove home via Drumossie – which wouldn’t be the obvious route – he said it was because he missed a turning overtaking a lorry.

But almost immediately, he corrected himself to admit it was actually because he didn’t want to pass Renee’s house.

In this same interview, he denied stories of a new life with Renee, and a rumoured move to Shetland.

He said: “At no time did I apply for any job in Shetland. If Renee had that impression, it was not as a result of anything I said.”

The interrupted statements

There were two more interviews that could be of interest.

On December 20 at 3.15pm, SIO Donald John McArthur interviewed MacDowell with a DI Fraser.

It was noted: “On this occasion, he appeared to be worried, dejected and tired.”

During the interview, at about 6pm, Mrs MacDowell arrived at police HQ and was shown into the interview room.

The notes read: “Due to her very aggressive attitude, it was impossible to continue.”

At a later date, possibly in January 1977, there was yet another interview.

DI Geddes read out how MacDowell was smoking a tobacco pipe when he started gasping and asked to be shown to the toilet.

He was found huddled round the toilet pan, attempting to vomit.

He said he inhaled tobacco smoke, but was all right.

Were these interrupted moments the closest police came to an answer at the time? It wasn’t enough, in the end.

It was to take more than four decades, but eventually another generation of police officers and prosecutors put MacDowell behind bars.

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