It all happened in just 50 minutes.
A woman gone. Two children’s lives changed forever. A family traumatised. A community stunned.
At 9.40am on April 28, 1998, Arlene Fraser was on the phone from her Elgin home to her son’s school.
But at 10.30am the 33-year-old’s best friend arrived to find her gone.
What happened during those 50 minutes would spark one of Scotland’s biggest murder inquiries.
Now in a special series of articles marking the 25th anniversary of Arlene’s disappearance and murder we look at how the events unfolded, speak to those closest to the case and consider whether her body will ever be found.
Arlene meets Nat Fraser
It was the summer of 1985 when fashion shop worker Arlene, then a 20-year-old Arlene McInnes, exchanged smiles and banter with fruit and veg delivery man Nat Fraser at a party.
It was long before the days of dating apps made “swiping right” the way to meet your future partner.
According to friends, Nat, then 27, was attracted to Arlene’s good looks and quiet confidence.
Arlene knew Nat as a seemingly dashing, witty young man who owned his own home and ran his own business.
But it was on Hogmanay, as 1985 gave way to 1986, that the pair really hit it off.
At a house party in Elgin, the two danced the night away to the big hits of the time such as Simple Minds Don’t You (Forget About Me), Aha’s Take On Me and the traditional Auld Langs Syne.
A connection had been made – and Nat made a new year’s resolution to keep in Arlene’s good books.
That winter, Nat showered Arlene with gifts, winning her affection, making her feel special.
They began courting – but it wasn’t all plain sailing.
Those looking out for Arlene warned her of Nat’s reputation. He was a charmer who chatted up women while gigging with The Minesweepers band or while out delivering veg.
But, according to pals, Arlene could only see a warm, loving man who wanted to settle down.
One night Arlene went to see Nat’s band play and felt reassured when she saw Nat was behaving.
Arlene’s close friend Michelle Scott said: “When you first meet Nat you’d think ‘oh, he’s a nice guy – chatty, friendly’.
“But I daresay there’s a darker side to him that most people wouldn’t see. He had a front for the public.”
Life in Elgin
Things were going well so, in April of that year, Arlene moved in with Nat at his home at 2 Smith Street, New Elgin.
It made sense for Arlene.
Before that, she had been living in the family home on a nearby Elgin street, sharing a bedroom with older sister Carol.
Arlene, a keen horserider, had left school without qualifications and was bouncing from one part-time job to another.
Nat offered stability and routine. She would do the housework; he would provide for her.
While moving in was a big step, not much changed in their lives.
Nat continued working and performing while Arlene carried on her job at The Time Machine clothing boutique in Elgin.
She enjoyed shopping, keeping fit and experimenting with hair and make-up.
The living arrangement worked well and, just five months after they began sharing a house, they got engaged as Nat slid a sapphire ring onto Arlene’s finger.
Soon after, Arlene fell pregnant with their first child, Jamie – and it was full steam ahead with wedding plans.
The big day was set for May 9, 1987, but there was a major bump in the road.
Alarm bells ring for Arlene
According to Arlene’s best friend, Michelle Scott, Arlene walked into her living room to hear her fiance chatting up another woman on the landline.
Michelle said: “He sometimes didn’t even try to keep his cheating hidden and Arlene walked in on him arranging a date that day.”
Arlene was stunned and packed up her things to move back in with her dad, Hector McInnes.
But Nat talked her round and she moved back in within the week.
Any notion that Nat would be on his best behaviour on the week of the ceremony was short lived.
“He got into a fight on his stag night,” said Michelle Scott.
That did not impress Arlene’s mum, Isabelle, especially when Nat walked down the aisle at St Giles and St Columba’s South Church in Elgin the next day sporting a big black eye.
Everything about that day was pure Nat.
On one hand, he was hungover and dishevelled. On the other, he charmed Arlene and those gathered with his bravado.
He sent a white Rolls Royce to run Arlene to the church and gave her a gold and silver wedding band encrusted with diamonds.
At the reception, he put on his best Eric Clapton crooner act and performed Wonderful Tonight as the lead singer in his band, rounding off an enjoyable if not eventful day.
Three months later Jamie was born. Arlene gave up her job and Nat vowed to look after her.
But some claimed he was happy to play the role of the valiant breadwinner because, in his mind, it gave him an excuse to cheat.
Michelle Scott said: “I heard he had a different woman every week.
“Because he was in a band, he was out every weekend.
“I remember Arlene saying ‘sometimes he never used to come home til all hours’.
Another of Arlene’s friends, Marion Taylor, said: “Arlene would say Nat wasn’t a good dad.
“Once, Jamie needed a few pence to pay his weekly karate class entry and Arlene said: ‘I’m going to have to burst his piggy bank.’
“It’s typical Nat: He’s got the kids’ names on the side of the work van but won’t give them anything.”
Meanwhile, Arlene was the doting mum, at home with Jamie.
Eventually, she wanted to blow off steam, going out on the town with her pals.
It was at this point that things began to plunge on a downward spiral towards tragedy.
“It was coercion and it was gaslighting. But back then we didn’t even have words for them, so women tolerated more,” said Michelle Scott.
It began with Nat criticising Arlene’s clothes, claiming they were too revealing.
Then, in 1988, Nat’s controlling tendencies well and truly erupted.
It was reported that Arlene struck up a friendship with a 17-year-old who worked for Nat’s veg delivery firm and they had a three-week fling before Nat found out and hit the roof.
Arlene – distraught with guilt – apologised and vowed never to see him again, but it wasn’t enough for her outraged husband.
Michelle Scott said: “That did happen, yes. After that she was loyal.
“Nat – understandably – wanted Arlene to be loyal – while he would be out cheating every weekend.”
Marion Taylor said: “Nat always had affairs and Arlene knew.”
Nat’s aggressive behaviour
That caused blazing rows between the couple and occasionally they would turn physical, with Nat pushing Arlene.
As the 1990s began, Arlene was so concerned by her husband’s temper she met a divorce lawyer.
In one incident in 1992, Nat became so aggressive that Arlene fled the house with Jamie and moved into a shelter for domestic-violence victims, where they lived for a month.
But Nat talked Arlene round and she moved back in.
It would be several years before Arlene told her family as she didn’t want to worry them.
Despite Nat’s behaviour Arlene fell pregnant with her second child, Natalie, at Christmas 1992.
Natalie was born the following year and Arlene was a doting mother, staying at home, keeping the house clean – just how Nat liked it.
In 1995, Nat bought Arlene a gold eternity ring that would become a controversial part of the later murder inquiry.
An uneasy peace remained in the Fraser household until 1997 – when Arlene announced she was enrolling on a two-year business course at Moray College.
The power dynamic shifts
She also started socialising – and all that changed the power dynamic between Nat and Arlene.
When the kids were younger, she and old pal Michelle Scott had lost touch.
But, during a chance meeting in Elgin town centre, Michelle asked Arlene to go on a night out with her.
They were joined by Michelle’s colleague and pal, Marion Taylor.
Marion said: “We would be drinking in Michelle’s flat until 11pm, because it was cheaper and then we’d go to a bar.
“Michelle had pink fluffy cushions and matching sofas – and Arlene loved it.
“Hearing about my career and seeing Michelle’s place – Arlene would say ‘you’ve given me a huge dose of what I should expect from myself.’
“She had seen what life could be like if she had responsibility for her own life.”
Michelle Scott said: “When she had the kids, Arlene was happy being a stay-at-home mum.
“But (when the kids got older), she would come out with us into town, the odd Saturday night.
“Nat certainly didn’t like that.”
Marion added: “Arlene would say to me: ‘me coming out has got his attention’.”
Former Detective Superintendent Alan Smith, who was one of the senior officers in the subsequent murder case, said: “The kids went off to school, Arlene began to go off to college.
“She widened her circle of friends and became a little bit more self-confident.
“Nat didn’t much like the idea of his wife having this freedom and this other life, which was beyond caring for the kids and being at home.
“That didn’t fit in with Nat’s idea of the ideal wife.”
Nat knew his previous aggression had driven Arlene away – so he changed tack.
Rather than being violent, he would hide her contact lenses or cut up her favourite dress to stop her going out.
Michelle Scott said: “A few times she would come round to mine and I’d be doing her hair and she’d say: ‘That’s Nat’s car, driving past the house.’
“She knew the sound of the engine. Because it happened so often.”
Marion Taylor said: “One night in a bar, two men sat between me and Michelle.
“It was all swearing and one of them said ‘I’m getting her (Arlene) out of here’.
“We didn’t know who they were but Nat had sent them because we were going out with Arlene.
“I know the police did go and speak to them about it.”
Michelle added: “Maybe he should have been reported sooner, but it was different social attitudes back then.”
The relationship deteriorates
Nat doubled down on his attempts to stop Arlene socialising and in his efforts to undermine her.
Michelle Scott said that on one occasion, when Arlene was sleeping in the couple’s spare room, she found the mattress was soaking.
Nat had poured water on it so Arlene would have to sleep in the same bed as him.
Things got worse in early 1998.
Firstly, in February, Nat launched a brutal attack on Arlene after Arlene had spoken to a man on a night out.
Marion Taylor said: “Arlene was an attractive-looking girl.
“Folk would come over and ask if she was single and she’d say she was married.
“That happened at the Newmarket Bar in Elgin and Nat walked in.
“Later, Nat confronted her and she said: ‘The guy asked for my number, but I’m not like you. I wouldn’t go seeing someone else.’”
Extreme violence towards Arlene
Nat punched Arlene, fracturing her jaw so badly that she could not chew food and she lost two stones.
He briefly moved out of the Smith Street house but ended up moving back in after pledging to accept Arlene’s independence.
His compliance was shortlived.
Marion Taylor said she, Arlene and Michelle had gone on a night out the day before Mothering Sunday 1998.
They were joined by Michelle’s boyfriend and his friend, who had parked his car outside Michelle’s house.
Marion added: “We went out, it was a normal night. We came back to Michelle’s. We had music on and started playing charades.
“It was 5am on Sunday when we all got home.”
As she arrived home, Arlene was cornered by Nat who throttled her with a dressing gown cord, causing her to pass out.
Marion said: “Nat had seen the car parked outside Michelle’s house.
“He thought ‘It must have been Arlene’s boyfriend’.
“It was totally innocent because she absolutely was not seeing anyone besides Nat. But he flew into a rage.
Michelle Scott said: “Arlene told me a few days later: ‘I was gasping for breath. I passed out.’
“Nat told her she had had a fit.”
Arlene had endured enough and went to the police. A doctor told Arlene her injuries were consistent with that of a person who had been strangled to death.
A picture taken of Arlene at the time shows red colouring in her right eye, often seen in the bodies of strangulation victims.
Her check-up was conducted by a pathologist, who usually examines corpses.
Attempted murder arrest
Police arrested Nat on suspicion of attempted murder and while on bail an interdict barred him from going near the Smith Street house.
Despite that, he did go round – sometimes invited, sometimes not.
Marion said: “He was climbing into the house, moving her handbags from room to room. Misplacing things – just to make her scared.
“Arlene had looked at the latch on the skylight. It had been tampered with.”
While Arlene physically recovered, she was terrified.
Marion said: “I saw a difference after that. She was trembling. It really did take its toll.”
Within days, she went to a divorce lawyer.
Arlene seeks divorce advice
As part of a divorce, she rightly stood to gain half of the couple’s finances – around £250,000 in money and assets.
Michelle Scott said: “She would have gone through with the divorce.
“She just wanted enough money to buy a house somewhere and to support her.”
Overnight, everything had changed. Arlene had found the strength to change her life and Nat’s power had evaporated.
Mr Smith said: “Everything in Nat’s life is around control: Of the house, the kids, Arlene, the money.
“All of that overnight, when he was bailed, was blown out of the water.
“Here he is now staying with a friend and in his mind must have been how his image locally had been blown apart.
“He thought ‘’If I can remove Arlene out of the equation, things will get back to normal for me and the kids and I’ll have money and everything will be fine’.
We wrote to Nat Fraser in prison to ask for comment. He did not reply.
Read part 2 next
If you would like to speak to our Impact investigations team about the case, please email Dale.Haslam@eveningexpress.co.uk.