Renee, born Christina Catherine MacDonald, was born in February 1940, in Inverness, Scotland.
Renee was married to Gordon MacRae, and they had 2 sons together; 9 year old Gordon and 3 year old Andrew. At the time of Renee’s disappearance, Gordon and Renee were separated.
On Friday, 12th November 1976, Renee left her home in Cradlehall, Inverness with her two sons. She dropped Gordon off at her husbands, and proceeded down the A9 towards Perth, with the aim of visiting her sister in Kilmarnock. This was the last sighting of Renee and Andrew.
Around 12 miles away, on the night of the 12th November, a train driver spotted Renee’s BMW car burning in an isolated lay-by. When police came to investigate, the car was empty apart from a blood stained rug. The blood was tested and matched Renee’s blood type.
An intense search, in fact one of the most intense searches Scotland has ever seen, began but they found nothing. A few witnesses came forward and said that they saw a man dragging a dead sheep not far from the car. At the time of her disappearance, Renee was wearing a sheepskin coat. Another witness also placed a man with a pushchair near Dalmagarry quarry, but it is unknown if this is related. The police concluded that the mother and son had been murdered, and that the killer was very careful in his tracks to hide the bodies and conceal any evidence.
When investigators started talking to friends and family of Renee, they found out that Renee’s life was not as simple as it looked.
Renee had been having an affair with a man named William (Bill) MacDowell since 1971. Bill worked for Renee’s husband, Gordon, as an accountant and company secretary. Bill was also married and had two children of his own.
No-one apart from Valerie Steventon, Renee’s best friend, knew about this affair. Valerie also said that Renee was not planning on seeing her sister the night she disappeared, but that she was going to see Bill, in Perthshire. It was also made evident that Bill was Andrew’s biological dad. According to Valerie, Renee was “completely besotted” with Bill, and he had told Renee that he had a job with Texaco in Shetland, and had found a house where they could all live. These plans came to be lies told by Bill.
The senior officers admitted that the case was in a “sea of deceit and untruthfulness from the start.” Whilst excavating Dalmagarry quarry, the police were hit by a stench after removing a layer of topsoil. The police were certain that the bodies were here, but the digging had to be stopped due to short funds.
In 2004, a cold case review was opened and £122,000 was spent on excavating Dalmagarry quarry that August. This excavation did not find the bodies of Renee and Andrew.
In the years following, more speculation was placed that the bodies were buried under the A9 which were in the middle of a major renovating at the time of the disappearance. An 80 year old farmer with proclaimed divining skills (gaining insight into a situation by using occultist process or ritual) took his diving rods out to the A9 and declared that the bodies were under a track, 12ft down. He marked the spot on the A9 with a yellow circle. In 2010, it was announced that a £2.6 million contract had been awarded for an overtaking lane at the spot, which renewed the farmers interest again. The farmer then claimed he had discovered “anomalies” in a radar survey of the area.
A spokeswoman for the police said that after examining aerial photographs taken by the Royal Air Force during construction of the A9, the police were satisfied that the bodies were not buried there.
The main suspect in the case has always been Bill, Renee’s love interest. Bill has always refused to speak to the media regarding the disappearance, but in 2004 he did an interview where he said he did not kill Renee. A week after the disappearances, Bill walked into Police Scotland to give a statement, but his wife dragged him out and nothing was ever said again.
Over forty years later, a new suspect emerged who had fled to America the day after being interviewed by police in connection with the disappearance. James Taylor claimed that his late friend Sandy Thompson, a senior officer at the time who worked closely with Renee’s contacts and even carried out fieldwork investigating the case, was sure that Renee had been murdered and buried on the A9 near an overpass. James reported his concerns to Police Scotland, following an appeal by the police for the 40th Anniversary of the case. James said that he spoke to a foreman in the roads department who told him that someone had dug up a section of the road on the day Renee disappeared. James said: “Sandy said he knew right away when he looked at it that the woman was dead, that was where she was buried and this man knew far more than he was telling.” The man has never been publicly identified, but returned to Scotland after the case had gone cold.
In September 2019, Police Scotland arrested 77 year old Bill MacDowell in connection with the disappearances. On Wednesday, 11th September 2019, Bill was charged with the murders of Renee and Andrew MacRae.
On 7th June, 2021, Bill’s lawyer, Murray Macara QC, entered not guilty pleas to all of the charges on his behalf. Bill was unable to attend the hearing due to medical issues. There will be a further hearing on 22nd July, 2021.
Whilst this case seems to be making progress, the bodies of Renee and Andrew have still not been found. They are presumed to have been murdered, but what if Andrew is still alive? And, if the bodies were buried under the A9, why did the police not investigate it further? Who is the man who fled to America after being questioned? Even if he had no involvement in the cases, the fact that he fled is suspicious.
Unsolved, missing, Scotland