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Scottish Mysteries. / Writings · 21 June 2022

Scottish Mysteries.(couple)


IT was a case which both scandalised and shocked the Scottish highlands in the 1970s – and has continued to baffle and obsess the nation ever since.

The story begins on Friday, November 12 1976, when Renee MacRae left her home in Inverness with her sons Gordon, 9, and Andrew, 3. Renee, who was 36, was separated but she left her oldest son with her husband Gordon, before travelling south on the A9 towards Perth – apparently to visit her sister. She and her son Andrew were never seen again.

Later that night, a train driver saw Renee’s car, a BMW, burning in a lay-by. Police were notified and when they got to the smouldering wreck, there was nothing to be found apart from a rug with a blood stain matching Renee.

A huge hunt was launched for Renee and her son Andrew – but to no avail. Witnesses reported seeing a man dragging something described as a dead sheep, not far from where the car had been found. On the night of her death, Renee was wearing a sheepskin coat. Witnesses also said they had seen a man with a pushchair near a local quarry.

Detectives soon discovered that Renee had a complicated private life. She had been having an affair with a man called Bill McDowell – he was marred with two children and worked for Renee’s husband Gordon. He was also the biological father of Andrew. The only person who knew about the affair was Renee’s best friend Valerie Steventon. She explained that Renee had in fact not been on the way to visit her sister on the night of her disappearance, but was going to meet MacDowell.


Renee was ‘besotted’ with MacDowell, according to Steventon. He had told her that he’d got a job with an oil firm in Shetland and found a house for them all to live together. Stevenson said, however, that this was a ‘pack of lies’. MacDowell has vehemently denied any involvement in the case.

How the case was investigated became as bizarre as the disappearances. Officers searching Dalmagarry quarry came across a strong smell. Digging began but was stopped when police ran out of funds for the hire of a bulldozer.

Digging restarted in 2004. Some 20,000 tonnes of earth were removed at a cost of £122,000 however all that was found were some crisp packets, men’s clothing and rabbit bones.

Police have also followed lines of inquiry that the bodies may be buried under the A9 – the road was getting a major upgrade at the time. An 80-year-old farmer even used divining rods to search for the bodies. He marked a spot on the A9 which he believed to be a grave.

Just this week, officers said they were searching for the brown suitcase Renee had with her on the night she vanished, and described it as a ‘significant’ piece of evidence. Last month, on what would have been Andrew’s 45th birthday, cold case detectives appealed for information on the whereabouts of his pushchair.

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