The Trail Went Cold – Episode 21 – Renee & Andrew MacRae

November 12, 1976. Inverness, Scotland. 36-year old Renee MacRae and her 3-year old son Andrew leave on a weekend trip, supposedly to visit Renee’s sister. Later that night, their flaming vehicle is discovered at an isolated lay-by next to the A9, but Renee and Andrew have disappeared. In a shocking twist, it turns out that Renee was actually planning to visit Bill MacDowell, a man she’d secretly been having an affair with for years and who also happens to be Andrew’s biological father. While the evidence suggests Renee and Andrew were murdered, their bodies have never been found. Join me for this week’s episode of “The Trail Went Cold” as I examine one of the most famous unsolved mysteries in the history of Scotland.

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The Trail Went Cold is produced and edited by Magill Foote.

All music is composed by Vince Nitro.

15 thoughts on “The Trail Went Cold – Episode 21 – Renee & Andrew MacRae

  • If you’re doing UK based cases, consider looking into the disappearance of Suzy Lamplugh (if you haven’t already; I vaguely remember it being mentioned in a listverse article, but I’m not sure if it was one of yours)! It’s a pretty famous missing person’s case, and even though her possible killer might have been found, it’s not definitively known what happened to her, and her body has never been found.

    • You’re correct, that was featured in one of my Listverse articles. Yes, even though I’ve got a pretty good idea who her killer is, it would still be an interesting case to cover.

  • Interesting story! I was wondering why Rosemary MacDowell is not a suspect. It’s possible Bill was intending on leaving her for Renee, and Rosemary found out. She would be understandably angry and would certainly have motive to kill Renee and Andrew. She certainly seemed to be acting suspicious, taking Bill away from the police station. Why wouldn’t she want him talking to the police? She could have threatened him into keeping his mouth shut and staying with her (it’s not unusual for domestic abuse victims to stay with their abusers, although we typically think of female victims with male abusers). As for the witness, seeing a “man” dragging a “sheep”, did they get a good enough look to determine it was a man?
    Anyway, just a theory, what do you think?

    • I’ve had a few people suggest that theory. I figured Rosemary was covering for her husband, but I never considered the possibility that she might have been directly involved or committed the murders herself. I wish I knew more info about her and if she seemed like the type of person who was capable of violence. It’s one thing to murder your husband’s mistress, but most people would draw the line at harming a two-year old child. I always assumed Bill was the suspect mentioned in the 2006 report submitted to the Crown Office, but now I’m wondering if it could be Rosemary. From that I can tell, all the people who saw the man dragging the “sheep” were a great distance away and since it was nighttime, I’m sure they couldn’t identify him. But even if his wife was the killer, this would point to Bill being involved in the cover-up.

    • Oh yes, I watched that multiple times while preparing this podcast. I probably would have mispronounced Renee’s name if I hadn’t. It’s pretty neat to see a nearly 40-year old TV special about an unsolved mystery.

  • The general agreement going by what is available online, which includes some commentary by people who were closer to the action, is that Bill MacDowell is responsible, but (as yet) unprosecutable. I’m excluding Brian MacGregor’s opinions in this because they are dreadful.

    However even without what has been said elsewhere, I think the fact that Bill is a 4x arsonist and fraudster, given the overall scenario, is substantially damning in itself, as is his wife’s complicity, however far it may extend.

    I did think, at first, it was unlikely Bill would murder his own son, except he wasn’t playing the role of father in his life, and he’s a reckless criminal.

    More recently Bill spoke out in an article for the first time, proclaiming his innocence (and complaining about the harassment he has suffered). It’s tiring to hear these criminals profess innocence or complain about things being unfair – we know they lie constantly, that their word means nothing, and that whatever is done to them is a fraction of what they have exacted on others.

    It might be telling that in that article ('T+KILL+RENEE%3B+Prime+suspect+breaks+his…-a0120675633) Bill says he “can’t escape” and when talking about the new search of Dalmagarry Quarry he says “they should be looking somewhere else.”

    The latter seems like an unbelievably foolish statement, possibly as brash as dragging a “sheep” or pushing a pram alongside a motorway.

    So presuming Bill is guilty, why the crime? Could it be enmeshed with his actual wife? Whatever her reasoning, it’s beyond refute that she is OK with having an adulterous arsonist-fraudster as a husband, one whom she can drag out of a police station. Given Bill’s proclivity to steal and burn, and his wife’s long-term association with him, theoretically Renee could have been the victim of a con for their financial gain. Obviously, if you actually love someone you can’t premeditatively murder them in a cunning plan which takes several hours to carry out.

    Presuming Bill is guilty, I can imagine a situation where Renee was no longer to his net financial gain and she became worthless to him. Comparing this to his known crimes, Renee may have become a liability for Bill and/or his wife, if Renee didn’t get what she wanted, and went after retribution by exposing criminality. The crime resembles a “hit.”

    Possibly, Renee took her son along for persuasive purposes, maybe even for somewhat protective reasons. If the relationship was rocky the idea that “we have a son together” would be a kind of last word in convincing someone to be reasonable, pointing them to an extended, even compulsory future together. If that was an argument she was trying to make, it was decisively snuffed out by someone who couldn’t care less.

    • That’s interesting point about the affair possibly being a con job for financial gain. Being an employee at Gordon MacRae’s company, I’m sure Bill knew how loaded he was and that he was still financially supporting Renee and allowing her to live an upper-class lifestyle after their separation. If Renee and Bill moved to another city together and Gordon found out about the affair, then he might decide to cut his ex-wife off and Bill would no longer have any use for her. Given Bill’s proclivity for fraud, I wouldn’t be surprised if Renee even knew he was embezzling from her husband’s company and he decided to murder her for it.

  • I agree that Bill is the killer. is the most plausible out of all the suspects. Something inserting came to mind as I was reading the comments and thinking about the details of the case. In the podcast, you stated that Bill was the accountant for Gordon MacRae’s company and that the company was having financial difficulties. We also know that Gordon was providing full support for Renee at the time of her disappearance. Since Bill was the accountant he would have to know that the company was not dinged well, financially speaking, and also would know that Gordon was supporting Renee (he would know this due to being both the accountant and being in a relationship with Renee). I agree with Sue that it is plausible that Bill killed Renee because she was going to be of no use to him anymore, possibly by giving him money. It could be that she was just actually giving him money or Bill was overreacting the amount she was getting and pocketing the difference. The fact that 4 of the business he was an accountant for had fires and he has been known to commit fraud this is not a far-fetched theory. It could be that he turned to fraud and arson after this case because getting involved with someone romantically was too risky.

    I also agree that Rosemary seems more guilty than she lets on. She did not seem to mind that her husband was having an affair and that it produced a child. She dragged him out of a the police station when he went to talk about the crime and she stayed with him though the fries and frauds. It could be that she is the mastermind and Bill is the one who carries out the plans.

    I don’t think that either Renee or Andrew are alive. I have a feeling that the killer wanted to leave no whiteness to the crime. I also think that Andrew was not a target but that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is possible that he was with Renee that night as a way to prevent Bill from either breaking it off or from doing something drastic, but she miss calculated how cold hearted Bill or Rosemary could be.

  • Logic suggests that at least two people were involved in the disappearance and presumed murder of Renee and Andrew Macrae.

    We know that Renee’s car was found ablaze at a remote lay-by. It’s logical to assume that whomever drove her car there would have been anxious to make a quick escape after setting it on fire. As walking away from the locus was not a viable option, a second vehicle and thus a second person was almost certainly involved.

    The most likely sequence of events is this: Renee and Andrew were killed and their bodies disposed of, either using Renee’s BMW or the killer’s own vehicle to transport the bodies. In the latter case, the rug found in the boot of Renee’s car could have been transferred there from the killer’s vehicle once the bodies had been dumped.

    The killer then drove Renee’s BMW to the lay-by, set it ablaze and then made his or her escape in a second vehicle driven by an accomplice. [Or the accomplice drove the BMW and the killer drove the second car]

    • What, I wonder, is the position relating to the rug found in the boot of Renee Macrae’s BMW. It may well be that the killer and/or an accomplice came into contact with the rug and left material on it which, though untraceable in 1976, could be discovered using modern forensic science techniques. Has it been analysed for the presence of ‘foreign’ DNA etc.?

  • Links to some images of the lay-by, the entrance to it from the A9 and the surrounding terrain. The railway line sits on an embankment above the left hand side (looking north) of the lay-by.


    A9 and entrance to lay-by:,-4.0146226,3a,75y,288.77h,112.27t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sPPP8ZroeCFrKjtIqmPOctg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    Satellite view:,-4.0067392,675a,35y,280.29h,44.8t/data=!3m1!1e3

    Note that the road-level images were taken in the summer when the trees screened the lay-by from the road rather more effectively than they would in November. I believe that a burning car would have been readily visible from the A9.

    I have read an account that says the bus driver spotted the burning car at 21.00 – i.e. at roughly the same time as the witness on the train. I suspect that this is correct, as it is highly unlikely that the car burned fiercely for more than a few minutes.

  • Bones were found as well. Not sure what the status of the investigation is, but Bill was arrested and charged, also with obstruction of justice. If he did do, as Robin suggested, looks like his luck has run out. To me it looks like she still wanted to move away with him (her friends described her as “besotted” with the man) and he disposed of her when she tried to force the issue.

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