Renee MacRae murder trial: Driver saw man with stare caused by ‘fear or panic’

William MacDowell is accused of murdering his son, Andrew MacRae, three, and the boy’s mother, Renee MacRae, in November 1976.

Renee and Andrew MacRae
Renee and Andrew MacRae

A driver who passed the scene where the burned out car of a woman thought to have been murdered with her son more than 45 years ago told police how a man there had a stare caused by “fear or panic”.

Jean Wallace told detectives that on the night in question she saw a lone man with a pushchair at a place she later located as within the Dalmagarry layby area on the A9, according to a police statement taken in 1977.

Her statement to police was read out in the trial against William MacDowell, 80, at the High Court in Inverness.

MacDowell, from Penrith, Cumbria, denies murdering his son, Andrew MacRae, three, and the child’s 36-year-old mother, Renee MacRae, on November 12 1976.

William MacDowell court case
William MacDowell is on trial for murder at the High Court in Inverness (Dan Barker/PA)

Jurors heard how Mrs Wallace told the police the man she saw was “bending over” the pushchair, and had “one arm supporting some stuff heaped on the pram”.

“I got the impression something brown was involved. Whatever was on the pushchair was covered by clothing and overhanging the side of the pushchair,” the court heard.

As she and her husband drove past him, she told police: “The man turned, he looked directly towards me.

“His eyes were wide and staring and I thought then this was not a natural stare and was caused by fear or panic.”

In the statement read out by Detective Chief Inspector Brian Geddes, Mrs Wallace, then a teacher, told officers: “I may have seen more but for the fact this man’s staring was frightening me and I looked away.”

Mrs Wallace, who has since died, at the time told officers she asked her husband if there was something wrong with their car because she could smell rubber burning, the court heard.

On that night, Mrs MacRae’s BMW was found burned out in the layby, and it was later recovered by police.

Donald MacArthur, a detective chief inspector in Inverness, said forensic experts had recovered a “heavy deposit of blood” from the underside of the BMW’s boot carpet which he said was about the size of a half crown coin, approximately 3cm in diameter.

And, the court heard, in a police interview on December 20 1976, MacDowell appeared to be “worried, dejected and tired”, but his wife, Rosemary, attended the police office and demanded that he leave.

When MacDowell gave another police interview shortly after, Mr MacArthur wrote in his statement, the accused then appeared apprehensive and worried and at one point in the interview the suspect, who smoked a pipe, appeared as if he was having difficulty breathing.

Shortly afterwards he was found “laying on the floor curled around the toilet pan attempting to vomit”, the court was told.

John Bissett, 67, told the court he was driving along the Shenachie road, which came out near the A9’s Dalmagarry layby, where Mrs MacRae’s burnt out BMW was found, when he and a friend saw a vehicle parked up in a passing place.

“As we approached the car we saw what we took to be a person or persons at the back of the car. They seemed to be hiding. He or she or they didn’t want us to see what they were up to,” said Mr Bissett.

“We assumed it was possibly poachers in the area, it’s not an uncommon practice,” he said.

“One thing that did strike us at the time was it was a very smart car for poachers to be using.

“It looked fairly new and in good condition. Not what you expect poachers to be using.”

MacDowell is also accused of disposing of the bodies of Mrs MacRae and her son and also disposing of a boot hatch from his Volvo car to defeat the ends of justice, which he denies.

He has lodged a special defence of incrimination and alibi.

The trial, before Lord Armstrong, continues.

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