Murder accused told handyman: ‘I did and I didn’t’ kill Renee MacRae, court told

William MacDowell, 80, is on trial accused of killing Renee MacRae and her toddler son Andrew in November 1976.

Inverness Justice Centre
Inverness Justice Centre

A pensioner accused of murdering his lover and son more than four decades ago told his handyman he “did and didn’t” kill her, a court has been told.

William MacDowell, 80, denies murdering 36-year-old Renee MacRae and their son Andrew MacRae, three, at a layby south of Inverness on November 12 1976.

The High Court in Inverness has heard after the alleged murder, MacDowell and his wife, Rosemary, moved to the Crook Inn, Peeblesshire, where, in the autumn of 1986, MacDowell employed ex-convict Mitchell Yuill as a handyman.

Speaking to police in 1987, Mr Yuill said when he first started working for MacDowell, he did not know he was connected to the disappearance until the pub chef told him.

Renee and Andrew MacRae missing
Renee MacRae and her son Andrew went missing in November 1976 (PA)

On the 10th anniversary of Renee and Andrew going missing, Mr Yuill was asked by MacDowell to get two copies of a newspaper, where the story featured. Yuill said MacDowell reacted as though he was not too “chuffed” about the story reappearing.

After work, while he was playing pool with MacDowell, Mr Yuill said he spoke to him about the mystery.

“He wasn’t surprised by the question but gave a big sigh or blow,” Yuill said in a police statement, which was read out to the court by former police officer, George Gough.

Mr Yuill said that on another occasion, while he was drinking with MacDowell, the subject came up again.

“I asked MacDowell if (Andrew) was his son. He said (he) was,” and added that there were then “tears coming down both cheeks” from MacDowell.

The court heard MacDowell told the handyman: “There’s one or two things I have to get off my mind. You will get to know about it sometime.”

Mr Yuill also said that MacDowell made mention of a cottage that nobody knew about, and said he claimed he hoped nobody would find out or MacDowell would be in trouble.

Mr Yuill told police: “In a subsequent conversation, I asked MacDowell again about Renee MacRae – if he did it, meaning if he killed her.

“He said, ‘I did and I didn’t.”

The court heard Mr Yuill, who is now dead, was accused of stealing MacDowell’s car and was detained in October 1987.

Giving evidence about Mr Yuill’s statement, Mr Gough told the court he was unaware of the accusation.

The court also heard that Mr Yuill had told police MacDowell had guns, including a submachine gun.

In the police interview, Mr Yuill said he was speaking to officers because they had said he would not get in trouble for stealing the car if he did so, the court was told.

The prosecution and defence have agreed that blood found in the boot of her burned out BMW was assumed to be Mrs MacRae’s as only one in a billion people would match her DNA profile, samples of which were obtained from an old hairbrush.

Forensic scientist Christopher Gannicliffe told the jury that, since 1976, analysis had advanced significantly and, with the help of new techniques, more evidence of blood on the carpet had been detected.

He told the court for the staining to be present it would require eight millilitres of blood to form it, or 150 drips of a typical bleeding nose.

Mr Gannicliffe told Alex Prentice KC, prosecuting, that the best way to clean up evidence would “undoubtedly” be to get rid of the boot in its entirety.

Questioned by Murray Macara KC, defending, the court heard it was only possible to say that the blood could have found its way on to the carpet at any time after the car was made.

Retired police officer Martin Murphy told the court officers had conducted a proof of life report, which included checking with various agencies including the Department for Work and Pensions, banks, and the DVLA, and had concluded that neither Mrs MacRae, nor her son, were still alive.

Mr Murphy told the court an analysis of Mrs MacRae’s medical records found she had been prescribed Valium because she presented to her GP as “tense and nervous” and, at one point, had drunk between a half and a full bottle of vodka and taken multiple pills because of “marital disharmony”.

After the disappearance, the court heard, police recorded sightings of a suspect which appeared to be the man with the “Mexican moustache” with a woman who looked like Mrs MacRae, which officers discounted.

MacDowell, of Penrith, Cumbria, is on trial charged with assaulting Mrs MacRae and Andrew at the Dalmagarry layby on the A9 trunk road south of Inverness, or elsewhere, by means unknown, and as a result murdering them.

He 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, part of which is he was at the Mercury Motor Inn, Inverness, that evening before going home via his work and a shop.

The trial, before Lord Armstrong, continues.

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