In cold blood
Every week seems to bring new clues in unsolved murders across the country. We investigate the most notorious cold cases in Scottish criminal history
COLD case officers never give up. This week brought new signs that murder squad detectives investigating Scotland’s most infamous unsolved crime – the disappearance of Renee MacRae and her three-year-old son Andrew – were getting closer to the truth. It is 42 years since MacRae went missing, but police issued appeals this week for a suitcase the Inverness woman had with her on the night she vanished – the suitcase is believed to be central to cracking the crime.
One of the senior team involved in the MacRae cold case, Detective Inspector Brian Geddes believes modern science, especially advances in DNA, will help crack the case, as it has done with so many others. “We are applying the most modern investigative techniques in a bid to progress the investigation and this will include utilising advances in forensic science,” he says.
As well as appealing for information about the missing suitcase, detectives also say they are interested in Leanach Quarry, near Culloden, and a lay-by on the A9 where MacRae’s car was found burned out. Last month, around the same time police put out an appeal for Andrew MacRae’s Brenda Page THE brutal murder of Dr Brenda Page remains one of Scotland’s most notorious unsolved cold cases.
It is 40 years since the brilliant geneticist was found beaten to death in her flat in Aberdeen. It later emerged that Page, 32, also worked as an escort – fuelling speculation her murderer was one of her clients.
In early July 1978, Page had dinner with William Austin, who ran the Capital Escort Agency. Austin recalled that Page seemed frightened and “concerned about her safety”.
On July 13, she went as an escort to the Treetops Hotel in Aberdeen to meet two businessmen. Page was spotted leaving the hotel at 2.30am – the last time she was seen alive. She failed to show up for work the next day, and her body was found when a colleague called at her home looking for “material for a research programme”.
She had been working at Aberdeen University on a project investigating dangers facing divers in the North Sea oil industry. There have been claims her death could have been linked to her research.
However, a more prosaic explanation for her death than industry conspiracy or escorting, is that she was murdered after disturbing a burglar.
By the end of July police ruled out Austin, the missing pushchair, officers from the major investigations team and the marine investigations team spent several days at the quarry. Police have not ruled out draining the quarry.
No matter how old or difficult a case may be, there is always hope – whether through old-fashioned police work, cutting-edge science, or the ending of the double jeopardy rule, which now allows prosecutors to put a suspect on trial for a crime even if they have been acquitted previously.
In London, a man is currently being tried in an infamous cold case involving the alleged murder to two nine-year-old girls. Russell Bishop is on trial for a second time charged with killing Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows in Brighton in 1986. He was initially cleared of the girls’ murder in 1987. The Court of Appeal ordered a fresh trial in light of new DNA evidence. Bishop denies the two charges of murder.
In Scotland, there are dozens, if not hundreds of cases waiting to be cracked, some stretching back a century and more. Here are five of the most notorious: escort agency boss, as well as the two men she had met prior to her death, and her ex-husband Dr Christopher Harrison, who later left Scotland.
A cold case review was launched in 2015, and has so far gathered 800 new pieces of information.
Earlier this year her sister Rita, 84, said: “Not a day goes by when we don’t think about Brenda and the horrendous ordeal she must have suffered. Brenda was an extremely intelligent woman with her whole life ahead of her. It pains us to think of the great things she would undoubtedly have achieved.”
Detective Inspector Gary Winter, of Police Scotland’s major investigation team, said of Page’s time as an escort: “Most people’s accepted definition of being an escort in 2018 is very different to what it was 40 years ago. Nowadays, if we use that word, people assume the person is involved in the sex industry – that was not the case in 1978. It was a means for Brenda to meet people, get companionship and go out socialising in an era before the internet and dating websites.
“Escorting was something Brenda spoke about widely with friends and colleagues – it was no secret. People connected to that part of Brenda’s life have spoken to us and what that has unearthed is that it wasn’t a seedy business.” Renee and Andrew MacRae IT was a case that both scandalised and shocked the 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, 36, was separated but 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 stained with blood matching Renee’s.
A huge hunt launched for Renee and Andrew
was unsuccessful. Witnesses reported seeing man dragging something described as a dead heep, not far from where the car was found. On the night of her death, Renee was wearing sheepskin coat. Witnesses also said they had een a man with a pushchair near a local quarry. Detectives soon discovered Renee had complicated private life. She had been having n affair with a man called Bill MacDowell – he was married with two children and worked for enee’s husband Gordon. He was also the iological father of Andrew.
The only person who knew about the affair was Renee’s best friend Valerie Steventon. She aid Renee had, in fact, not been on the way to isit her sister on the night of her disappearance, ut was going to meet MacDowell.
Renee was “besotted” with MacDowell, according to Steventon. He had told her he had got a job with an oil firm in Shetland and found a house for them all to live together. This, however, turned out to be 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, but 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 that he believed to be a grave.
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. Moira Anderson SHE would be 73 today but, instead, Scotland remembers her as a smiling child of 12, forever frozen in time on the day of her disappearance .
Moira Anderson left her grandmother’s home on February 23, 1957, to buy some butter for her family at the local shop in Coatbridge. The shop was 10 minutes away but Moira never made it, nor did she ever come home.
As is so often seen with the disappearance of children, a huge search party swept the local area. Cinemas were asked to check their premises in case Moira had accidentally become locked in overnight. Striking council workers called off their protest to help with the search.
There were reports of Moira being seen on a bus near her home not long after she left her grandmother’s house. But the claims led nowhere. However, if police had followed the lead up, they would have found out that the driver of the bus was a man called Alexander Gartshore, on bail for raping his children’s
Top row, left to right: Brenda Page, Jemima McDonald, Emma Caldwell and Patricia Docker Middle row: Caroline Glachan, Renee and Andrew MacRae, Moira Anderson and the police photofit of “Bible John” Bottom row: Alistair Wilson, pictured with his wife Veronica, murderer Peter Tobin, Helen Puttock and Vicky Hamilton