Renee MacRae, a mother of two, vanished with her three-year-old son Andrew on November 12, 1976 and her BMW car was found ablaze in a lay-by at Moy next to the A9, about 12 miles south of Inverness.
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Yesterday, the Scottish Government announced a £2.6 million contract had been awarded for an overtaking lane at the location, prompting a farmer who has campaigned on the issue to renew his call for the road to be excavated at the spot where a radar survey he commissioned found “anomalies”.
There had been hopes road works would reveal the remains of Mrs MacRae and her son.
Brian MacGregor, who owns Bogbain Farm, told The Herald: “If they are removing the surface of the road, it is an ideal opportunity to probe deeper.”
Speculation over what exactly what happened to the 35-year-old, from Inverness, and her son that night has troubled the Highland capital. Although police have not closed the case files, they and members of her family believe she was murdered.
Mrs MacRae, who was separated from her husband Gordon, told friends she was on her way to spend the weekend with her lover, Bill MacDowell, in Perth. She had talked about how they would start a new life together.
Witnesses reported seeing a man dragging something they thought was a dead sheep not far from the car, while others saw a man with a pushchair near the quarry. Mrs MacRae was reported to have been wearing a sheepskin coat when she disappeared.
In 2004, after a cold case review had been ordered by the Northern Constabulary chief constable Ian Latimer, the quarry was excavated at a cost of £122,000, in a renewed effort to find the bodies.
Retired police sergeant John Cathcart, who had worked on the original search, reported at the time smelling decomposing flesh in the quarry but a full search had never been undertaken. Despite the excavation, nothing was found apart from two crisp packets and a rabbit bone.
However, for more than 30 years local speculation has focused on the bodies having been buried under the A9, which was in the middle of a major programme of upgrading at the time of the disappearance.
Despite Mr MacGregor’s comments, it is thought unlikely that the new programme of road works will reveal much, as contractors will adopt a “crack and seat” approach using new high-strength material called EME2 (Enrobe a Module Eleve) which can be laid in thinner layers.
A spokesperson for Transport Scotland said only the top layer of the existing road would be removed.
Morag Govans, Mrs MacRae’s sister, who still lives in Inverness and has always believed her sister and nephew were murdered, said: “I wasn’t aware that this work was due to be done. I don’t know what to make of it. I am sure if they are going to be digging up the road they will investigate if the police think there is something worth investigating.”
However, a spokeswoman for Northern Constabulary said that after studying aerial photographs taken by the RAF during the construction of the A9, they were satisfied the bodies were not buried under the road.
Still no answers after all this time
1976 Renee MacRae last seen driving her BMW on the A9 south of Inverness on November 12 at 4.30pm with Andrew in the car. Later that night a train driver reports he had seen something ablaze on the A9, and the vehicle is found burned out in a lay-by, 12 miles south of Inverness. Police inquiries focus on Bill MacDowell, a married man who was Mrs MacRae’s lover and the biological father of Andrew. Even in the late 1980s, Mr MacDowell is still being questioned by detectives, but continues to profess his innocence.
1991 MacDowell jailed for fraud. He blames his financial problems on the aftermath of the MacRae investigation.
2000 Human bones found in wood near Migdale in Sutherland, prompting speculation they could be those of Renee MacRae, but they are eventually identified as belonging to a 22-year-old from West Yorkshire who had not been seen by his family since 1997.
2004 Chief constable Ian Latimer launches a cold case review including a search of Dalmagarry Quarry, which costs £112,000. Despite investigators sifting through 35,000 tonnes of soil and the assistance of a forensic archaeologist and a forensic anthropologist, nothing is found.