IT was Hogmanay, 1985 and people were preparing to drink farewell to a year in which Live Aid rocked the world and football tragedies at Bradford and Heysel dominated the news. Big hair, fingerless gloves, fishnets and batwing jumpers were ''in''.

In the Moray town of Elgin, 21-year-old Arlene McInnes was, as usual, spending ages perfecting her appearance - back-combing her fair hair into place and carefully applying her make-up.

Among those already at the party she was getting ready for was Nat Gordon Fraser. Regarded by many in the cathedral town as a bit of a jack-the-lad, the former rugby player, who was five years Arlene's senior, was also an undisputed charmer. With his boyish good looks, a successful business, and a hobby as a guitarist in popular local band The Minesweepers, he had no shortage of female admirers.

For Arlene, it was love at first sight. She thought Fraser was an unbeatably good catch. He, too, was highly impressed with the attractive young blonde.

From the moment they met, friends of Arlene's older sister Carol urged her to steer clear of Fraser, describing him as a notorious womaniser. But Arlene had a rebellious streak. Her outgoing exterior masked a lack of self-confidence. She didn't consider herself at all attractive, and couldn't believe one of Elgin's most eligible bachelors had chosen her.

After just four months, she moved into his secluded bungalow at 2 Smith Street. They were engaged in September 1986 and on May 9 the following year, the couple, who were already expecting their first child, married at a lavish ceremony in the town's South Church.

Two weeks before the wedding, Arlene was distraught after hearing Fraser on the phone making a date with another woman. Hector, her father, and Carol, her sister, persuaded her to leave and consider calling off the wedding. She left, but returned two days later and the wedding went ahead. ''Our fears at that stage were because we knew Nat was a womaniser, not because we knew he was violent,'' said Carol, now Mrs Gillies.

Arlene was a beautiful bride, turning up for the ceremony with her father in a white Rolls Royce. But the kilted groom was not looking his best. His arrogant nature had offended someone at his stag night and he was left with two black eyes and a bruised nose.

As they stood together at the altar, Arlene surveyed the damage and shook her head with a sympathetic smile. Moments later, they exchanged vows and rings before leaving the church to the theme from The Sting. As they had their photographs taken, Mark Knopfler's Local Hero, which was how Fraser was regarded by many and certainly by himself, played in the background. The evening ended with the groom, who had swopped his kilt for a smart grey suit and party hat, taking to the stage with his band to play the Eric Clapton hit Wonderful Tonight.

Three months later, their happiness was completed when Jamie, their son, was born. Arlene gladly gave up her job in a clothes shop to devote herself to being a wife and mother. She didn't need money since Fraser, as well as taking care of all the bills, gave her a weekly allowance of (pounds) 100 to spend as she wished.

She also willingly abandoned her large circle of friends, no longer feeling the need to go out drinking and partying. While Arlene stayed at home looking after the baby, her husband was working hard, six days a week, building up his business as a partner in a fruit and vegetable wholesalers.

But he was also playing hard. Most weekends, his band would perform at weddings or parties and it was not unusual for him to stay out until the early hours. There were rumours of numerous affairs.

It was not long before his young wife started to feel lonely and resentful. The fun-loving Arlene had disappeared and her confidence was at a low ebb. She wanted her old self back and her desire to go out again with her friends, albeit occasionally, was the catalyst that fuelled increasingly violent rows.

At first, it was shouting and pushing, but they became more brutal. When, in 1988, barely a year after their wedding, Arlene had a brief affair, Fraser was furious, especially since the other man was Dougie Green, his 17-year-old delivery boy. Fraser was insanely jealous and couldn't bear the thought of his wife even talking to another man. Whenever she went out, he would interrogate her about where she had been and why she was getting dressed up just to go out with the girls. On a couple of occasions, he even followed her.

In 1990, he was convinced Arlene was having another affair. When she returned home at dawn after a night out, he ripped her clothes off, pushed her to the ground, and kicked her stomach. She left and spent 10 days in a refuge.

For the first time in their short and stormy marriage, she considered divorce and contacted a lawyer. However, Fraser was full of guilt and showered her with flowers, jewellery, underwear and perfume. He also promised it would never happen again and they decided to patch things up.

In 1992, they had their second child Natalie. But having another baby solved none of their problems. The marriage became increasingly volcanic, with more frequent and more violent eruptions, followed by less convincing reconciliations.

During the next five years, Arlene contacted her lawyer a further three times about divorce, but never pursued it.

Fraser tried all sorts of ways of preventing her socialising, including shredding the clothes she was likely to wear and hiding her contact lenses. When she suggested sleeping in separate beds, he would pour water over the spare bed, forcing her back into his.

By the end of 1997, after 10 years of marriage, Arlene finally decided she had had enough. She told Michelle Scott, a friend from her schooldays whom she'd become very close to in the 18 months before her disappearance, that any love for him had gone.

''Arlene had decided the marriage had ended,'' Ms Scott said. ''She said he had gone too far and she said she didn't love him. She was scared of him as well.''

In February 1998, Fraser damaged Arlene's jaw so badly that she was unable to eat. Her weight fell to 7st. She asked Fraser to move out for a month so that she could think about the marriage. He went for a week, but was round at the house more often than when he lived there. Arlene said they would remain together for the children, but would lead separate lives, something she felt they already did.

The previous year, she had enrolled on a two-year business studies course at Moray College and was trying to create an independent life for herself. She also told her husband that she would be going out on Saturday nights from now on. Sometimes he would babysit, other times his mother did.

This was a turning point in their relationship. For a decade, Arlene had obeyed her husband and given him the control over her that he craved. She had been just another one of his possessions and had been expected to do as she was told without question.

But now, her attitude had changed. She had social independence through her friends, independence of time because her children were at school, and she was on her way to financial independence by doing her college course. She was taking control of her own life, one in which there was no role for Fraser. He couldn't bear it.

Any lingering thoughts she had about trying to save her marriage evaporated on Mother's Day, March 22, 1998, five weeks before she disappeared. Arlene had stayed out all night with Michelle Scott. When the pubs closed, she had gone to Ms Scott's house, round the corner from her own. Fraser, convinced Arlene was having another affair, noticed a black BMW outside Michelle's house.

When she returned home at 5.30am, she went straight to the bathroom. He marched up and confronted her. But nothing she could have said would have placated him. He lunged at her and put his hands round her throat. She couldn't breathe and later told Michelle she could remember wondering what was going to happen to the kids if he killed her. Then she passed out.

Michelle saw Arlene the next day. ''She was very upset, her eyes were all bloodshot and there were marks all round her neck,'' she said. ''She couldn't believe he had done that and gone that far he tried to cover it up by dragging her from the bathroom to the living room when she passed out and he told her she had lashed out at him and had taken a fit.''

When Fraser went to work on Monday morning, Arlene went to her doctor, who told her she was lucky to be alive and urged her to go to the police. Fraser was taken into custody, but when Arlene discovered he was to be charged with attempted murder, she tried to pull out.

''She didn't want her children's father in jail,'' Michelle said. She just wanted an order preventing him coming round, but it was too late. When Fraser came out of custody, he told Arlene he would never forget what she had done to him. He stuck to his word. As a condition of his bail, he was prevented from approaching the house and moved in with his business partner Ian ''Pedro'' Taylor in Lhanbryde, four miles east of Elgin on the main A96 road.

A fortnight after the attempted murder, on April 5, Fraser's car, a black Granada registered A19 NAT, which he had been ''desperate'' to retrieve, burst into flames in the driveway of 2 Smith Street. It was thought at first to be caused by an electrical fault, but further investigation revealed the fire was deliberately started. Police have never concluded exactly what happened, but one theory was that Fraser had decided that if he couldn't have the car, then no-one would. It was another portent of what was to come.

Tuesday, April 28 should have been just another day in the busy life of the young mother. At 8.50am, she stood in her dressing gown at the door of her home and waved Jamie, who was 10, and five-year-old Natalie, off to the nearby New Elgin primary school. Jamie was especially excited as he had been chosen to travel to Inverness to represent the school at an anti-litter event. His proud mother wished him luck and closed the door.

Tuesday was her day off her course and she had a regular lunch date with Michelle Scott before an afternoon appointment with her solicitor to discuss a (pounds) 250,000 divorce settlement against her estranged husband.

At 9.41am, she telephoned the school to find out what time Jamie would be home. A clerical assistant said she would find out and call her back. When she did, 10 minutes later, there was no reply.

Michelle called round to her friend's house at 11am and was surprised to find the door unlocked. Arlene was paranoid about security after being burgled several years previously. She looked around and found the vacuum cleaner still plugged in and standing in Natalie's room, the washing machine in mid-cycle.

A towel and an open make-up bag lay on the bed, a bottle of foundation with the lid off stood on a dressing table, her clothes for the day were placed over the bath, her glasses and contact lenses and medicines for Crohn's Disease, a serious bowel complaint she had suffered for years, were all in their normal place, as was her expensive designer watch.

Michelle telephoned several times over the next two hours and returned at 1pm to leave a note. Later, Michelle and Irene Higgins, a neighbour who had been looking after Natalie, called round again. On the floor lay a poignant note from Jamie: ''I was home at 7.30pm. You not in. Round at Mark's. Where are you!''

Later that night, Irene's husband Graham telephoned the police and the biggest missing person hunt in Scottish police history began.

Around 300 people volunteered to search open spaces in Elgin on the Sunday after Arlene's disappearance. While Hector McInnes, her father, and Bill Thompson, her step-father assisted, Fraser stayed away. The search failed to find any clues. Five weeks into the case, Fraser - who had consistently refused to comment on his wife's disappearance - broke his silence and begged Arlene to return home.

At a police news conference, he said: ''My message to Arlene is to come home because the children are missing you terribly.''

During the first few months of the police inquiry, there was a weight of public opinion, fuelled by Fraser, against Arlene. Detective Superintendent Jim Stephen, who led the four-year investigation, said: ''He peddled the propaganda - that she was seeing other men, she was involved in drugs, she was a bad mother and didn't look after the house.

''All of these things were unfounded, but we were carrying out investigations in a public opinion that was very pro-Nat and anti-Arlene.''

Fraser himself was the model of co-operation at the outset of the inquiry. He wanted to know the first names of all the officers on the case and would toot his horn when he passed them on their house-to-house inquiries. But when Nat realised police suspected his involvement in Arlene's disappearance, his attitude changed.

''We had a husband who couldn't give a fig about what was going on,'' Mr Stephen added. ''He thought that after six months or a year we would get fed up and go away and he was content to wait for that but the more we prodded and probed the more it upset him.''

In the course of their inquiry, police took 2500 statements and the names of 4000 people were logged in the ''Holmes'' national computer system.

The absence of a body led to Constable Gordon Ritchie spending a year in the most comprehensive ''presumption of death'' investigation ever carried out by a police force and one which has become the blueprint for others.

He interviewed 43 witnesses and contacted 32 financial institutions, as well as government and medical agencies in Scotland and England, to ensure that if Arlene obtained prescriptions, glasses, or contact lenses, tried to draw benefit, was stopped by police while driving, or opened any bank accounts, they would know.

Grampian Police called in the RAF to fly over potential burial sites. An expert from Derbyshire police, who was involved in developing the ''Catchem'' computer programme which outlines trends and patterns in the disposal of bodies travelled to Elgin to assist. They called in Roscoe and Sabre from Strathclyde Police, two dogs which specialise in locating human remains, and also summoned a forensic archaeologist.

They even called in a botanist to look at flora and fauna to pinpoint where the earth might have been disturbed. Police were convinced Fraser was responsible for his wife's disappearance. But he had concocted an alibi. He had pre-arranged to phone Hazel Walker, the niece of one of his fellow band members, whom he had spoken to every working day in the week prior to Arlene's disappearance. He was also never out of the sight of the van boy he was making deliveries with.

The first major breakthrough came in December 1998 when police discovered that a beige Ford Fiesta, which they knew was crucial to the inquiry, had been bought by Hector Dick, a close friend of Fraser's, the night before Arlene disappeared. Kevin Ritchie, a local mechanic, had sold the car and told police Fraser had been in the house at the time, but when they came to interview Mr Dick he denied all knowledge of the car.

Mr Stephen said: ''It started off as a story in a pub, people were talking about how a car had been bought and eventually we identified Kevin Ritchie as the person who got the car for Hector Dick.''

Detectives spent the next 12 months carrying out inquiries into the car. Despite interviewing Mr Dick several times, he never conceded he ever had the car. Police eventually persuaded Mr Ritchie to meet Mr Dick while wired up with recording equipment, and hold a conversation about the missing car, in which Mr Dick talked openly about having bought it.

The evidence was enough for police to charge the farmer with attempting to pervert the course of justice. Mr Dick went on trial in January 2001 at Dingwall Sheriff Court, denying the charge, but changed his plea when Sheriff James Fraser decided video footage of Dick talking to Ritchie could be used in evidence. He was jailed for 12 months.

The next major breakthrough came that same January, after months of painstaking work. It was a piece of evidence which never came to court, but was decisive in persuading police to charge Fraser with the murder of his wife.

Fraser was serving an 18-month sentence for assaulting his wife in the bathroom five weeks before she disappeared.

He was originally charged with attempted murder, but the Crown accepted a plea of guilty to the lesser offence, even though there was evidence Fraser had gripped his wife by the neck and held her until her blood vessels began to burst.

Police had told officers at Porterfield Prison they were interested in who was visiting Fraser. As a result, they were given two CCTV tapes of visits.

Chief Inspector Alan Smith, who also worked on the investigation, said: ''It was clear from watching these tapes that this wasn't a conversation about football - this was an intense conversation.''

But there was a problem - the tapes had no sound. Police had to enlist the services of Jessica Rees, a forensic lip-reader and the ''silent witness'' in the case. The specialist, whose testimonies have been used against the Russian mafia, the IRA, murderers, and crooked lawyers, analysed the conversations between Fraser and Glenn Lucas, his visitor.

Ms Rees knew nothing about the case, but revealed that Fraser was talking about cutting off arms and pulling teeth out. He also spoke about concerns that police might find bank cards of Arlene's which he had hidden and, prophetically, he expressed concern to Mr Lucas that Mr Dick ''would talk''.

Mr Stephen said the analysis confirmed that Arlene really had been murdered and her body dismembered.

''That was when he was first classified as a suspect for murder,'' he said.

In March 2001, Fraser was back in prison after he admitted fraudulently claiming legal aid by concealing a building society account containing (pounds) 13,000. Four months later, and more than three years after his wife vanished, police officers visited Fraser in prison to inform him he was being charged with conspiracy to murder. Mr Lucas and Mr Dick were also charged.

It was not until 18 months later, on January 7, 2003, that their trial began in Court 3 at the High Court in Edinburgh. As Mr Dick stood alongside Fraser in the dock, it finally dawned on him that the friend he had been so unfailingly loyal to was prepared to see him go to prison for life, for a murder he didn't commit. Mr Dick decided it was time to unburden himself of the secret he had kept for more than four years.

During an intense day in court on Monday, January 20, Mr Dick never looked at Fraser once as he told a packed court room that, two days before Arlene disappeared, Fraser had visited him at his farm in Mosstowie and talked about the 10,000 people a year who went missing without trace. He also spoke of his concern about having to fork out around (pounds) 86,000 in a divorce settlement and said he couldn't bear the thought of his children living with another man.

He said he'd been to the library to research legal cases and found there had been only two in Scotland where someone had been convicted for murder without a body. He also said he had read in a scientific magazine that three inches of bone was needed before scientists could identify a body. Finally, he told his loyal friend he had been speaking to somebody ''who did things like that''.

It was the first day that Fraser looked uncomfortable in the dock. A few days later, under cross-examination from prosecutor Alan Turnbull, QC, Fraser admitted he was the only person with a motive for killing Arlene. He had already heard the prosecution argue that he had planted Arlene's engagement, wedding and eternity rings, which reappeared on a peg under a soapdish in the bathroom nine days after she vanished.

The rings later became what the Crown and trial judge described as ''the cornerstone'' of the prosecution case. In his closing address, Mr Turnbull held the rings up one by one before the jury.

''These rings tell us that the dead body of Arlene Fraser was available eight or nine days after her disappearance. These are the rings he gave to his young wife, the mother of his children. How ironic these tokens of love, permanence and fidelity should end up being his undoing. There is something inherently just in the way that, after death, something of Arlene's can reach back and ensnare the man who promised he would live with her for ever then took her life just because it no longer suited his purposes.''

In charging the jury yesterday, Lord Mackay also referred to the significance of the rings, advising the jury that they could only convict the accused if they accepted that Fraser had placed the rings in the bathroom on May 7.

Nat Fraser thought he had committed the perfect murder. But he made a number of mistakes - he had an over-elaborate alibi, got someone else involved and returned Arlene's rings to the house after she disappeared. But the biggest mistake he made was underestimating the time and effort Grampian Police were prepared to devote to the inquiry.

Why was Arlene Fraser killed? Her husband's greed and need for control played a crucial part. But ultimately, it was the insane jealousy that consumed him when his wife proved she could live without him. If he couldn't have Arlene Fraser, no-one could. After yesterday's verdict, Arlene's family said Fraser had ruined his own life, their lives and the lives of Jamie and Natalie.

''Nat Fraser once had everything, but now has absolutely nothing,'' said Carol, Arlene's sister . ''Sometimes I get angry. But more than that I feel complete and utter sadness.''