On a mission to solve murder mystery
SUE Black was a teenage schoolgirl in Inverness when Renee MacRae and her son Andrew vanished in November, 1976.
Yesterday, the renowned forensic anthropologist was back near her home city hoping to help solve one of Scotland’s most enduring mysteries and a crime etched in her memory.
Professor Black, of the Centre for International Forensic Assistance, has searched sites in Iraq and Kosovo for evidence of war crimes but has now turned her attention to a disused quarry, 12 miles from the Highland capital.
For the next few weeks a team of experts will comb the site just off the main A9 trunk road where it is thought the bodies of Mrs MacRae and her son may have been dumped.
Some 2,000 trees have been felled to clear the site for a fresh investigation at Dalmagarry, near the spot where Mrs MacRae’s burnt-out BMW was found nearly 28 years ago.
A mechanical digger was brought in yesterday to start excavating 20,000 tons of soil and rock ahead of a painstaking search for clues and, it is hoped, the discovery of remains of the missing pair.
The police file on the case was reactivated after former officer, Det Sgt John Cathcart, said he was convinced the bodies were in the quarry. He said that a few months after Mrs MacRae and Andrew disappeared he detected the smell of rotting flesh in the quarry, but a full search was never completed.
However, last month Ian Latimer, Chief Constable of Northern Constabulary, announced that after a cold-case review of the deaths, he now had a "specific reason" to carry out a further search.
Prof Black, who works at Dundee University’s anatomy and anthropology department, said her task will be to identify any remains found, but with the passage of time and a three-year-old possibly involved, the team could be looking for pieces of evidence "no bigger than the end of your thumb".
She said: "With adult material it’s often very obvious but with children it becomes very much more specialised.
"But if these remains are here I’m in no doubt that we will be able to identify them." She added: "I’ve done many cases for Northern before and have said, ‘One of these days I’ll be there and it will be the MacRae case.’ In many ways it’s been a self-fulfilling prophesy."
At the time of the disappearance Prof Black was a 15-year-old pupil at Inverness Royal Academy. "It was a case that everybody in Inverness had opinions about, and the more outrageous the better. I’ve grown up with it and its always stayed there. It’s always been the one in my profession that has not been solved. So for me it’s tremendously important professionally, but personally as well."
Leading the excavations is Prof John Hunter, a forensic archaeologist, who said: "We are doing it carefully and systematically and in a way that if any victims are there they will be found."
Mrs MacRae had left Inverness, having arranged to see her lover, Bill McDowell, who was Andrew’s father, although the rendezvous never took place.
Mr Macdowell now lives in London and has not commented fully on the new search other than to insist he did not kill Renee and Andrew.
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