Man denies murdering Renee MacRae and her son in 1976

William MacDowell, 79, is accused of killing Renee and Andrew MacRae before allegedly dumping their bodies in 1976.

Man denies murdering Renee MacRae and her son in 1976 Police Scotland

A pensioner has denied the murder of a woman and her three-year-old son in 1976.

William MacDowell, 79, is accused of killing Renee MacRae and Andrew MacRae before allegedly dumping their bodies.

The crimes are said to have occurred on the Dalmagarry layby at the A9 trunk road – 11 miles from Inverness – and elsewhere on November 12, 1976.

MacDowell was not present for the hearing at the High Court in Glasgow on Monday after it emerged he had recently been in hospital.

His QC added it is not known if the OAP will be fit to stand trial.

The two murder charges claim MacDowell assaulted 36-year-old Ms MacRae – known on court papers as Christina – and Andrew “by means unknown” causing both injury resulting in their death.

Prosecutors allege he had previously shown “malice and ill will” towards the mother and son, who lived in Inverness at the time.

MacDowell, now of Penrith, Cumbria, faces a separate charge of then attempting to defeat the ends of justice.

This includes a claim MacDowell – then aged 35 – did dispose of the bodies and personal effects of the pair, again by unknown means.

It is also said he torched a BMW motor, got rid of a boot hatch from a Volvo car and dumped a pushchair.

This was allegedly all done to conceal the murders in a bid to avoid arrest and prosecution.

MacDowell’s QC, Murray Macara, pled not guilty on his behalf.

He also lodged special defences of incrimination and alibi.

Mr Macara told the hearing: “He was discharged last Friday from hospital. He has multiple conditions.”

Judge Lord Matthews later asked the QC: “What is the prognosis? Will he be fit for trial?”

Mr Macara responded: “I simply do not know. I have spoken to Mr MacDowell fairly regularly.

“He seemed reasonably fit. I did not realise the issues that he had are quite as extensive as appeared to be the case.

“I will be making further inquiries to understand the extent of the problems to see if he is fit to attend and to stand trial.”

The defence QC said otherwise “extensive preparations” in connection with the case remain to be completed.

Prosecutor Alex Prentice QC told the hearing he would “tentatively suggest” 15 days for the duration of any possible trial.

The advocate depute said Inverness could be a “suitable” location for a trial given a number of witnesses come from that area.

Aberdeen and Perth were also mentioned.

Lord Matthews adjourned the case until a further hearing next month.

MacDowell’s attendance will again be excused.