Disappeared, presumed dead 28th April1998

Arlene Fraser (33) from Elgin in Moray in Scotland disappeared on 28th April1998 after waving her two children, Jamie (then 10) and daughter Natalie (then 5) off to school. She is presumed dead, but her body has never been found.

Ms Fraser’s husband Nat Fraser (53) was found guilty of her murder on 30th May 2012. Fraser had denied the charge of murdering Ms Fraser between 28th April and 7th May 1998.

This was Fraser’s second trial. He had previously been convicted of Ms Fraser’s murder in 2003 and sentenced to 25 years in prison, but the conviction was overturned in May 2011, after it was ruled unfair. Fraser has now been told he will have to serve a minimum of 17 years in prison before he can apply for parole. The trial took place at the High Court in Edinburgh. Relatives of Mrs Fraser expressed relief at the verdict.

Alex Prentice QC, prosecuting, said in his closing speech that Fraser had “instigated and organised” his wife’s murder. It was claimed he had hired a hitman. The court heard that Nat Fraser knew Ms Fraser wanted a divorce and had gone to a solicitor to see about getting a financial settlement.

Judge Lord Bracadale told Fraser: “The evidence indicated that at some point you arranged for someone to kill your wife, Arlene, and dispose of her body. Thus you instigated in cold blood the pre-meditated murder of your wife and mother of your children, then aged 10 and five years. The murder and disposal of the body must have been carried out with ruthless efficiency, for there is not a trace of Arlene Fraser from that day to this and her bereft family continue to live with no satisfactory knowledge of what happened to her remains.”

The judge said the “shocking and wicked” nature of the crime demanded a sentence well in excess of 20 years. However, because of the “procedural history” of the case, the sentence was cut to 17 years, backdated to June last year.

The disappearance of Mrs Fraser became one of the biggest ever investigations for Grampian Police. Detective Chief Superintendent Campbell Thomson said: “Our immediate thoughts are obviously with Arlene’s family. Hector, Cathy, Isabelle, Bill, Carol and Steven have shown such courage throughout the last 14 years.”

David Harvie, director of serious casework at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, said: “The Crown is absolutely determined to ensuring that criminals are brought to justice for crimes they have committed, no matter the passage of time nor the legal complexities involved.”

Only a month before Ms Fraser vanished, she came home in the early hours of Mother’s Day. On that occasion, Fraser grabbed her by the throat with such force that she suffered heavy bruising to the neck and haemorrhaging to the eyelids. Ms Fraser later told friends that she had been unable to breathe and that her thoughts had been of her children. It seems this assault was the final straw and she decided she wanted a divorce. The incident was reported to the police. Fraser was charged with attempted murder, and left the family home and went to live with friends. Subsequently, Fraser pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of assaulting his wife to the danger of her life. A not guilty plea to an earlier offence, of punching and kicking his wife, was accepted by the Crown. He was jailed for 18 months.

During the recent murder retrial, witnesses made remarks which came close to revealing the assault conviction. Ms Fraser’s stepmother had spoken of Ms Fraser being in a women’s refuge and her father said he had not had a problem with Fraser “prior to mothering Sunday.” Another witness described the change in Fraser’s personality “after he had been imprisoned for a previous incident.”  Fraser’s QC, John Scott, argued for the trial to be deserted. However, the judge disagreed and directed the jury that the reference to imprisonment “should be ignored completely.”

During the retrial, Ms Fraser’s mother, Isabelle Thompson (66), from Motherwell, North Lanarkshire, told the High Court  that her daughters had been out-going and loving. Ms Thompson said Ms Fraser was “a very good mother, very loving” adding “She always loved to buy them new clothes, took them swimming, took them dancing. She was always doing something.”

Ms Thompson told the court how her daughter married Nat Fraser in 1987 and they set up home together in New Elgin. Ms Thompson told the court that her daughter and Fraser had separated prior to her disappearance and Fraser had moved out of the family home earlier in 1998. The trial heard that Ms Thompson confronted her son-in-law over her daughter’s disappearance, asking if he had harmed her, but he denied it.

Ms Thompson told the court that after her daughter went missing Fraser did not seem to be concerned and, on one occasion, joked inappropriately.  Asked by the prosecutor about her impression of Mr Fraser, Ms Thompson replied: “He didn’t seem that bothered one way or another.”

The trial heard that a search of Ms Fraser’s Smith Street address revealed she had not taken her sunglasses, contact lenses, store cards, passport or bank book. In court Ms Thompson identified Mrs Fraser’s eternity ring, diamond and gold wedding ring and sapphire and diamond engagement ring. She said had not seen the rings in the Smith Street house in the early days following her daughter’s disappearance, but that she later learned they had “appeared” at the house.

During the defence, John Scott QC asked questions about the earlier 2003 trial in which Hector Dick had been one of three men accused of murdering Arlene. On that occasion, he left the dock and gave evidence for the prosecution. The other man on trial then, Glenn Lucas, is now dead. A book about the case “Murdered or Missing?: The Arlene Fraser Case” was published by Reg McKay and Glenn Lucas in 2005. The two men were dismissed from the original trial as not guilty.

Note: This report was drawn from reports in the BBC,  the Scotsman and the Daily Record with background information from Wikipedia.