Family of missing Wonnangatta campers Russell Hill, Carol Clay break silence as police close in on what happened


The family of missing campers Russell Hill and Carol Clay – who vanished in the Victorian wilderness 19 months ago – have spoken publicly for the first time and told of their desperation for answers.

It comes as police narrow down their search and launch a renewed appeal for information into the baffling disappearance of Mr Hill, 74, and Ms Clay, 73, who were last seen on March 20 last year during a camping trip in remote East Gippsland.

Mr Hill had left his Drouin home on March 19 before collecting Ms Clay from her home in Pakenham in his white Toyota LandCruiser.

The pair then travelled via Licola, spending one night at Howitt High Plains before heading into Wonnangatta Valley on March 20.

Mr Hill – who did not tell his wife he was with Ms Clay – was last heard from the next day via HF radio, stating he was at Wonnangatta Valley in the Victorian Alps.

Ms Clay told friends she was heading away and was expecting to return home on March 28 or 29.

Russell Hill and Carol Clay missing
Camera IconTheir campsite burnt out off the Dry River Creek Track, north of Billabong. ABC Credit: ABC

Campers found Mr Hill’s vehicle with signs of minor fire damage at their campsite, which was completely burnt out, near the Dry River Creek Track in the Wonnangatta Valley on March 21.

Since that time, police have conducted extensive searches of the area including Missing Persons Squad detectives, local police, the search and rescue squad, air wing, dog squad and even the Australian Federal Police.

But the daughters of Mr Hill say they no longer believe their father is alive.

Debbie said she would sometimes see a man in the street who looked like her father, sparking a glimmer of hope that would always be quickly dashed.

“I don’t really believe he could be alive. He wouldn’t hide,” she said.

“It’s really hard. It’s not getting any better. It’s not knowing … you’re just stuck.”

“There’s nothing to go by,” Colleen said.

Daughters of Mr Hill, Colleen and Debbie, no longer believed their father was alive. Victoria Police
Camera IconDaughters of Mr Hill, Colleen and Debbie, no longer believed their father was alive. Victoria Police Credit: Supplied

Mrs Clay’s sister Jill, who lives in Perth said she believed something sinister had happened.

“I immediately knew there was something horribly wrong,” she said.

Carol Clay’s sister Jill had a clear message for whoever was responsible. Victoria Police
Camera IconCarol Clay’s sister Jill had a clear message for whoever was responsible. Victoria Police Credit: Supplied

Jill had a clear message for whoever was responsible.

“My message is that you’ve undertaken a heinous act. You’ve got to live with that for the rest of your life,” she said.

“We need closure. We need to know what happened and we need to know where their bodies are so we can put them to rest.”

In May, Mr Hill’s wife Robyn told NCA NewsWire she also feared the worst.

“I won’t ever see him again,” she said.

“I can’t see how they will come home. He hasn’t spent any money, he hasn’t done anything. I just want them found, one way or the other.”

In April, police moved the search 80km northwest to the Mount Hotham area in April, marking the first time the search had strayed from Wonnangatta.

Police released new images of Carol Clay as they narrow down their search for the missing campers. Victoria Police
Camera IconPolice released new images of Carol Clay as they narrow down their search for the missing campers. Victoria Police Credit: Supplied

The search then came to an abrupt halt the day after detectives found two shovels in thick bush off the Great Alpine Road on April 14.

But police could not link the shovels to the pair’s disappearance.

Russell Hill would have turned 76 last week. Victoria Police
Camera IconRussell Hill would have turned 76 last week. Victoria Police Credit: Supplied

Investigators have long believed it was likely a third party was responsible, with Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper confident the investigation’s twists and turns were leading police to a suspect.

“Every day takes us further from the last time Russell and Carol were last seen alive, however I want to reassure the community that we are far from giving up,” he said.

“Both families are also still desperate for answers about what happened to Russell and Carol and why, and I know our investigators are doing all they can to try and get those answers for them.”

Police still want to speak to anyone who was in the Wonnangatta area around March 20, including campers, 4×4 day trippers, hunters, fishermen or trail bike riders, regardless of whether they saw or heard anything.

This was so police could continue to eliminate people and vehicles from their extensive investigation.

Russell Hill and Carol Clay
Camera IconPolice found two shovels but they could not be linked to the disappearance. Jason Edwards Credit: News Corp Australia

Detectives also wish to speak to anyone who was in the area of Howitt Plains and Zeka Spur Track on March 19 and 20, and the Wonnangatta Valley and Wonnangatta Station between March 20-24.

Police have also established that Russell was camping alone with his Landcruiser in the area of the King Billy and Bluff Track between March 11-13.

Information was later received about sighting of an older person or pair in the Black Snake Creek, Eaglevale River crossing and the Ollies Jump area on March 22-23, but investigators were never been able to establish if this was the missing campers.

Detectives call for anyone in this area, any older couple who may be these persons, to also come forward.

Anyone who sights Russell or Carol should phone triple-zero and anyone with any other information regarding their disappearance should phone Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

anthony.piovesan@news.com.au



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