The friends of two elderly lovers who went missing on a camping trip are considering launching their own search as the anniversary of the couple’s mysterious disappearance approaches.
Russell Hill, 74, and Carol Clay, 73, went camping on March 19 last year in the rugged bushland of the Wonnangatta Valley in Victoria’s East Gippsland region.
Their disappearance has baffled authorities, who found the elderly couple’s campsite burned to the ground near Mr Hill’s car two days later.
Mr Hill’s best friend Rob Ashlin believes the couple had been attacked and said he knew of a group of those close to the couple who were willing to mount their own search mission.
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Russell Hill (pictured, left) and Carol Clay (right) have mysteriously disappeared during a camping trip in the Wonnangatta Valley in Victoria’s East Gippsland region last year
‘There is no doubt, I think he had been jumped. I still stand by that story – police seem to have come around to it now,’ he told the Herald Sun.
‘I don’t think the drone has anything to do with it,’ he said.
Authorities discovered that the couple’s sleeping bags, phones, and Mr Hill’s $2,000 drone were also missing from their burnt-out campsite.
A drone was handed in to Victoria Police at East Gippsland last weekend but officers confirmed it wasn’t Mr Hill’s DJI Mavic model.
Mr Ashlin said he would only go back to the camping site in a group as he believes it’s unsafe.
‘Some boys are thinking about doing a trip up there, but I don’t know that is the right thing to do,’ he said.
Mr Hill’s best friend Rob Ashlin (pictured) believe the couple had been attacked during their camping trip
A new image of Mr Hill’s white Toyota Landcruiser. It was found with minor fire damage at their burnt campsite near Dry River Creek Track in the valley on March 21
Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper of the missing persons squad said that it is ‘highly unlikely that either Russel or Carol are still alive’ at this stage in the investigation.
‘The grief that these families have had to deal with over the past year, coupled with immense public speculation, is immensely difficult to comprehend and our thoughts are with them on this anniversary.’
Mr Hill was last heard from on March 20 over HF radio, while Ms Clay had told friends she was heading away and was expecting to return by March 29.
Mr Hill, 74, left his Drouin home on March 19, 2020 and collected Ms Clay, 73, from her home in Pakenham in his white Toyota LandCruiser.
Mr Hill (pictured) had left his Drouin home on March 19 for a camping trip along the Dargo River in Victoria’s northeast and planned to leave the region on March 26
They traveled through Licola, spending one night at Howitt High Plains before heading into Wonnangatta Valley.
Mr Hill’s Landcruiser was found with minor fire damage at their burnt campsite near Dry River Creek Track in the valley on March 21.
Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper said the force are not giving up and will follow any new leads and information.
‘We have increased the number of dedicated investigators looking into Russell and Carol’s disappearance and we remain strongly optimistic of giving these families the answers they need,’ he said.
Russell Hill and Carol Clay (pictured) were last heard from on March 20 last year
‘Where that information or intelligence links to a particular area, then we will return and search that area.’
Earlier this month police appealed for information regarding a white dual cab ute that had been seen near Mr Hill’s and Ms Clay’s campsite on March 19 last year.
The vehicle has remained a mystery despite almost 12 months of meticulous checks by the squad.
The pair went missing in the Wonnangatta Valley, more than 200km north east of Melbourne
Victoria believe it is ‘highly unlikely’ that either Ms Clay (pictured) or Mr Hill are alive after they went missing last year
‘It might seem like only a very small possibility that those in the white ute will have information about Russell and Carol’s disappearance but we can’t afford to leave any stone unturned,’ Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper said.
He said at this stage police did not believe that vehicle was connected to the pair’s disappearance.
‘We cannot leave any ‘what ifs’ when it comes to an investigation like this.’
Police were also notified of a sighting of an older person or pair in the Black Snake Creek, Eaglevale River crossing and the Ollies Jump area on March 22 and 23, but have not confirmed if the sighting was Mr Hill and Ms Clay.
Anyone with any other information regarding their disappearance or who can provide information about the white dual cab ute is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000
Authorities discovered that the couple’s sleeping bags, phones, and Mr Hill’s $2,000 drone were also missing from their burnt-out campsite