Specialist dogs have failed to find any trace of missing campers and secret lovers Russell Hill and Carol Clay, but investigators say they are close to cracking the case.
Mr Hill, 74, left his property in Drouin, Victoria, on March 19 last year and picked up Ms Clay, 73, from her home in Pakenham in his white Toyota Landcruiser.
Mr Hill was last heard from the next day on March 20 via HF radio, stating he was at Wonnangatta Valley in Victoria’s high country.
Campers found Mr Hill’s vehicle with signs of minor fire damage at their campsite near Dry River Creek Track in the Wonnangatta Valley on March 21. The campsite had been completely destroyed by fire.
Cadaver dogs, which specialise in locating human remains, were sent to the region over the past few days but failed to find any trace of the pair.
Investigators are still trying to determine how Russell Hill, 74, and Carol Clay, 73, disappeared while camping in the rugged bushland of the Wonnangatta Valley in Victoria’s East Gippsland region on March 19, 2020
The pair had been involved in a secret affair for years and had gone on the camping trip before their site was found burned to the ground two days later
Wild conspiracy theories about the disappearance have emerged, but investigators from the missing persons squad have long maintained the pair, who were engaged in a secret affair, were set upon by unknown attackers.
The squad’s acting head, Detective Acting Inspector Anthony Combridge, said police were determined to solve the case.
‘It has been over 12 months since Russell Hill and Carol Clay disappeared and we are committed to finding the answers on what happened to them,’ Insp. Combridge told the Herald Sun this week.
‘We will continue to search the area and encourage anyone with information to come forward, no matter how small they think that information might be.’
An earlier school of thought from police was that Mr Hill and Mrs Gray were ambushed or shot by deer hunters.
A number of friends agreed, with their bodies then dragged away in their sleeping bags.
Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper told A Current Affair officers are chasing all leads and have zeroed in on a driver of a white ute that was seen in the valley a day before the pair disappeared.
‘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,’ he said.
Police have noted the toilet at the campsite had been unused, suggesting the couple had not had time to settle in before they disappeared.
The pair went missing in the Wonnangatta Valley, more than 200km north east of Melbourne
Russell Hill and Carol Clay (pictured) were last heard from on March 20 last year
Friend Rob Ashlin said their bodies could have been disposed of in the sprawling bushland.
‘The fact that it’s been reported that those sleeping bags were missing, makes me feel that those sleeping bags were carted out of there and… used as body bags,’ he said.
‘There are a lot of places – the country is very rugged – where they can be got rid of, never to be found again.’
Detectives want to speak to anyone who was in the area of Howitt Plains and Zeka Spur Track on March 19 or 20, and the Wonnangatta Valley and Wonnangatta Station between March 20-24.
Campers found Russell’s vehicle with signs of minor fire damage at their campsite, which was completely destroyed by fire, near Dry River Creek Track in the Wonnangatta Valley on March 21.
Police would like to speak to anyone who saw this fire or the smoke from it.
Investigators have been told Mr Hill took his DJI Mavic drone with him on the trip and the drone is still yet to be recovered.
Mr Hill’s best friend Rob Ashlin (pictured) believe the couple had been attacked during their camping trip
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
A drone was handed into police earlier this month but has been confirmed not to have belonged to Mr Hill.
Police also have appealed for information about a white dual cab ute seen near the pair’s campsite on March 19 last year.
Investigators have not been able to account for the vehicle but do not believe it is connected to the pair’s disappearance.
Detectives have established Mr Hill was camping alone with his Landcruiser in the area of the King Billy and Bluff Track between March 11 and 13.
An older person or pair were later seen in the Black Snake Creek, Eaglevale River crossing and the Ollies Jump area on March 22 and 23 but investigators have never been able to establish if this was Mr Hill and Ms Clay.
Detectives are calling for anyone in this area, including the pair themselves, to come forward.
Victorian police believe it is ‘highly unlikely’ that either Ms Clay (pictured) or Mr Hill are alive after they went missing last year
It is still to be determined whether the pair’s disappearance is suspicious.
Ms Clay had told friends she was expecting to return by March 29.
‘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,’ Det Insp Stamper said.
‘I know they will be hanging on every phone call and every knock on the door, hoping they will finally get some answers.
‘Sadly, at this stage we believe it is highly unlikely that either Russell or Carol are still alive.’