The baffling mystery of missing campers Russell Hill and Carol Clay could be days from being solved as police release images of a dark blue 4WD, with detectives believing its driver killed the couple and stuffed their bodies inside the car’s trailer.
The couple, who were having a secret affair known only to her sister, vanished from a remote campsite at the rugged Wonnangatta Valley in the Victorian Alps in March 2020.
Since then, police have had few leads in the case, having initially thought the pair had intentionally disappeared – but bombshell evidence has left them convinced the couple were killed.
The homicide detectives who scoured their burnt out tent, table and folding chairs are now sure Mr Hill, 74, and Ms Clay, 73, were murdered and likely driven away from the grisly scene.
So far there are no suspects in the case but new bombshell CCTV footage shows a mid-1990s model Nissan Patrol towing a trailer that detectives say holds the ‘key’ piece of the puzzle.
Russell Hill (pictured, left) and Carol Clay (right) are believed to have been murdered during a camping trip
The vehicle is now central to the investigation because painstaking video analysis has managed to account for every car exiting the remote valley that weekend – except the blue 4WD.
‘Throughout our extensive and significant investigation over the last 20 months, we have not been able to eliminate this blue four-wheel drive from our enquiries,’ Inspector Andrew Stamper said in a public alert.
‘We have witness statements that put this blue vehicle and its trailer in the valley at the time Russell and Carol were there, and indeed near the spot that they had set up their camp.’
The 4WD has roof racks, side steps, off-road tyres and a bulbar. The box trailer is ‘fairly standard’ but has been fitted with ‘off-road wheels’.
From the earliest stages of the investigation detectives had wondered why the couple set up their campsite away from the river in a less secluded spot.
Inspector Stamper now believes it’s because somebody else was already camping there when they arrived.
The mid-1990s model Nissan Patrol (pictured) is now central to the investigation because painstaking video analysis has managed to account for every car exiting the remote valley that weekend – except the blue 4WD
The 4WD (pictured in a police sketch) has roof racks, side steps, off-road tyres and a bulbar. The box trailer is ‘fairly standard’ but has been fitted with ‘off-road wheels’
A witness reported seeing a vehicle which matches the Nissan Patrol’s description parked near their campsite on the night they went missing.
Another recalls hearing it leave the area around midnight and getting stuck on a closed road before turning around.
The leading theory now is that there may have been some sort of altercation between the campers which turned deadly.
Inspector Stamper says the killer has then tried to cover their tracks by burning the campsite and using the trailer to move the bodies.
‘My believe is that this was not planned or premeditated attack it was just something that happened quickly which probably means whoever did it would have acted quickly in trying to conceal them,’ he told 60 Minutes.
‘The person who carried out this is probably just an ordinary member of the community who is operating in a normal job and carrying a significant load on their mind.’
The pair went missing in the Wonnangatta Valley, more than 200km north east of Melbourne
Mr Hill’s white Toyota Landcruiser (pictured) was found with minor fire damage at their burnt campsite near Dry River Creek Track in the valley on March 21
From the earliest stages of the investigation detectives had wondered why the couple set up their campsite away from the river in a less secluded spot (shown above) but Inspector Stamper now believes it’s because somebody else was already camping there when they arrived
In the initial stages of the case, authorities suspected the couple had simply run off together, but neither has accessed their bank accounts since their disappearance.
Possessions belonging to the couple were found inside Mr Hill’s Toyota 4WD at the scene.
The only things missing were their mobile phones and a remote control drone.
Mr Hill’s wife Robyn, 71, said she had no idea her husband was with another woman when he went missing.
She said her husband had been friendly with Ms Clay for decades but was unaware they were travelling together.
Another working theory was that the pair had become lost, but given Mr Hill is an experienced outdoorsman with knowledge of the area, that would appear extremely unlikely.
Multiple major search operations involving drones, helicopters, mounted police, search dogs and ground crews have also come up with nothing.
Russell Hill and Carol Clay (pictured) were last heard from on March 20 last year, with Mr Hill’s wife unaware he was travelling with another woman
Mr Hill (above) had recently retired and was an experienced outdoorsman who reportedly knew the remote Alpine region of the Gippsland well
In an emotional television interview, Mr Hill’s two daughters Colleen and Debbie (pictured) visited the campsite for the first time and said they believe their father was murdered because he would never leave his family
An ‘overheated’ mobile phone charger was initially believed to have set their campsite on fire and burned their tent, table and camping chairs but now detectives have completely changed their tune, saying the blaze was deliberately lit.
Inspector Stamper acknowledged the early stages of the investigation may have been hampered by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.
‘We understand that initially, given the confusion around Covid-19 and state-wide lockdowns that people may have been reluctant to come forward, or that someone may simply have missed our repeated appeals for information,’ he said.
‘But if you are the driver of this blue Nissan Patrol, or you know who is, we would urge you to come forward – if nothing else, so we can eliminate you from our enquiries and move forward.’
In an emotional television interview, Mr Hill’s two daughters Colleen and Debbie visited the campsite for the first time and said they believe their father was murdered because he would never leave his family.
The area is notorious for blood-thirsty hunters illegally killing deer, who often use thermal imaging with their high-powered rifles
Homicide Squad detectives who scoured their burnt out tent, table and folding chairs (pictured) are convinced Mr Hill, 74, and Ms Clay, 73, were murdered and likely driven away from the grisly scene
‘I really don’t believe he could be alive, he wouldn’t hide,’ Debbie Hill said.
‘You just hope someone will speak up if they know something to help the situation… We just want to know what happened and where he is.’
Carol’s younger sister Jill told the Chanel Nine program she also shares their anguish of not knowing what happened.
‘It’s difficult each day because it’s with you all the time,’ she said.
‘You’re not able to put it down that is the problem of someone who has gone missing. You never have a resolution. You just have to keep on holding it and holding it.’
The charred remains (pictured) from the couple’s campsite have been released for the first time
Police originally believed the fire was not deliberately lit but started with an overheated mobile phone charger (pictured)
MISSING CAMPERS THEORIES
THE BLUE NISSAN PATROL
Homicide detectives now suspect a person travelling dark blue Nissan Patrol got into an altercation with the couple which turned deadly. Investigators theorise the person may have driven their bodies away in a trailer.
SHOT BY HUNTERS
Locals believe the pair may have been shot and killed after Mr Hill’s drone unwittingly caught illegal hunters in the act. Large numbers of deer carcasses were found near the burnt out campsite.
MURDERER STALKING THE AREA
A friend of Mr Hill said hunters in the area has seen a ‘sinister’ figure lurking near their campfire.
THE ‘BUTTON MAN’
An ‘oddball loner’ expert bushman known as the ‘button man’ for his habit of making buttons out of deer antlers became a person of interest after the disappearance, but there is no evidence he is linked to the disappearance.
KILLED BY UNKNOWN ATTACKERS
Police acknowledge that some other unknown attackers could have set upon the campers.
Police hunt Nissan Patrol over disappearance of missing campers Russell Hill, Carol Clay, Victoria