“I'd be uncomfortable”: Police closing in on missing campers suspect
The families of campers Russell Hill and Carol Clay - who went missing 19 months ago - have spoken publicly for the first time, sharing their desperation for answers.
Mr Hill, 74, and Ms Clay, 73, were last seen on March 20 last year while on a camping trip in a remote area of East Gippsland, Victoria.
Mr Hill left his home in West Gippsland the day prior, collecting Ms Clay from her Pakenham home before they travelled to Wonnangatta Valley in his white Toyota LandCruiser.
Mr Hill didn’t tell his wife that he was with Ms Clay, and was last heard from on November 20 via HF radio, stating he was at Wonnangatta Valley in the Victorian Alps.
Ms Clay told friends she was going away and was expecting to return on March 28 or 29.
Police believe a third party was involved in their disappearance and launched a renewed appeal for information as they narrow down their search.
Image: Victoria Police
However, Mr Hill’s daughters say they believe he is no longer alive.
“I don’t really believe he could be alive. He wouldn’t hide,” his daughter Debbie 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.
Ms Clay’s sister Jill said she believes something went wrong, and has a message for whoever was responsible.
“I immediately knew there was something horribly wrong,” she said.
“My message is that you’re undertaken a heinous act. You’ve got to live with that for the rest of your life.
“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.”
Robyn, Mr Hill’s wife, also said she feared the worst while speaking to NCA NewsWire in May.
“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.”
Mr Hill’s vehicle was found by fellow campers the day after he last made contact. The vehicle showed signs of minor fire damage, and was found next to their completely burnt-out campsite.
Mr Russell and Ms Clay’s campsite. Image: ABC
Since then, police have extensively searched the area, with members of the local police, Missing Persons Squad detectives, search and rescue squad, air wing, dog squad, and Australian Federal Police assisting.
Police later moved the search 80km northwest in April, but the search stopped after detectives found two shovels in thick bush off the Great Alpine Road.
However, police have not been able to link the shovels to the pair’s disappearance.
Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper is confident the investigation’s twists and turns are leading police to a suspect.
“I’d be uncomfortable,” Stamper told 7 News, in a big hint that police are close to a breakthrough.
“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.
“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."
To aid in their investigation, police are calling for anyone in the Wonnangatta area around March 20 to get in contact regardless of whether they say or heard anything.
Detectives also wish to speak to anyone in the area around Howitt Plains and Zeka Spur Track on March 19 and 20, as well as anyone in Wonnangatta Valley and Wonnangatta Station between March 20-24.
Anyone who sees Mr Hill or Ms Clay are urged to call triple-zero, while anyone with other information relating to their disappearance should contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
Image: Victoria Police / Facebook