News, Culture & Society

Extraordinary twist in the mysterious case of missing campers as locals spotted an ‘older couple’

A string of reported sightings of missing campers in Victoria could finally unlock the mystery behind their disappearance, two months after they last made contact. 

Russell Hill, 74, and Carol Clay, 73, went missing after going on a secret camping trip on March 19 in Gippsland Valley.

Their disappearance has baffled local authorities who found their campsite burned out two days later, with investigators unable to find the source of the blaze.

But now a series of unconfirmed sightings of the pair have plunged their fate into question, with no bodies found and police finding no evidence of foul play.

Mr Hill’s Toyota four-wheel-drive was found at the scene with possessions belonging to the couple still inside – but his expensive drone is missing.

Investigators feared the pair may have become lost in the remote bushland, but haven’t ruled out a theory that they vanished intentionally.

Friends of Mr Hill (pictured) who have been out camping with the avid outdoorsman say he knows the area well and would not have strayed far.

Carol Clay, 73, (pictured, left) was once the President of the Country Women’s Association of Victoria, and went missing with experienced bushman Russell Hill (right)

The pair went missing in the Wonnangatta Valley, more than 200km north east of Melbourne

The pair went missing in the Wonnangatta Valley, more than 200km north east of Melbourne

Fresh hopes has been given to their families after reports the pair may have been spotted three times since their disappearance, up to two hours’ drive away at Black Snake Creek and Eaglevale River.

Detectives have not been able to verify the sightings, but locals sighted seeing a couple of similar age.

The apparent sightings came two days after Mr Hill last made radio contact with a friend on March 20.

Two days later, a woman was seen at Black Snake Creek waiting to use a long-drop toilet, police said.

An older couple were also seen driving from Black Snake Creek hut, with the woman described as wearing lipstick and ‘looked out out of place’.

Police suspect a number of items may have been taken from the campsite (pictured) including a drone which is now missing

Police suspect a number of items may have been taken from the campsite (pictured) including a drone which is now missing

A burnt out campsite was found in remote bushland in Victoria's Wonnangatta Valley (pictured) after the friends went missing on March 20

A burnt out campsite was found in remote bushland in Victoria’s Wonnangatta Valley (pictured) after the friends went missing on March 20

Ms Clay has frequently been described as glamorous and well-dressed, and was a beloved member of the Country Women’s Association of Victoria.

A couple were also seen near the Eaglevale River crossing and campsite, with none of the people in these sightings otherwise accounted for. 

Police are trying to verify the sightings.

A statement on Tuesday night said: ‘Police would like to speak with anyone who was in those areas on that date in the hope they can determine whether the couple was Russell and Carol.

‘Despite a number of searches over the past two months, the pair have not been located and have not contacted family or friends.

‘It is still yet to be determined whether their disappearance is suspicious.’ 

Mr Hill, from Drouin, is also thought to have gone on a solo camping trip a week before his disappearance with Ms Clay, who lives in Pakenham.

His wife of 50 years, Robyn, previously admitted she had no idea her husband had gone camping with another woman. 

She said her husband had been friendly with Ms Clay for decades but was unaware they were travelling together. 

Friends of devoted grandmother Carol Clay (pictured, right) were surprised to learn she had gone camping with one close friend describing her as a glamour queen

Friends of devoted grandmother Carol Clay (pictured, right) were surprised to learn she had gone camping with one close friend describing her as a glamour queen

Their disappearence is the subject of a major missing persons squad inquiry.

Investigators have confirmed Mr Hill was camping alone in the area between March 11 and 13, close to the camp of a mysterious local figure called ‘the Button Man’.

Also known as ‘Buttons’, the expert bushman became a person of interest after concerns about his odd behaviour were raised by locals.

Sources believe the Button Man could be useful to the investigation, as he often speaks to local campers and knows the area well. 

He is understood to have earned his nickname due to his hobby of using deer antlers to make buttons – which he then uses as large ear piercings. 

Using well crafted traditional spears, the man is known to camp for weeks on end in remote bushlands and hunt for deer, the Age reported.

Russell Hill's car (pictured) was also found at the scene with fire damage, but still driveable

Russell Hill’s car (pictured) was also found at the scene with fire damage, but still driveable

Despite being described as ‘spooky’ and ‘bloody scary’, police have no evidence to suggest he was involved in any disappearances and there have been no reports of violence.

The man, described as being around 70 and very fit, has been known to speak to local campers.

One bushman said the Button Man had a ‘thousand-metre stare that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up’.   

In one particularly terrifying story, a wildlife photographer explained that he had stayed in the area around the Button Man’s camp to take pictures.

When he got home to download pictures from his camera, he found an unexplained picture of himself asleep – with no idea who took it or when. 

The Button Man is also known to build pyramids out of rocks on the roadside, piling pebbles to signify when a car has driven passed. 

Mr Hill (pictured) was an experienced bushman, friends said

Ms Clay (pictured) was described as glamorous and well-dressed

Mr Hill’s wife Robyn, 71, said her husband (pictured, left) had been friendly with Carol Clay (right) for decades but had no idea they were travelling together

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk