Police have found a new clue in their search for a couple who vanished on a camping trip while they were having a secret affair.
Detectives uncovered a shovel during their search for Russell Hill and Carol Clay in dense bushland at Mount Hotham in the Victorian Alps about midday on Wednesday.
The shovel was placed into a plastic bag and carried from the scene by officers so it could be forensically examined.
Mr Hill, 74, and 73-year-old Ms Clay were last heard from when he made a call on March 20 last year via HF radio, saying he was in the Wonnangatta Valley in Victoria’s high country.
Mr Hill’s car and the campsite were found burnt near Dry River Creek Track in the valley on March 21.
Large scale searches of the surrounding rugged bushland turned up no sign of the couple, but Victoria Police began searching an entirely new area near Mount Hotham on Wednesday morning after receiving new information.
The search site near the Great Alpine Road is 100km away from their campsite.
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
‘Detectives are acting on information uncovered during the course of the investigation that has led them to this area and is believed to be of interest,’ a police spokesman said.
Police investigations have indicated Mr Hill and Ms Clay spent the night at Howitt High Plains on the night of March 19 before entering the Wonnangatta Valley on March 20 and vanishing without a trace.
Victoria Police want to speak to anyone who was in the area around Howitt High Plains or the Zeka Spur Track between March 19-20 of last year.
They have also put out an appeal for information for anyone who was in at the Wonnangatta Valley and Wonnangatta Station between March 20 to 24.
Detectives want to speak to the driver of a white ute that was seen near the couple’s campsite on March 19.
Investigators from the missing persons squad have long worked off the theory the pair were set upon by unknown attackers.
The squad’s acting head, Detective Acting Inspector Anthony Combridge, said police were not giving up on the case despite the difficulty.
‘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 said on Friday.
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
The pair went missing in the Wonnangatta Valley, more than 200km north east of Melbourne
‘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 illegal deer hunters they either stumbled upon or who they spotted with a now-missing drone.
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.
Russell Hill and Carol Clay (pictured) were last heard from on March 20 last year
Mr Hill’s best friend Rob Ashlin (pictured) believe the couple had been attacked during their camping trip
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 have established Mr Hill had camped alone in the area of the King Billy and Bluff Track between March 11 and 13 before returning a week later with his lover.
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.
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
Victorian police believe it is ‘highly unlikely’ that either Ms Clay (pictured) or Mr Hill are alive after they went missing last year
Detectives are calling for anyone in this area, including the pair themselves, to come forward.
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.’