The cold case hunt for missing campers has all but frozen as Victoria’s winter lashes the alpine region they went missing from.
The two had gone camping in secret during a lurid decades-long affair on March 19 last year in the rugged bushland of the Wonnangatta Valley in Victoria’s East Gippsland region and vanished.
Daily Mail Australia can reveal the distraught families of the pair are unlikely to learn anything further about the mystery as dire weather conditions in the remote area drag the investigation to a halt.
Victorian detectives have released a new map of an area where a mystery white ute was spotted on the day the campers went missing
Russell Hill (pictured, left) had been friendly with Carol Clay (right) for decades before they ad an affair
Mr Hill’s white Toyota Landcruiser was found with minor fire damage at their burnt campsite near Dry River Creek Track in the valley on March 21
Victoria Police detectives had moved their search 80km northwest to the Mount Hotham area in April where they found two shovels in thick bush off the Great Alpine Road.
The status of those shovels remains unknown after they were sent off to be forensically examined.
A week after they were found police moved back to the campgrounds of Wonnangatta where the pair first vanished.
Investigators had been focused on areas along the Dargo High Plains Road, Cynthia Range Track, Herne Spur Track and the Wonnangatta Track as a result of information obtained from previous searches.
Previous searches had seen detectives from the Missing Persons Squad joined by the police helicopter, drone unit, search and rescue and staff from Parks Victoria.
The effort has seen teams of people scouring roads, tracks, campgrounds, rivers and cliffs.
In recent days, weather in the search areas has dropped to sub-zero levels as the full force of winter hits the alpine area.
Over the next week, the area the campers went missing from will be hit with rain, with roads turned to mush.
Winter was always going to turn hamper efforts on the case, which has gone from cold to freezing.
‘Generally over winter it all stops for a bit because we can’t really get up there due to weather,’ a source told Daily Mail Australia.
Mr Hill’s $2,000 drone was missing the scorched scene, along with phones, car keys and bank cards
Russell Hill and Carol Clay were last heard from on March 20, with Mr Hill’s wife unaware he was travelling with another woman
Police are still desperate to find a white dual cab ute that was spotted in the area at about the time the campers vanished.
The vehicle has remained a mystery despite more than a year of meticulous checks.
Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper said police had been able to identify all vehicles seen in the area near the doomed couple’s campsite on March 20 last year except the white ute.
‘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 in March.
‘We cannot leave any “what ifs” when it comes to an investigation like this.’
Mr Hill left his Drouin home in his white Toyota Landcruiser a day earlier and collected Ms Hill from her home in Pakenham.
He was last heard from on March 20 via HF radio, stating he was at Wonnangatta Valley in the Victorian Alps.
Ms Hill had told friends she was heading away and was expected to return home on March 28 or 29.
The exact make and model of the ute remains unknown.
Inspector Stamper said while he accepted the mystery vehicle was not especially uncommon, he hoped anyone who knows someone that owns a white dual cab ute and was in the Wonnangatta area at the time to come forward.
‘We’ve had people from a number of states come forward to provide their details and tell us they were in the area around that time, which is greatly appreciated and incredibly helpful,’ he said.
‘I’ve been clear the whole time that it’s not about catching out people who shouldn’t have been there for any reason – we just need to account for you.’
A new image of Mr Hill’s white Toyota Landcruiser. It was found with minor fire damage at their burnt campsite near Dry River Creek Track in the valley on March 21
Mr Ashlin had been camping with Mr Hill (pictured) on a number of occasions, and described his friend as ‘cautious’
The pair were in a secret relationship and didn’t tell anyone where they were going. Ms Clay (pictured) just told friends she would be gone for a few days
Inspector Stamper stressed there was nothing linking the vehicle to the pair’s disappearance.
‘So please do not be concerned about coming forward to assist,’ he said.
‘The grief that these families have had to deal with over the past year, coupled with immense public speculation, is immensely difficult to comprehend.
‘We will not give up on the possibility that we can give those families the answers they need – but we cannot do this without the public’s help.’
Investigators have been told that Mr Hill took his DJI Mavic drone before going camping and the drone is still yet to be recovered.
Campers found Mr Hill’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.
Detectives have also established that Mr Hill had been camping alone with his Landcruiser in the area of the King Billy and Bluff Track between 11-13 March.
Information was later received about sighting of an older person or pair in the Black Snake Creek, Eaglevale River crossing and the Ollies Jump area on March 22-23, but detectives have never been able to establish if it was the missing campers.
Detectives have called for anyone who was in that area or any older couple who may be these persons, to also come forward.
Police have asked anyone who sights the couple to contact triple zero immediately.
Anyone with any other information regarding their disappearance or who can provide information about the white dual cab ute is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or log onto www.crimestoppersvic.com.au