The daughter of a missing camper who disappeared 18 months ago with his secret lover has collapsed as she remembers the last time she saw him on her daughter’s birthday.
Russell Hill, then 74, left his property in Drouin, Victoria, on March 19 last year and picked up Carol Clay, 73, from her home in Pakenham in his white Toyota Landcruiser.
They had planned a trip into the rugged bushland of Wonnangatta Valley in East Gippsland, but never returned, as their campsite was mysteriously destroyed by fire.
Hill’s grieving daughters, Colleen and Debbie, boldly opened up for the first time this week about their fear of making the public aware of their loved one. father’s astonishing disappearance.
He would have celebrated his 76th birthday last week.
A distraught Colleen choked on tears as she recalled her last memory of her father.
It’s been 18 months since Carol Clay, 73, and Russell Hill, then 74, went missing during a camping trip in March 2020. Mr. Hill is said to have celebrated his 76th birthday last week.
Russell Hill, 74, left his property in Drouin, Victoria, on March 20 last year and picked up Carol Clay, 73, from her home in Pakenham in his white Toyota Landcruiser (pictured)
“I think a memory that keeps coming to my mind is the last time we saw him on my daughter’s birthday, thinking about the things he said and what I said and exactly what I wish I’d said,” Colleen said. to Seven News.
Her sister Debbie added: “It’s really hard. It doesn’t get any better. It’s not knowing… you’re just stuck.’
The sisters say they miss their father’s calls and grieve for their children who didn’t get to know the practical, problem-solving man they grew up with.
The couple also admitted that it was difficult to mourn him when there was still uncertainty as to whether he was dead or alive.
“I don’t really believe he could still be alive. He wouldn’t hide,” Debbie said.
She will never forget her mother’s phone call to say her father was missing.
“When Mom called us…we could tell from her voice that she was really worried and that something bad had happened,” Debbie said.
“It just wasn’t right. Looking back, it doesn’t make sense… we don’t know why the campground burned down… we don’t know where they are or what happened to them.”
Mr. Hill’s daughter, Colleen (left) burst into tears when she and sister Debbie (right) first spoke about his disappearance.
Jill, Mrs. Clay’s sister, thinks Carol is dead.
“Every day it’s like wearing a big, heavy overcoat that you can’t take off,” she said.
“It’s with you all the time and it weighs on you. It makes you heavy and sad.’
Jill, who lives on the other side of the country in Perth, had a few words for who is responsible for the disappearance of her “lively and vivacious” sister Carol.
“My message is that you have committed a heinous act. You have to live with that for the rest of your life,” she said.
Jill said she had a bad feeling about the camping trip from the start and believes the “disgusting act” was premeditated.
“I knew immediately that something was terribly wrong. Why would someone do such a premeditated act against two intelligent, responsible and prepared people?’ she said.
‘So, what’s the reason? That’s the main question that hasn’t been resolved.”
She echoed the feelings of Mr. Hill’s daughters when she said it was frustrating to know so little and not be able to organize a funeral for her beloved sister.
Russell Hill, 74, (pictured, left) had been friends with Carol Clay, 73, (right) for decades before they started having an affair
Police say they are working on solving the mystery.
Squad Chief Inspector Andrew Stamper and his team now have a “very good idea of who was in the valley at the same time.”
“We’ll keep going until we get the answers and I’m confident that’s going to happen. I’d like to think every day that we’re getting closer,” Inspector Stamper told the Herald Sun.
The detective is convinced that Mrs. Clay and Mr. Hill never left the valley and said he did not limit the potential culprit to just one person.
“We’re confident they’re still somewhere in that area,” he said.
Detective Acting Sergeant Brett Florence told the publication that whoever killed the elderly campers should feel “very uncomfortable.”
Acting Sergeant Florence said his team would “leave no stone unturned” in their gargantuan search that has spanned nearly 20 months.
The pair went missing in the Wonnangatta Valley, more than 200km northeast of Melbourne
Cadaver dogs, who specialize in locating human remains, have been sent to the region twice, but both times have found no trace of Mrs. Clay (left) or Mr. Hill (right)
While Mr. Hill had worked for many years in the Gippsland logging industry, Mrs. Clay had been deeply involved with the Country Women’s Association.
The 74-year-old man was last heard on HF radio on March 20, stating that he was in the Wonnangatta Valley in the high country of Victoria.
Ms. Hill had told friends she was on her way and expected to return home on March 28 or 29.
Campers found Russell’s vehicle on March 21 with signs of minor fire damage at their campsite, which was completely destroyed by fire, near Dry River Creek Track in the Wonnangatta Valley.
Cadaver dogs, which specialize in locating human remains, have been sent to the region twice, but both times have found no trace of the pair.
A previous police line of thought was that Mr Hill and Mrs Clay (pictured) were ambushed or shot by deer hunters
Wild conspiracy theories about the disappearance have emerged, but missing persons team investigators have long maintained that the couple, who were engaged in a secret affair, were attacked by unknown assailants.
An earlier line of thought of the police was that Mr. Hill and Mrs. Gray were ambushed or shot by deer hunters.
Inspector Stamper previously told A Current Affair that officers discovered a driver of a white ute who was seen in the valley a day before the couple disappeared.
“It may seem like a very slim chance that those in the white ute have information about the disappearance of Russell and Carol, but we can’t afford to leave no stone unturned,” he said.
Investigators have learned that Mr. Hill took his DJI Mavic drone on the trip and the drone has yet to be recovered.
Victoria Police detectives moved their search 80km northwest to the Mount Hotham area in April, where they found two shovels in dense undergrowth off the Great Alpine Road.
The status of those shovels remains unknown after they are sent for forensics.
Mrs Clay (pictured) had been heavily involved with the Country Women’s Association in Victoria
Investigators have 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 Missing Persons Squad detectives accompanied by the police helicopter, drone unit, search and rescue and Parks Victoria personnel.
Information was received about a sighting of an elderly individual or couple in the Black Snake Creek, Eaglevale River Crossing and the Ollies Jump area on March 22-23, but detectives were never able to determine whether it was the missing campers.
Detectives and the couple’s devastated relatives are now calling on the public to be their “eyes and ears” as the weather begins to warm up.
Authorities have asked anyone in the area to report findings from clothing, a drone or other clues that could help close the families of the elderly campers.