DETECTIVES from the Missing Persons Squad are again appealing for the public’s help to locate a mystery vehicle as part of their investigation into missing Wonnangatta campers Russell Hill and Carol Clay.
After almost 12 months of meticulous checks, police have been able to identify all vehicles seen in the area near Russell and Carol’s campsite on Thursday, March 20, 2020 with the exception of a single car. That vehicle is described as a white dual cab ute and the exact make and model is unknown.
At this time, there is nothing to indicate the vehicle or its occupants are linked to the pair’s disappearance. However police have not given up hope that those travelling in the ute may have some information that is new to investigators.
Detectives renewed their appeal ahead of the long weekend, with many Victorians expected to travel to and through the high country.
Despite weeks of pain-staking searches by police through the Wonnangatta area, Russell and Carol are yet to be located.
Russell left his Drouin home on March 19, collected Carol from her home in Pakenham in his white Toyota Landcruiser. He was last heard from on March 20 via HF radio stating he was at Wonnangatta Valley in the Victorian Alps when he made the call.
Carol told friends she was heading away and was expecting to return home on March 28 or 29.
Investigators have been told Russell and Carol were camping together at Wonnangatta River near the Wonnangatta camping ground.
Police remain keen to speak to anyone who was in the Wonnangatta area around that time, including campers, 4×4 day trippers, hunters, fishermen or trail bike riders, regardless of whether they saw or heard anything. This is so police can continue to eliminate people and vehicles from their extensive investigation.
Detectives are also keen to speak to anyone who was in the area of Howitt Plains and Zeka Spur Track on March 19 or 20, and the Wonnangatta Valley and Wonnangatta Station between March 20 and 24.
Investigators have been told that Russell took his DJI Mavic drone before going camping and the drone is still yet to be recovered.
Campers found Russell’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 Russell was camping alone with his Landcruiser in the area of the King Billy and Bluff Track between March 11 and 13.
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 or 23, however have never been able to establish if this was the missing campers.
Detectives call for anyone in this area, any older couple who may be these persons, to also come forward.
It is still yet to be fully determined whether the pair’s disappearance is suspicious.
Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper said police will not give up on the possibility they can give those families the answers they need, but it can’t be done without the public’s help.
“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.
“We cannot leave any ‘what ifs’ when it comes to an investigation like this.
“I appreciate this is not an especially uncommon vehicle, however if you or someone you know with a white dual cab ute was in the Wonnangatta area around March 20 last year then we need to hear from you.
“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.
“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.
“This long weekend I expect a number of people will take advantage of the extra time off to head up to the high country, so it’s an opportunity for us to renew this appeal for information.
“Again, I would stress that there is nothing linking that vehicle to Russell and Carol’s disappearance so please do not be concerned about coming forward to assist.
“The grief that these families have had to deal with over the past year, coupled with immense public speculation, is immensely difficult to comprehend.”
Anyone who sights Russell or Carol has been asked to phone 000 immediately.
Anyone with any other information regarding their disappearance or who can provide information about the white dual cab ute should phone Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or log onto www.crimestoppersvic.com.au.