Detectives probing the baffling year-long case of missing campers Russell Hill and Carol Clay have abruptly paused their search just hours after they started scouring a completely new area of bushland.

The investigation deepened on Wednesday as police moved their search 80km northwest to the Mount Hotham area, marking the first time the search had strayed from Wonnangatta, where the pair's burnt out campsite was found on March 20 last year.

Missing Persons Squad Detective Acting Inspector Tony Combridge said police were combing through "some parts of the bush never walked on by humans before" and expected the search to continue into Thursday.

But Victoria Police confirmed to NCA NewsWire that search and rescue crews would not be returning to the site on Thursday morning.

Two shovels were found in dense bush during the search just after midday. Picture: Jason Edwards
Two shovels were found in dense bush during the search just after midday. Picture: Jason Edwards

 

It's understood investigators are not searching anywhere else today and will await forensic results after two shovels were found in dense bush during the search just after midday.

The shovels were placed into plastic evidence bags, while other items retrieved from the area were taken away by police in brown paper bags.

Detective Acting Inspector Tony Combridge said on Wednesday investigators believed "someone else was involved" in the baffling disappearance that has attracted widespread interest.

"I don't think anything's off the table but we look at what's in front of us and the likely scenario is that somebody else is involved," he told reporters.

"We could be one phone call away. That's the position we hold … from this matter being resolved."

Carol Clay and Russell Hill were last known to be camping off the Dry River Track. Picture: Supplied
Carol Clay and Russell Hill were last known to be camping off the Dry River Track. Picture: Supplied

 

Det Combridge could not shed any further details on what new information led detectives to moving their search to an area off the Great Alpine Road in Mount Hotham, only that it had come from "multiple sources" and "accrued over time".

Detectives had previously scoured the Wonnangatta Valley area since the pair vanished during a camping trip on March 20 last year.

They were last known to be camping off the Dry River Track.

But detectives "acting on information uncovered during the investigation" led them about 80km further northeast from the Wonnangatta camping grounds to a new area on the Great Alpine Road in Mount Hotham.

Det Combridge said there had been an "enormous" volume of intel coming in to police about the investigation, sparked by recent appeals about a white ute detectives were hoping to find the owners of.

Search and rescue crews comb through dense bushland in Mount Hotham. Picture: Jason Edwards
Search and rescue crews comb through dense bushland in Mount Hotham. Picture: Jason Edwards

 

Mr Hill left his Drouin home on March 19 before collecting Ms Clay from her home in Pakenham in his white Toyota LandCruiser.

The friends then travelled via Licola spending one night at Howitt High Plains before heading into Wonnangatta Valley on 20 March.

He was last heard from the following day via HF radio, stating he was at Wonnangatta Valley in the Victorian Alps when he made the call.

Ms Clay told friends she was heading away and was expecting to return home on March 28 or 29.

Previous reports have suggested the pair were high school sweethearts, and that Mr Hill's wife was not aware Ms Clay was joining him on the camping trip.

Investigators were told the pair were camping together at Wonnangatta River near the Wonnangatta camping ground.

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.

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. Picture: ABC
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. Picture: ABC

 

Det Combridge said there was "no further update" on the fire that engulfed their campsite.

"Investigators are continuing to appeal to anyone who was in the Wonnangatta area around that time, including campers, 4x4 day trippers, hunters, fishermen or trail bike riders, regardless of whether they saw or heard anything," a Victoria Police spokesman said.

"Detectives are also keen to speak to anyone who was in the area of Howitt Plains and Zeka Spur Track on 19 or 20 March, and the Wonnangatta Valley and Wonnangatta Station between 20-24 March who has not yet made contact with police is urged to come forward."

An aerial view of where Russell Hill and Carol Clay were believed to be camping.
An aerial view of where Russell Hill and Carol Clay were believed to be camping.

 

Detectives also established Mr Hill was camping alone with his Landcruiser in the area of the King Billy and Bluff Track between March 11-13, 2020.

Police were also keen to speak to anyone who was in that area on those dates.

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 have not been able to establish if this was the missing campers.

Detectives called for anyone in this area, or any older couple who may be these persons, to also come forward.

Anyone who sights Mr Hill or Ms Clay should phone triple-0 immediately.

Anyone with any other information should phone Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

anthony.piovesan@news.com.au

 

Originally published as Abrupt pause in missing campers probe



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