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Russell Hill and Carol Clay: Investigation into missing campers PAUSED after discovery of new clues

Police have paused their investigation into the mysterious disappearance of a couple who vanished on a camping trip while having a secret affair after officers discovered a new clue in the case. 

Detectives uncovered two shovels as they were trawling through dense bushland at an 'incredibly remote' location at Mount Hotham in the Victorian Alps about midday on Wednesday while desperately looking for signs of Russell Hill and Carol Clay.

The shovels were placed into plastic bags and carried from the scene by officers so they could be forensically examined.  

But Victoria Police have halted their search of the site on Thursday morning as they await the results of the forensic testing. 

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 

Police carrying out a renewed search for the pair on Wednesday found two shovels which were placed in plastic bags and taken away for forensic testing 

A Victoria Police spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia the results will determine whether or not investigators return to the Mount Hotham location. 

Detective Acting Inspector Tony Combridge of the Missing Persons Squad said on Wednesday that 'somebody was involved' in the pair's baffling disappearance but the importance of the shovels remains unclear. 

'At this stage... as to the relevance, or its importance, to the investigation, that's still to be assessed at this time,' Insp. Combridge said. 

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. 

His car and the campsite were found burnt near Dry River Creek Track in the valley a day later.

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 'fairly significant' new information. 

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

'The decision to search in that area was made based upon information uncovered during the investigation. The information has been accrued over a period of time,' Insp. Combridge said. 

The information came from 'multiple sources' and the police are 'pursuing a number of lines of enquiry', although Insp. Combridge said they have no suspects at this stage. 

When asked if police were expecting to find the couple's bodies at Mount Hotham, Insp. Combridge replied: 'I'm not really expecting to find anything but I'm hopeful we will find some answers for the family'.

'These are particularly challenging circumstances that we find ourselves in. It is an incredibly remote area. There are parts of that bush that have probably never have been walked on by humans - it is that remote.

'Some of this bush is so thick we might not find what we're looking for.' 

The search site near the Great Alpine Road is 100km away from their campsite. 

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. 

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 

'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. As for finding an outcome, we could be one phone call away,' Insp. Combridge said.  

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. 

Insp. Combridge, previously 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,' he said on Friday. 

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

'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. 

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.

Victorian police believe it is 'highly unlikely' that either Ms Clay (pictured) or Mr Hill are alive after they went missing last year 

'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.

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.'   

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.

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