“I think they’ve been murdered”

“I think they’ve been murdered”

Bairnsdale CB radio enthusiast, Rob Ashlin, believes his mate of 26 years, Russell Hill, has been murdered.

Mr Hill and his friend, the former Victorian president of the Country Women’s Association (CWA), Carol Clay, disappeared while camping in the Wonnangatta Valley in March.

Mr Ashlin is the last known person to have spoken with 74-year-old Mr Hill via radio from his Bairnsdale home on the evening of Friday, March 20.

He said contrary to reports, communication was good and “there was no indication of any problems”.

Mr Ashlin gave Mr Hill directions on how to get to Dargo through Wombat Spur and Talbotville from Wonnangatta.

“His plan was in the next day or so to come down and camp at Upper Dargo as more or less a final night, I believe, and return (home) to Drouin,” Mr Ashlin told the Advertiser.

When he wasn’t on the regular call the following evening, Mr Ashlin wasn’t too fazed, but when he failed to call in on the Sunday night, concern set in.

On the Monday night, when Mr Hill still hadn’t made contact, it was Mr Ashlin who advised Mr Hill’s wife, Robyn, it was out of the ordinary and to call the police.

“I thought I’m sniffing a bad rat here,” Mr Ashlin said.

Familiar with the bush, Mr Ashlin was able to direct police to the precise camp location when police conducted a search for the missing couple.

Police arrived at the couple’s campsite on March 26 and located Mr Hill’s locked Toyota LandCruiser, with minor fire damage, parked at the scene.

The campsite, at Dry River Track, near Billabong, had been extensively burnt and to date there has been no trace of either Mr Hill or Ms Clay.

It’s understood another camper, who has since been interviewed by police, came across the remains of the burnt campsite on the previous Saturday afternoon and took a photograph.

Mr Ashlin believes the couple has met with foul play sometime between the Friday night and early Saturday afternoon.

“Russell would never leave his equipment, never,” Mr Ashlin said.

“I believe he’s been jumped and I reckon he’s been forced into a vehicle and carted out of there.”

“The police have really looked into everything, they’ve had forensics up there, they’ve had dogs, they’ve had helicopters, they’ve had blokes on horseback and it’s as clean as a whistle, they can’t find anything.”

“Where their bodies are I don’t know,” Mr Ashlin said.

Mr Ashlin met Mr Hill when he was working as a logging contractor in Bruthen in the mid 1990s after replacing the windscreen in his bulldozer.

The pair bonded over their interest in amateur radio communications and a friendship was borne.

Over the years, the pair had camped together regularly with their wives and other radio club members.

They had even spent time in the Wonnangatta Valley, which was a favorite spot of Mr Hill’s.

Both men were members of the East Gippsland Amateur Radio Group, of which Mr Ashlin is president, and if any of them were out camping, there was an unwritten rule about checking in via radio at 6pm each night.

Mr Ashlin described the nightly ritual as an unofficial “safety net”.

The alarm bells started ringing when Mr Hill didn’t check in after a couple of nights because he had previously been meticulous in doing so.

At that stage Mr Ashlin was unaware Ms Clay was on the camping trip with Mr Hill.

“Carol was never ever brought on radio club trips. And apparently Carol’s been around the scene for 20 years, on and off,” Mr Ashlin said.

Mr Ashlin said the two were reportedly teenage sweethearts before splitting up.

He says Ms Clay lost her first husband but married for a second time before allegedly divorcing her husband to be with Mr Hill.

“But Russell backed out at the last minute,” Mr Ashlin claimed.

Mr Ashlin believes the couple has been murdered.

He is adamant that they wouldn’t have wandered away from the campsite.

“I think they’ve been murdered,” he said. “I really think they’ve been taken from the scene. There’s been no diggings found and if there was anything around there, if no one else found them, the wallopers (police) would have.

“The complete radio group are at a loss because he’s been friends with all of us and when we catch up of a night time and all that sort of thing, there’s always a bit of camaraderie and stirring and all that that goes on and Russell’s dry sense of humor was always part of that,” Mr Ashlin said.

The investigation into the missing couple remains active.

IMAGE: East Gippsland Amateur Radio Group president, Rob Ashlin, of Bairnsdale, was the last known person to have spoken with missing camper, Russell Hill, on March 20 this year. K369-6682


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