Police released images of the mid-late 1990s Nissan Patrol, which had modifications and was pulling a trailer, and said realising Mr Hill – an experienced camper – had not set up in the best spot on the site led them to believe there was someone else camping nearby.
Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper said that person could’ve been the driver of the blue four-wheel drive who may have engaged in “confrontational and aggressive” interaction with the pair.
Inspector Stamper said police had not been able to eliminate the vehicle from their enquiries as he called for information to find the Woonnangatta campers who disappeared 20 months ago.
He said identifying the importance of the car was “a significant breakthrough in the investigation”.
“If we identify this vehicle, it will go a long way to help us understand what happened,” he said.
“We have witness statements that put this blue vehicle and its trailer in the valley at the time Russell and Carol were there, and indeed near the spot that they had set up their camp.”
“Detectives have also been given information that a vehicle attempted to leave the valley late at night on the evening of Friday 20 March, but the Myrtleford gate was closed because of the bushfires, meaning that the driver had to make a complicated turn back in the direction from which they had come.
“That same vehicle is also spotted on two cameras at the top of Mount Hotham, consistent with where a vehicle would exit the valley given the closure of the Myrtleford gate.”
Police are calling for the driver of the car or any witnesses who may have seen the vehicle in the area at the time to come forward immediately.
Inspector Stamper said police wanted to at least eliminate the car from the investigation.
Mr Hill and Ms Clay were last heard from on March 20, 2020 when they were camping in the Wonnangatta Valley.
Mr Hill left his Drouin home on March 19 and collected Carol from her home in Pakenham in his white Toyota Landcruiser.
He was last heard from on March 20 via HF radio when he said he was at Wonnangatta Valley in the Victorian Alps.
Ms Clay told friends she was heading away until about March 28 or 29.
Investigators have been told Mr Hill and Ms Clay were camping together at Wonnangatta River near the Wonnangatta camping ground.
Campers found his vehicle with minor fire damage at their campsite, which was completely destroyed by fire, near Dry River Creek Track in the Wonnangatta Valley on March 21.
Police have extensively searched the area repeatedly and a number of leads to finding the pair have proven fruitless.
A DJI Mavic drone, which Mr Hill purchased before going camping, is still yet to be recovered.
Detectives are today also calling for anyone who may have information about the campers’ disappearance to come forward.
Police want 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.
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 20-24.
Police have also established that Mr Hill was camping alone with his Landcruiser in the area of the King Billy and Bluff Track between 11-13 March.
Investigators have long believed it is likely a third party was involved in the pair’s disappearance.
Inspector Stamper said today he believes the missing campers are still in the area.
Anyone who sights them is urged to contact triple zero (000) immediately.