HomeWonnangatta valley disappearances: Russell Hill, Carol Clay, Niels Becker, Conrad Whitlock, David...

Wonnangatta valley disappearances: Russell Hill, Carol Clay, Niels Becker, Conrad Whitlock, David Prideaux missing

A possible breakthrough in the 20-month search for campers Russell Hill and Carol Clay brought back memories of the valley’s mysterious past.

After twenty months of dogged police work detectives hope they are a step closer to finding out what happened to Wonnangatta campers Russell Hill and Carol Clay.

But they’re still nowhere nearer to discovering what led to the unreleated disappearances of David Prideaux, Conrad Whitlock or Niels Becker.

The men mysteriously vanished without a single trace from the state’s remote and rugged high country, and within the same 60km radius to where Mr Hill and Ms Clay were last heard.

The arrest of Greg Lynn on Tuesday over Mr Hill and Ms Clay’s disappearances could spark renewed searches for unreleated past missing persons that had long-left detectives baffled, criminal psychologist Tim Watson-Munro said.

“There will be some imperative to look for them again now,” he said.

“These sorts of cases trigger the memory of people who are related to other cases … one little spark can get things going again.”

There’s no suggestion Mr Lynn has any connection to the unrelated missing persons.

Criminologist at the University of Newcastle Xanthe Mallett also said this week’s development would trigger a renewed hope, especially from families of other missing people.

“When you work with victims’ families what they would always say to you is the not-knowing that they find hardest, the lack of a resolution,” she said.

“The case of the missing campers did look like it would go unresolved, but it’s certainly become protracted.

“There was the chance the families would never get answers but now there is now hope they will find out what happened and why.”

Niels Becker vanished 44km from the camping grounds, where Mr Hill and Ms Clay were last known to be alive, in 2019.

The 39-year-old trained for months to prepare for the solo hiking trip in the Alpine National Park and embarked on the adventure at the Upper Jamieson Hut on October 24.

Two days later he sent a text message to his family from Vallejo Gantner Hut, telling them he would then head to Mount Stirling and be back at his car on October 29 – he never returned.

Just two months earlier Conrad Whitlock went missing from Mount Bulla – 54km west of Wonnangatta.

The 72-year-old was last seen driving through the entrance gate to the Mount Buller Resort about 6am on July 29, and by 10am his car had been abandoned on the side of the road and he had vanished.

Perhaps the most high-profile of people to go missing from the high country was Barwon Prison boss David Prideaux.

The 50-year-old was out on a hunting trip with his brother-in-law on June 5 in 2011, but despite several searches of the area in the months after, there was no trace of Prideaux, or any of his belongings.

“That’s quite a number of people in a short period of time where supposed bad luck has struck,” Mr Watson-Munro said.

Mr Hill and Ms Clay were last heard from via HF radio, where they stated they were camping at Wonnangatta Valley in the Victorian Alps on March 20 last year.

On Monday night, Greg Lynn, 55, was arrested at a remote campsite in Arbuckle Junction, 1.5 hours south of Wonnangatta in the state’s east for questioning over the pair’s disappearance. He has not been charged.

Mr Watson-Munro – who has gained the trust of some of Australia’s scariest crooks, including Julian Knight and Alphonse Gangitano, in his line of work – said past cases deserved a chance to be re-examined.

He also said latest police tactics used in the case of the Wonnangatta campers, but also in the search for William Tyrell in NSW and in the remarkable discovery of four-year-old Cleo Smith in Western Australia, increased the chances of a breakthrough.

“It’s about the use of technology in forensic investigations now. Police can really see things now that the naked eye can’t – there’s no such thing as real privacy anymore.”

Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper – tasked with the mighty effort to find Mr Hill and Ms Clay – said the Wonnangatta valley had “quite a history”, with the first mystery disappearance well over a hundred years ago.

Sometime in December 1917 or January 1918, the manager of the Wonnangatta cattle station, James Barclay, was shot dead.

The station cook John Banford was suspected of the murder, but in November of 1918 he was also found dead with a bullet lodged in his skull.

The murders have remained unsolved for the past century.

“The place has quite a mysterious history,” Inspector Stamper said.

“There were some murders back there well over a hundred years ago and there have been some other disappearances in the broader area of the high country – we haven’t identified any connections between any of those.”

A coronial inquest into the 2019 case of Conrad Whitlock deemed he had died on or about the time police first started searching for him.

“The evidence does not enable me to determine the precise place of Mr Whitlock‘s death, the medical cause of his death, or the circumstances in which he died beyond the fact that he drove away from his home in the early hours of July 30, 2019,” Coroner Paresa Spanos ruled.

A Coroner in a separate inquest into the 2011 disappearance of David Prideaux found it likely the ex-Barwon Prison boss died from a serious accident in the national park or a medical cause, and there was nothing to suggest he met with foul play.

In both cases, the causes of probable death remain unknown, while there has not yet been a coronial inquest into the 2019 disappearance of Niels Becker.

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