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Camper’s last contact with mate revealed

Written by on May 17, 2024

A close mate of an elderly man allegedly murdered while camping with his lover has told a jury they spoke on the night he vanished and he was “happier than a pig in s**t”.

Gregory Stuart Lynn, 57, returned before the Victorian Supreme Court on Friday as three long-term friends of Russell Hill were called to give evidence at the estimated four-to-six-week trial.

The former Jetstar pilot is facing trial in Victoria’s Supreme Court after pleading not guilty to the murders of Mr Hill, 74, and Carol Clay, 73, in March 2020.

The pair’s disappearance on a camping trip in the Wonnangatta Valley prompted an extensive search and rescue operation, with their remains discovered 20 months later.

Prosecutors allege Mr Lynn killed the pair “without lawful justification”, likely after a dispute with Mr Hill, while his defence argued the couple’s deaths were a tragic accident.

This is a case of two accidental, tragic deaths … in circumstances which were not of Mr Lynn’s making, and not of his choosing,” defence barrister Dermot Dann KC told the jury.

“You will hear this from his own mouth – in the face of that disaster, he made a series of terrible choices.”

On Friday, the 15-person jury heard from George Kozlowski and Robert Ashlin, two members of the same amateur radio group as Mr Hill who communicated almost every night.

In colourful evidence, Mr Ashlin said he had a lengthy conversation with Mr Hill on the evening of March 20 after Mr Hill had asked for advice on how to leave the Valley in a direction he didn’t normally go.

“He wanted to go out the other way to Dargo and probably stop at Ollies Jump Up (another campground) … He knew I knew the way,” he said.

Asked how Russell seemed during the conversation, Mr Ashlin said; “Russell was as happy as a pig in s–t”.

“He couldn’t have been happier.”

The jury was told Mr Hill had spent much of his working life logging in the Wonnangatta Valley and “knew every nook and cranny”.

Mr Ashlin said Mr Hill did not log on for their groups regular conversation at 6pm the following evening and he received a call from his wife, Robyn, that weekend.

He told the jury she asked him to check-in as she had not heard from her husband and the pair stayed in contact over the following days.

“Normally you don’t worry about it on the weekend or something … but because he was out bush,” he said.

“On Monday I said: ‘I think its time you go to the police — something’s not right.’”

Mr Ashlin said after the elderly couple were reported missing Robyn Hill had confided in him that Mrs Clay had been “on the scene” for about two decades.

“Apparently they were childhood sweethearts, Carol went off and got married and so did Russell to Robyn,” he said.

“Russell and Carol were supposed to get together … Carol divorced her husband but Russell backed out.”

He told the jury he’d met Mrs Clay only once when visiting another friend as a camping spot.

“Even though I was told Carol was a friend, blind freddy could see how they looked at each other — there was a relationship or there was a bit more going on,” he said.

The trial, before Justice Michael Croucher, continues.