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Deer hunter’s take on slain camper

Written by on May 15, 2024

A slain camper has been described as “very kind-natured” by a deer hunter he met a week before his disappearance.

Gregory Stuart Lynn returned before the Victorian Supreme Court on Wednesday as prosecutors began calling witnesses to give evidence in the estimated four-to-six-week trial.

The 57-year-old former Jetstar captain has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder related to the disappearance of Russell Hill, 74, and Carol Clay, 73.

Among the five witnesses expected to be called are two hunters who met Mr Hill, a runner who camped near the couple, a friend of Mr Hill and Mrs Clay’s daughter, Emma Davies.

The pair vanished on a camping trip in the Wonnangatta Valley in March 2020, with their remains discovered 20 months later.

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

High Country challenge runner details interaction with couple

Called to give evidence on Wednesday, Scott McDonald said he briefly met Mr Hill and Mrs Clay while on a multi-day 100km running challenge in Victoria’s High Country.

At the end of the first leg, he arrived at the Pikes Flat campground in the Alpine National Park on March 14 and was approached by Mr Hill who appeared upset. 

Mr McDonald told the jury that Mr Hill questioned why they had set up camp so close to his, and he explained that they thought he was also competing in the High Country challenge.

“I would have acted the same way if someone had set up so close,” he said. 

“When I explained I thought it was someone else he understood and his demeanour did change. 

“He wasn’t angry, he wasn’t abusive or aggressive at all.”

Mr McDonald said he saw Mrs Clay reading a book nearby but didn’t speak with her and left early the following morning.

Hunters met Russell Hill a week earlier

Deer hunters Chris Benton and Rowan Stewart told the jury they were on a trip in the Alpine National Park when they met Mr Hill, who was camping solo on March 12, 2020.

“Russell was a very kind-natured individual, he was very good to talk to,” Mr Benton said.

He said the pair had discussed Mr Hill’s passion for short-wave radio, his home life and retirement from a lifelong career in logging within the Alpine National Park.

Mr Benton said Mr Hill told him that retirement “really f–ked me up”, and that he “might as well stay out here” because if he went home his wife was going to nag.

Under questioning from Mr Lynn’s barrister, Dermot Dann KC, Mr Benton said he had seen Mr Hill cutting an old snow gum tree with a chainsaw and wood splitter, agreeing it was “physical” activity.

He told the jury he’d approached Mr Hill to let him know that cutting those trees within the park was illegal, with the elderly man responding; “I don’t give a f–k”.

“It was something along those lines, the firewood had already been cut,” he said.

Mr Stewart said he had a “one-on-one” conversation with Mr Hill as the hobbyist flew his drone over the area. 

He said Mr Hill had shared that he used to log timber nearby and knew the area well, also claiming he “prefers to be out bush” because he gets a hard time at home. 

Mr Stewart told the jury that Mr Hill had questioned him about their gun safety before sharing a story about how a relative had been accidentally shot by a deer hunter. 

The two hunters said Mr Hill left on March 13 and they believed he was heading home.

The prosecution case

Prosecutors allege Mr Lynn killed the pair with “murderous intent”, likely following a “dispute” with Mr Hill over his drone or “vision captured on his drone”.

“The prosecution alleges that all of the relevant circumstances, including the violent deaths of two people in close proximity, point to Mr Hill and Mrs Clay each being killed deliberately and without lawful justification,” Crown prosecutor Daniel Porceddu told the jury of 15 on Tuesday.

The jury was told it was not known how Mr Hill died, but prosecutors believed he was likely killed first and Mrs Clay second by being shot in the head.

Mr Porceddu said this was because Mrs Clay was unlikely to have provoked a confrontation or posed any threat to Mr Lynn other than witnessing Mr Hill’s “violent death”.

The defence case

Mr Lynn’s barrister Dermot Dann KC told the jury that other than how the pair died, his client did not dispute much of the case.

The father of two, he said, had wrestled with Mr Hill over his gun when it accidentally discharged and killed Mrs Clay after the elderly man snatched it from his car.

He said after Mrs Clay was shot, his client had retreated to his own camp with the gun but an enraged Mr Hill came at him with a knife, screaming “she’s dead”.

The men wrestled for the knife, which pierced Mr Hill’s chest as they fell to the ground, Mr Dann said.

“This is a case of two accidental, tragic deaths. Tragic accidental deaths in circumstances which were not of Mr Lynn’s making and not of his choosing,” he told the jury.

“He’s got two people dead, he fears he’s going to be wrongly blamed … he tries to make this disaster somehow go away.”

He said his client had given police a “completely truthful” account but had made a series of terrible choices after the pair died by not reporting what happened and destroying the camp and bodies.

The barrister told the jury his client’s police interview would be played later in the trial so they could “hear this from his own mouth”.

Burned bone fragments identified as the missing campers were located by police in November 2021 in bushland off the Union Spur Track.

The trial, before Justice Michael Croucher, continues.