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How pilot was linked to missing campers: court

Written by on May 18, 2024

The former airline pilot accused of murdering an elderly couple during a camping trip in Victoria’s High Country was in the sights of police more than a year before his arrest, a jury has been told.

Gregory Stuart Lynn, 57, is facing trial in Victoria’s Supreme Court after pleading not guilty to the murders of Russell Hill, 74, and Carol Clay, 73, in March 2020.

Prosecutors allege he killed the pair, likely after an argument over Mr Hill’s drone, in the evening of March 20, before disposing of their bodies and burning the camp to avoid detection.

Mr Lynn however, has asked the jury to find he gave police an honest account of what happened after his arrest in November 2021, and that the two deaths were “tragic accidents”, not murder.

His barrister, Dermot Dann KC, said other than whether he is responsible for the deaths, his client does not dispute much of the case.

In his opening address to the 15 Victorians tasked with deciding the case, crown prosecutor Daniel Porceddu said investigators had tracked Mr Hill’s phone after it reconnected to the network the morning after their alleged murder.

Analysis of the records, he told the jury, showed the phone travelled north along Dago High Plains Rd, and then left onto the Great Alpine Rd at a speed “consistent with the mobile phone being inside a moving vehicle”.

At 9:48am the same morning Mr Lynn’s Nissan Patrol and trailer was captured on four photographs travelling through an automatic number plate recognition camera on the Great Alpine Rd about 1.6km east of the intersection with Dargo High Plains Rd, Mr Porceddu said.

Less than four months after the pair disappeared, the prosecutor said two detectives drove to Mr Lynn’s home in the Melbourne suburb of Caroline Springs where they noticed his car had changed colour from the photographs.

“The prosecution says that he did so to avoid detection and being linked to the (alleged) murders of Mr Hill and Mrs Clay,” Mr Porceddu said.

The jury were told it was alleged Mr Lynn had repainted his car on June 4 and disposed of his trailer a month earlier over fears it they could link him to the missing pair.

In September the following year, Mr Porceddu told the jury they had bugged Mr Lynn’s home and car and, following a 60 Minutes special showing his car and trailer, the accused man was captured speaking to his wife Melanie on November 13.

“The accused told his wife there was only four hours in the day when he was in the area where the campers went missing, and how it was not funny,” Mr Porceddu alleged.

Six days later he allegedly removed a “distinctive” awning from the vehicle that was visible in the TV program, the jury heard.

Mr Lynn was arrested in November 2021 at a secluded campsite in Arbuckle, and charged with two counts of murder following a police interview.

Who were Russell Hill and Carol Clay

This week, the jury was told that Russell Hill was retired after spending much of his life working in logging in the Wonnangatta Valley.

An avid outdoorsman with a passion for amateur radio, he would regularly go camping in Victoria’s remote spots.

“If you wanted to know anything about the Wonnangatta Valley, just ask Russell, he knew every nook and cranny about the place,” his friend Rob Ashlin said on Friday.

“He’s probably been there more than anyone.”

Mr Porceddu told the jury the married man had been seeing Mrs Clay, a stalwart of Victoria’s Country Women’s Association, since about 2006.

He picked Ms Clay up from her Pakenham home in the morning of March 19, after telling his wife, Robyn, he was going camping for about a week.

Mrs Clay’s daughter, Emma Davies, told the jury her mother and Mr Hill had grown up together and rekindled their relationship later in life.

“They’d known each other from childhood, Russell was my mother’s first boyfriend,” she said.

“She said it was a very caring, very loving relationship.”

Mr Ashlin told the jury he’d later heard from Robyn Hill that Mrs Clay had been “on the scene” for about two decades, with the lovers at one stage planning to divorce their spouses.

Mrs Clay had done so, but Mr Hill backed out.

“Even though I was told Carol was a friend, blind Freddy could see how they looked at each other,” Mr Ashlin said.

What happened on March 20

Mr Porceddu told the jury the pair arrived at the Wonnangatta Valley in the afternoon of March 19, setting up camp at a location called Bucks Camp.

Mr Lynn had arrived at the same campground a day earlier after leaving home on March 16.

The jury heard from a number of witnesses that Mr Lynn joined a regular group call with other radio enthusiasts about 6pm on May 20 and seemed “normal”.

Prosecutors allege sometime that evening Mr Lynn killed the pair, possibly following an argument over Mr Hill’s drone.

“The precise circumstances of the killings are not known. Nor is the motivation,” Mr Porceddu said in his opening remarks.

“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.”

Mr Porceddu said it was alleged Mr Hill was killed first and Mrs Clay second, shot in the head after witnessing the first death.

Mr Lynn’s barrister, Dermot Dann KC, asked the jury to accept his client had given a truthful account of the deaths following his arrest in November 2021.

He said Mr Lynn had detailed how he had been confronted by Mr Hill in the evening of March 20, who accused him of hunting deer too close to camp.

About 9 or 10pm the same night, Mr Lynn claims Mr Hill snatched a gun from his car and set off back to his camp.

On his account, he followed and wrestled for control of the gun when it accidentally discharged killing Mrs Clay.

Mr Hill dropped the gun, with Mr Lynn firing all remaining shots into the air before retreating back to his car, Mr Dann said.

This is when, Mr Hill approached with a knife, screaming; “she’s dead”, and the two men fought again, on Mr Lynn’s account.

Mr Hill died after falling on the knife.

“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,” Mr Dann said.

“There’s no dispute between the prosecution and defence that as a matter of fact and as a matter of law, on the account given by Mr Lynn in that record of interview, he is not guilty of murder and he is not guilty of manslaughter.”

Mr Dann told the jury his client did not dispute that he had set fire to the campsite, dumped the bodies hours away, and returned nine months later to destroy them with fire.

“He’s got two people dead, he fears he’s going to be wrongly blamed for their deaths,” he said.

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

The trial, estimated to run for four to six weeks, will resume on Monday.

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