Michael Alan Silka


Michael Alan Silka

Classification: Spree killer
Characteristics: Motive unknown
Number of victims: 9 +
Date of murders: May 18, 1984
Date of birth: August 20, 1958
Perfil víctimas: Roger Culp / Fred Burk, 27 / Lyman Klein, 31, his pregnant wife Joyce, and their 2 year old son, Marshall / Dale Madajski, 24 / Larry Joe McVey, 37 / Albert Hagen / Trooper Troy L. Duncan, 34
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Manley Hot Springs, Alaska, USA
Status: Killed during a shoot-out with the police on May 19, 1984

Silka went on a three-hour rampage at Manley Hot Springs on the Tanana river boat ramp before dumping the bodies in the swift current.

Shot to death bay state police after he killed a trooper in a helicopter pursuing him.

Bodies of 4 Are Found After Alaska Shootings

June 24, 1984

The bodies of four of seven people presumed shot and killed by Michael Silka, a drifter, near the tiny community of Manley Hot Springs on May 17 have been recovered from a river.

One of the bodies, that of Fred Burk, 27 years old, was found Wednesday by his wife in the Tanana River, about 75 miles downstream from the scene of the killings.

The three other bodies had been found separately in the preceding week: those of Lyman Klein, 31, Dale Madajski, 24, and Larry Joe McVey, 37.

Hoffman Man Dies in Firefight

Monday, 21 May 1984

Manley Hot Springs, Alaska

A "scraggly" drifter from Hoffman Estates apparently killed nine people, including a state trooper, before being gunned down in a shootout near this tiny fishing village.

Troopers armed with automatic rifles used two helicopters to close in Saturday afternoon on 25 year old Michael C. Silka. The heavily armed man shot and killed a trooper in one of the aircraft before he was gunned down, investigators said.

Silka, a 1976 graduate of Hoffman Estates high school, is suspected of murdering a total of nine people, including a pregnant woman and a 2 year old child. Seven of the victims were believed to have been killed on a boat landing near Manley Hot Springs, a town of only 80 people and their bodies dumped into the Tanana River.

An unemployed transient, Silka had been in Alaska only a month when a neighbor, Roger Culp of Fairbanks, disappeared and was presumed murdered. Police were seeking Silka for questioning when they learned that he had turned up in Manley Hot Springs in the Tanana Valley 90 miles west of Fairbanks.

Troopers speculated that Silka killed the six townspeople with his shotgun Thursday and tossed their bodies in the swirling, mud-choked Tanana River before fleeing upstream. The only sign of the slaughter was a blood-spattered boat landing three miles from town.

"Whoever drove up to that boat landing between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Thursday, he killed, I don't know why." said Sam Barnard, a homicide investigator.

Silka fled upriver in a boat that police believe he got from one of the victims of the slaughter on the boat landing and was spotted by aircraft early Saturday. Two helicopters, each carrying three troopers, converged on him, and he fired on one with a 30.06 caliber rifle, killing Trooper Troy L. Duncan, 34, of Fairbanks, Myers said.

Silka was killed by return fire from a state trooper's M-16 automatic rifle.

"Silka opened fire from a hidden position and we returned the fire," said Captain Donald Lawrence, a commander who was hit by bullet fragments and was treated for minor wounds to his face.

Police said Silka was armed with several rifles and pistols and was in a motorboat belonging to trapper Fred Burk who was believed to be headed for Manley Hot Springs when he was murdered at the boat landing.

Local residents identified the other victims as a family of three who went for a pleasure ride Thursday to the boat ramp - Lyman Klein, his pregnant wife Joyce, and their 2 year old son, Marshall. Also reported missing were Joe McVey and Dale Madjski, who had gone to the landing to take a boat to their fish camp and Albert Hagen, who was hauling brush to the landing.

For more than a day, most of the villagers had no idea their friends were missing. "This is a small town. It took them a while to put two and two together," said Lieutenant John Myers, of the troopers' Fairbanks-based special weapons team.

Residents called for help late Friday after determining that many of their friends were missing, and troopers arrived about 2 a.m. Saturday. They nestled among logs and debris near the landing, hoping Silka would return for his car.

"We just sat there and I tried to imagine what it was like ... a 2 year old kid. We knew he was ours if he came back," Investigator Jim McCann said.

Police used diving gear and grappling hooks to search for bodies in the silt-laden and icy river Sunday, but there was little hope the victims would be recovered. "That river doesn?t give up its dead very often," Bernard said.

Residents said that Silka arrived about a week ago in a brown sedan with a canoe lashed to its roof and camped by the river.

"He was scraggly and he acted really weird. He aced real crazy," said Patricia Lee, who with her husband, Bob, operates the Manley Roadhouse. "He talked about how he could smell clams through the dirt. When I met him, I felt uneasy, but I kept telling myself that was silly."

"He seemed okay," said resident Teresa Conger, who said she ran into Silka a few days before the rampage, "but then he couldn?t stop messing around with that knife. He had a huge knife he just kept sharpening and sharpening. He was just obsessed with that."

Sabrenia Gurtler, 18, said the town often draws drifters, mostly because it is at the end of the farthest west road from Fairbanks. "Its just the end of the road," she said. "They've gone as far as it takes them."

Past Showed Signs of "something bad"

Michael Alan Silka left behind a string of arrests and a troubled past in the Northwest suburbs before going on an alleged killing spree in Alaska that ended with his own death at the hands of police.

According to police, Silka was picked up for a series of arrests for unlawful use of a weapon, burglary, shoplifting and resisting police over the past nine years.

A former classmate said Silka was "always a troubled kid" and a teacher said the Hoffman Estates man had "disciplinary problems" during high school.

"It's a surprise when you hear about it," said Mike Ostes, who graduated from Hoffman Estates high school in 1977, a year after Silka. "But after you think about how he was, it's no big surprise. You could just picture this guy growing up to do something bad."

"He was a non-conformist and had disciplinary problems," said Bill Spaletto, a Hoffman Estates physical education teacher, who said he remembers sending Silka to the principal?s office. "He patterned his life to find himself in this kind of trouble," Spaletto said.

But according to one former neighbor, Silka always "meant well" and his previous "scrapes" with the law might have happened to any teenager.

"This came as a shock to us, I can't believe what happened," said Ferman Hurst, who lives near the Silka house at 1339 Hassell Drive, Hoffman Estates.

Hurst said he wrote a letter of recommendation when Silka enlisted in the Air Force helicopter services.

"I understand he did very, very well," he said. "He was always very nice to us."

Hurst said he and his wife informed Silka's father, Frank, of the death of his son.

"It was like the Sears Tower falling over on him," Hurst said.

Silka's police record starts in October 1975, after he was arrested for a break-in at a Des Plaines sporting goods store. Then 17, he was sentence to 30 days in a correcional institution and two years probation after the charges were reduced from burglary to criminal damage to property.

In February, 1977, he was arrested by Hoffman Estates police for carrying a loaded black powder rifle through a park in town. Just over a month later, Silka was arrested again for carrying the muzzle-loading rifle through a field in town. In both cases, he was charged with unlawful use of (continued on page 3 and not found.)

Cops Trace Murder Trail North To Alaska

May 22, 1984

(Continued from page 1)

..shoplifting and in 1982 for unlawful use of a weapon. Police said they spotted a gun in his car when they stopped him for a traffic offense. He was arrested for a similar offense by South Barrington police in July 1983.

He showed up for two court appearances, South Barrington Police Chief Peter Swistowicz said. Then he disappeared sometime in the fall. Police issued a warrant for his arrest, but it received alow priority because the weapons charge was only a misdemeanor.

Silka apparently headed for Alaska to live the life of a woodsman.

"He was always dressed like a hunter, dressed like a woodsman," said Mike Ostos, a high school classmate of Silka, who discribed him as "basically a loner."

Paul Edscorn, information officer for Alaska state troopers, said Silka rented a cabin in a remote part of Fairbanks in April.

"We received a report of a disturbance down there about April 28, and we actually talked to Silka," Escorn said. "We saw some blood on the ground. He said he had butchered a moose."

Two weeks later, authorities received a missing persons report on Roger Culp, 34, who lived next door to Silka. They returned to Silka's cabin, but he had left. They retested the blood on the ground and determined it was human.

Meanwhile Silka traveled west by car. He ended up in Manley Hot Springs on May 14, parking his car at the boat landing just outside of town.

Silka tried to leave in his canoe on Tuesday, but an ice floe in the river stopped him, Lee said.

Silka chatted with many of the townspeople during his stay there, he said. But he didn't respond when Lee tried to talke to him Wednesday at the landing.

"He just looked the other way," he said.

On Thursday at about 2 p.m., Joe McVey and Dale Madski went to the landing to take a fishing boat to their fish camp. A little later, Lyman Klein, his pregnant wife Joyce, and their 2 year old son, drove there for a family outing. Fred Burk was travelling to the landing in his boat. None of them ever returned.

It is not unusual for residents to be gone as much as a day longer than they planned in a hunting and fishing community, Lee said. So residents didn?t become alarmed until Friday. One family member checked the boat landing and found blood. Authorities said drag marks on the shore indicate Silka dumped the bodies in the river.

Using helicopters and planes, they found Silka hiding on the shore upstream Saturday. He shot at one helicopter with a high-powered rifle, slaying Trooper Troy Duncan of Fairbanks, Enseron said. Police shot back and killed him.

Firefight at Manley

Michael Alan Silka had left a trail of bodies in his wake. Now the troopers on his trail were about to discover that good plans don’t always survive contact with the enemy

The SERT team was searching for Michael Alan Silka. Silka had killed a man named Roger Culp two months earlier. The prior day, May 18, 1984, Silka had also killed six residents of Manley Hot Springs; his victims included a two- year-old boy, a pregnant woman, and four men. He also killed a trapper, Fred Burke, who had the misfortune of encountering Silka while traveling down the river. Silka was also suspected of killing two women in Canada and a man in North Dakota, and two passengers seen in his vehicle were never located. Silka had camped at Manley, waiting for the ice to go out on the river. His plan was to become a trapper in the wilderness west of Denali National Park.

We had been searching for Silka since 0300 that morning. The troopers had sent several fixed wings and two helicopters to search an area of 50,000 square miles. Silka was believed to have gone up the Tanana River to the Zitziana (the “Zit”) River; his plan was to go up the Zit to establish a trapping cabin.

One complication we encountered was the recent opening of the spring bear season; the normally empty area was full of hunters, all of whom had to be identified and cleared. We had spent the day landing near hunting camps and flying the rivers, looking for Silka’s canoe. Two Fish and Wildlife troopers had spotted his canoe 30 miles from Manley, headed up the Zit.

The Bell Jet Ranger lifted off the grass of the runway at Manley Hot Springs, Alaska. Tom Davis, the pilot, was a two-tour Vietnam combat pilot. Captain Don Lawrence, the “E” detachment commander, sat in the right rear.

The left-side doors of the helicopter had been removed. Trooper Troy Duncan sat in the left rear seat, feet on the skid, facing outboard, and I was in the left front, similarly seated. We both wore seat harnesses and were tethered to a hard point on the floor. Troy was armed with a Colt M16A1 with a Colt 3X scope; I had an M16A1 with iron sights. Both guns held 20-round magazines loaded with tracer rounds. We also carried two handguns each and the usual S.W.A.T. team gear.

The second helicopter carried Trooper Dave Hamilton and Lieutenant John Meyers, the SERT team leader. Dave carried a Steyr SSG with a 6X scope. The Lt. had an M16.

A Good Plan Meets Reality

A plan is just a list of things that aren’t going to happen. Our plan was to put a sniper on the ground upriver from Silka. As he approached the sniper, the two helicopters would converge, with Silka facing troopers in three directions. Our operational order, given by the Lt. was to shoot him if he did anything other than stop and put his hands in the air.

As we proceeded, the second helo diverted to check a man standing on the bank of the river. We spotted the canoe, tethered behind Fred Burke’s riverboat, tied to a tree in a slough off the river. Destiny showed her face, putting the only open landing zone within miles directly in front of Silka’s position. We saw Silka bend over and reach for something in the boat as we flew over and turned into the wind to land.

The helicopter began its descent, coming into ground effect. I yelled over the radio for Tom to get us up, out of the landing zone, because Silka had a good position below a dirt bank and behind three trees. As we traded kerosene for altitude, Silka attacked.

As I write this, I can see the sunlight reflect off the stock of his rifle as he swung toward us.

Silka, Troy, and I all firing at the same time; Troy and I firing 55-gr. tracers. Then, Troy fired three shots, I fired a burst of eight or nine, and Silka his first shot. He was using a Ruger #1, single shot, in .30-06.

Silka fired again, hitting Troy in the neck. I fired another burst, hitting Silka eight times in the legs, body and head. Both Troy and Silka died instantly. Capt. Lawrence was hit in the face from fragments of the bullet that had killed Troy. I figure the entire shooting lasted two seconds—25 rounds fired, two dead, one wounded, two seconds.

After plans, the second thing to fall apart is communication. The net was instantly slammed with everyone talking at once. The captain declared a medical emergency and ordered Tom to break off. I turned to look in the rear seat and realized that the red stuff all over me was Troy. We headed for Manley, leaving the second helicopter to land and deal with Silka.

They knew shots had been fired but nothing else. They ventured into the unknown; Dave threw the SSG into the brush and drew his handgun, given the range of 15 yards. The Lt. covered him with the M16 as they approached Silka’s position, where they found him dead.

Lessons Learned From Manley Hot Springs, Alaska

We underestimated our opponent! All of us on the SERT team were military veterans, many with Vietnam combat experience. We had black clothing, Velcro, ballistic nylon, machine guns, helicopters, and were S.W.A.T guys. Silka was “just some **** from Chicago”; he’d crumble when we showed up. The problem was that Silka wasn’t impressed. He was a dead shot, was in tremendous physical shape, and was motivated—he had nothing to lose. The most dangerous opponent you have is the one in front of you.

We lacked essential equipment. We didn’t have noise flash devices at the time. As Hamilton (one of the finest shots, with any weapon, that I know) approached, a couple of flash-bangs thrown into Silka’s position would have been a beautiful thing; gas or smoke would also have been options, but we weren’t carrying either.

Snipers need a good back-up weapon. S.W.A.T. situations are usually fluid, dynamic, chaotic and change rapidly. As at Manley, your sniper may suddenly be the point man or rear guard. He should have a good SMG or similar weapon available when the plan falls apart.

We need to train. I was fortunate that I’ve spent a lot of time shooting from helicopters. In addition to military experience, I’d been doing a testing and evaluation on patrol rifles. I’d recently shot a lot from moving helicopters, taking a test rifle with me on every flight we made. Lots of empty sandbars on the rivers in Alaska with no one around made it no big deal to shoot a few magazines at targets of opportunity. That, and a lot of luck, is why I’m alive.

The Massachusetts State Police realized the need for this type of training and had me instruct a class.

There are no shortcuts! You can’t buy a video, or a book, or a piece of gear that will replace good-quality training. To prevail in combat, you have to train hard, under a good instructor. For training, I go to folks who have won fights. I started under my father, a three-war, eight-Purple Heart veteran. Later, I trained under Jeff Cooper, Chuck Taylor and Clint Smith. I’m training under Steve Jimerfield of One-on-One Control Tactics to improve my ground-fighting ability. I’m planning future tutoring by Scott Reitz, Pat Rodgers and Louie Awerbuck. Good, hard training is the only way to prepare for the next fight.

You must KNOW your equipment. When the bolt locked back on my M16, I felt it and heard it. I pushed the magazine release, inserted a new mag, and hit the bolt release. I did not think about the process—it just happened. In Japanese, it’s called “mushin”—literally “no mind” or “without conscious thought.” If you’re a member of the gun-of-the-month club, changing guns when you change underwear, you’ll have to think about how to work the gun in a fight. The time it takes to think about it can get you killed.

You have to be willing. This is critical! You can be a four-weapon combat master and multiple black-belt triathlon winner, but if you lack the will, you’ll lose. I don’t mean that you want to shoot someone (we call these folks sociopaths and usually don’t hire them), just that you are willing to do it if needed. It is not surprising that police departments are finding that a small percentage of their officers are involved in a majority of shootings. This is not a bad thing—it’s a realization that prior shootings inoculate the officer against the fear and stigma of violating one of society’s main taboos. If you shoot someone, the world doesn’t end—you’ll get through it and realize it may be OK to shoot people. As Clint Smith says, “Some people just need to be shot.”

We actually got off easy at Manley. Had we landed, we would probably all have been shot. Silka would have grabbed his ruck and escaped into the wilderness. As other troopers closed in, he’d have set up a hasty ambush and killed a trooper, run, repeated until captured or killed. Losing Troy was really bad, but we got off cheap.

Take these hard-won lessons to heart. It doesn’t matter if you’re a police officer, soldier, martial artist, or citizen, follow this advice: As Thucydides said, “He is best who trains in the severest school.” It was true 3,000 years ago, and it’s true today.

The SERT team searching for Michael Alan Silka.