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..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
"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
Written by Jeff Hall
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
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
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
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,
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
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.