Michael Silka

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Michael Silka
Michael Silka.jpg
Born (1958-08-20)August 20, 1958
Presumed Hoffman Estates, Illinois, United States
Died May 19, 1984(1984-05-19) (aged 25)
Zitziana River, near Manley Hot Springs, Alaska, United States
Cause of death
Gunshot wound (shot by police)
Occupation Construction worker, drifter
Killings
Date April 28 – May 19, 1984
Location(s) Fairbanks, Manley Hot Springs, Alaska, United States
Killed 9
Injured 1
Weapon(s) Ruger No. 1 .30-caliber Single-shot rifle w/ 4x Weaver scope, other firearms

Michael Allen (Charles?) Silka (August 20, 1958 – May 19, 1984) was an American spree killer who is believed to have killed nine people in Alaska, primarily in the small village of Manley Hot Springs, in May 1984. The spree culminated in a shootout with police in the Alaskan wilderness in which Silka was shot and killed. The motives for Silka's actions remain unclear.

Early life[edit]

Silka grew up in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. From an early age Silka had a love of the outdoors, a love of guns, and a history of encounters with the law. In 1975, he was convicted of burglarizing a Des Plaines sporting goods store; Silka, along with another juvenile, was apprehended while trying to steal camping gear and weapons from the store.[1] The same year Silka and his brother, Steve, apparently ran away from high school to the Canadian wilderness, returning when they had depleted their provisions.[2] In February 1977, four months before graduating from Hoffman Estates High School, Silka was arrested for carrying an antique black-powder muzzle-loading rifle — reminiscent of the weapons used by early mountain men — through a park in the suburb. He was arrested again for doing exactly the same thing a second time in the same year.[1] He was convicted and paid a $100 fine.[3] Shortly thereafter, Silka enlisted in the U.S. Army, at least partly on the advice of a neighbor who had known him for 17 years, Forman Hurst. Hurst recalled Silka as "a good kid, a typical teenager. He loved the outdoors. That was his No. 1 ambition, to be outside exploring nature."[3] In 1981, Silka was stationed at Fort Wainwright, located next to the north end of Fairbanks, Alaska, until his discharge the same year.[4] Army records show that Silka was rated an expert marksman with the M16 rifle and grenade launcher while in basic training.[1]

During his stay he had several run-ins with military police, including an assault charge and an arrest for discharging a firearm in a barracks.[3] After Silka's discharge from the Army, he returned to Hoffman Estates, and worked at a number of jobs, mostly in construction work. In November 1982, Silka again was arrested on weapons charges in Hoffman Estates; he was stopped for a minor traffic violation and the officer noticed four weapons — a .44 caliber revolver, a .22 caliber automatic pistol, and two knives — in the car. He also was charged with resisting arrest when he refused to exit the squad car after arriving at the station. He was convicted and spent four days in Cook County Jail. On July 21, 1983, Silka was arrested on another weapons violation after a South Barrington officer stopped him for speeding, and a .22-caliber rifle was found in the back seat. Silka made several court appearances, the last on October 26, but then he skipped bond, apparently because he had fled to Alaska. A warrant for his arrest was issued on December 20.[3] According to his younger brother Frank, Silka had been working in Alaska for some time, although he did not know what job his brother held.[4]

Suspected murder of Roger Culp[edit]

A bearded, 25-year-old drifter, Silka was first seen in Alaska in the Chena Ridge section of Fairbanks. On April 29, 1984, police had questioned Silka about fresh blood and a snow-covered mound at his cabin. At the time the police were under the impression that they were investigating whether Silka had been killed. They dropped the matter when Silka stuck his head out of his shack and explained that the blood was from a moose hide.[5]

However, on Saturday, April 28, 1984, Silka's neighbor, Roger Culp, had gone missing. Witnesses reported that Silka and Culp went into Silka's cabin that day, and later gunshots were heard. One witness said she heard at least eight shots.[5] Apparently, witnesses had not reported the incident immediately. When police obtained the new information, they returned to Silka's cabin on May 8 with a search warrant, but Silka was gone. Red spots on the ground, by this point free of snow, were found to be human blood.[5] At this point, Silka was wanted for questioning in the disappearance of Culp, but police had no leads as to his whereabouts.[6][7]

Manley Hot Springs[edit]

Silka was next seen in Manley Hot Springs, a tiny mining town of 70 people, west of Fairbanks and deep in the interior of Alaska, on Monday, May 14, 1984 at the end of a 150-mile (240 km) dirt road from Fairbanks (State Route 2). He was driving a battered brown and white 1974 Dodge Monaco filled with camping equipment and an aluminum canoe mounted on the roof. Unseen by villagers among the equipment were guns and ammunition. According to a resident, Robert E. Lee, Silka told the people of Manley Hot Springs that he planned to settle in the area. Silka described himself to Lee as a "mountain man".[1] The villagers were impressed by Silka's common sense of the wilderness and survival, as well as his marksmanship.[1] Silka was often seen "hanging around" a boat landing on the Tanana River, only 3 miles (5 km) outside of town. He had set up a tent at the boat landing and was frequently seen paddling his canoe in the Tanana.[3] Lee said that on Thursday, May 17 between 2 and 4 p.m., six villagers went to the boat landing, all of whom disappeared. The disappearances were not noted by the locals until the following day, at which point they contacted state police in Fairbanks on Friday night.[6] The wife of one of the missing men gave police Silka's license plate number, and the police then checked and learned that he was wanted for investigation of the murder of Roger Culp.[8] Two helicopters, three planes and Alaska's Special Emergency Reaction Team were sent to Manley Hot Springs at 2 a.m. Saturday, May 19.[4] At the boat landing, troopers found blood, believed to be human, and used cartridge casings.[6]

A wide helicopter search for Silka along the Tanana River began at 2 a.m. Saturday, May 19. At this time of year in Alaska, it was still daylight, so the search proceeded without hindrance. By the late hours of the same day, Silka was found upstream about 25 miles (40 km) southeast of Manley in an unnamed tributary of the Zitziana River (which is itself a tributary of the Tanana), near his own canoe and a motorized boat belonging to one of his victims, Fred Burk. Troopers offered Silka a chance to surrender. Instead, Silka stepped from behind a tree and fired a high-powered Ruger .30-06-caliber rifle at one of the airborne helicopters, penetrating the windshield and striking 34-year-old trooper Troy L. Duncan of Fairbanks in the head, killing him instantly, and injuring trooper Donald Lawrence in the face.[3] Troopers returned M16 rifle fire from a helicopter, striking Silka five times and killing him.[6][8][9] Troopers at the shootout said it was reminiscent of combat in the Vietnam War.

A memorial service for the victims was held at the boat landing on Sunday, May 20.[4][8]

Silka was cremated and his ashes were buried in the Sitka National Cemetery in Alaska at his father's request.[9]

By June 23, 1984, four of the bodies — those of Fred Burk, Lyman Klein, Dale Madajski and Larry Joe McVey — had been recovered from the Tanana River. Burk's body was discovered by his wife, Lillier, about 75 miles (120 km) downstream from the scene of the killings.[10] For months, families and friends of the victims searched the brush choked banks of the Tanana.[9]

Police believe that Silka had been in Alaska about a month.[6] It is believed that Silka dumped the bodies of his victims into the icy Tanana River — in the hopes that they would not be found.[4][7] The Tanana is as much as a mile wide, and 70 to 80 feet (21 to 24 m) deep, and because the water remains near freezing temperatures, and because the glacier-fed river is heavily silted, bodies are likely to remain below the surface.[6] The motives for Silka's actions remain unclear.[4]

Victims[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Coates, James (May 24, 1984). "Massacre in Alaska prompts new look at unsolved murders". Chicago Tribune. p. D10. 
  2. ^ a b c d Coates, James (May 23, 1984). "Alaska slaying victims' relatives face survival test". Chicago Tribune. p. 12. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Coates, James (May 22, 1984). "Wilderness trail strewn with blood, questions". Chicago Tribune. p. 1. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Sanders, Steve (May 21, 1984). "Alaska shootout ends spree; 7 feared dead". Chicago Tribune. p. 1. 
  5. ^ a b c "Cops quizzed Silka weeks before spree". Chicago Tribune. May 25, 1984. p. 3. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Bodies of Seven Sought After Shootout in Alaska". The New York Times. May 21, 1984. p. A12. 
  7. ^ a b Ronald Barri Flowers and H. Loraine Flowers (2004). Murders in the United States: Crimes, Killers and Victims of the Twentieth Century, p. 82
  8. ^ a b c Lindsey, Robert (May 22, 1984). "Grief and Wariness Grip Town at End of the Road". The New York Times. p. A14. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h "Memories of Springtime Murders Chill Small Alaskan Town". The New York Times. November 11, 1984. p. 72. 
  10. ^ "AROUND THE NATION; Bodies of 4 Are Found After Alaska Shootings". The New York Times. June 24, 1984. Retrieved May 10, 2013. 
  11. ^ Kleinfield, Judith. The Frontier Romance: Environment, Culture, and Alaska Identity. Page 37.