Michael Alan Silka and the 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.

Photo by Justin Freeman

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.

michael-alan-silka-and-the-firefight-at-manley-d

firefight2.jpgWe 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.

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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.


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  • JLH

    Its a sad lesson to lose a team member but one has to remember just how fast it can happen. There is no time to think, one must react and react correctly in a split second. You made a good point, one needs to train and train hard. You have to be able to react without time to think about it. This does not happen overnight. It takes hard work for a long time and even then things will still go wrong. At least in this case you got the bad guy, and he was a very BAD person.

  • Patricia (Culp) Cuny

    This particular case has haunted me for years, as I am
    sure it has anyone involved. I am the ex-wife of Roger
    Culp mentioned in this article. What we were told of his death is far too horrific to print, but what has
    really bothered me is that he was barely a footnote,
    not a real person with a family. I and his two daughters, were living in Nebraska, when this occured.
    We were sent a few newspaper clippings, a death cert-
    ificate, and thats about it. He was one month to the
    day, of turning 35 years old. His daughters are grown
    now, and he has 5 grandchildren,(or would have if not
    for Silka)His daughters were 5 and 3 the last time they saw their father, and now have no memory of him,
    let alone growing up without him. He was a good man,
    the only reason we divorced is because he like so many
    at that time went to Alaska to work on the pipeline,
    and he fell in love with it. And I with two young
    children refused to follow him there.
    Until I found this article, I thought that this case
    had been long ago forgotten, except by those of us
    directly affected by it. But no one even knew that I
    and his children even existed (beyond the paperwork in
    the State of Alaska.) All these years I’ve been a
    amazed there was never a television documentary about
    this case. Or if there is, I am unaware of it.
    As this article attests to, this was a “big deal”!
    I cried as I read what the troopers in this article
    went through, and I am so grateful that they indeed
    brought a very BAD MAN down! Thankyou !!
    I sincerely would appreciate anyone out there who
    has any information, or would be willing to communicate with me about this case, to contact me.

  • http://ForceOptions.net Jeff Hall

    To Patricia (Culp) Cuny. I’m the trooper who killed Silka. There is a documentary coming out on the History Channel, a program called “In the Crosshairs”. I talk about the case, but it’ll be brief.

    Roger was killed because he confronted Silka, who was stealing firewood from an old woman. Roger told him to cut his own. We beleive his body was dropped thru a hole on the ice. He died ‘cuz he did the right thing.

    Contact me if you need more details. Jeff

  • charles phillips

    I recently saw the episode about the incident involving Michael Silva. Such a tragedy. I also have been in involved in shootings while serving as a law enforcement officer. I think the Alaska State Troopers did a fantastic job in apprehending a very violent person. It is unfortunate that so many good people were killed in his rein of terror. Good job

  • Joseph

    I also just saw the sniper show and am surprised a full-blown documentary hasn’t been made. I did find a book though. I’m saddened at the losses that those people and their families faced. It’s amazing how just one person can wreak havoc on so many people and even today people suffer because of that ahole Silka’s inability to control and take responsibility for his actions.

  • Charles Mayes

    I just viewed the History Channel program “In the Crosshairs” I am absolutely totally convinced that America is the Land of the Free, BECAUSE of the Brave. To Jeff Hall: Thank You for your service. You can drink from my canteen anytime trooper. Job well done. And by the way, Clint Smith was right.

  • DG

    I was in basic training and AIT when this happen in 1984 so it’s probably why I never heard of it til the show on the history channel.I know words do not do it justice but I especually would like note that I appreciate all that Troy Duncan sacrificed that day and thank jeff hall for taking out silka and saving lives.I think were lucky in some way that we never have groups of nuts like silka working together and that these things don’t happen everyday though they seem to happen more and more as time goes on.I also think we need to be careful in how we advertise these things to the public becuase these types of people often do it because they know it will make them famous but at the sametime the public has a wright to know so it’s complicated but we need to find a way to stop these idiots from becoming famous because they are serial killers.I also believe in in excistence of good and evil I have seen it in my own life, evil I think is easyier it takes more work to be good and I believe in doing the right thing even though it takes more work. and obviously troy and jeff did the right thing and deserve to be recognized

  • DG

    I appligize for double dipping here but I for got a point .I would like to see shows give more details about police and military men and woman that died in the line of duty these shows seem to give more attention to guys that lived after combat and not the guys that died during the same situation I think people who gave there lives are hero’s too and i am not talking about the history channel show here

  • Daniel Red Cloud

    I caught The History Channel’s repeat showing of the program with the Manley Hot Springs Firefight. I was stationed in Germany in the US Army in 1984 and so I didnt hear or see anything about this until I saw the tv show. This such a tragic case. silka definitely needed to be shot; sadly he managed to cause such suffering and pain before he met his well-deserved end.

    I am amazed that I never heard more about this case -silka may have 5 unknown victims, in addition to the Alaska victims ? I would have thought that every ‘True Crime’ or ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ would have a section concerning this case: Were the two Canadian females silka’s victims, Who were the missing passengers and what happened to them ? A victim in North Dakota ? Could there be more unsolved cases where silka may have been in the area at the time ?

    and to Patricia and her daughters, you have my deepest sympathy; your loss is tragic, Robert deserved much better.

  • http://hotmail.com Jay roberson

    Jeff i saw the show last night. it was great and the lesons learnd for it you and others will pass on. thank you for the brave service.

  • Craig

    I saw the show last night just by chance. At least you didn’t call Silka a “coward” or a “faceless coward”. At least, I don’t think you did. It takes way more guts than I have to be willing to fire a 30-06 at cops in a helicopter. The end is pretty much a foregone conclusion. You might get one or two, but you’re going to die too. But there are some people in this world who let evil reign unrestrained in their lives, and Silka seems to have been one of those people. He seemed to invite evil into his life until it got worse and worse, and he did not try to right himself. You did what had to be done. It’s just so tradgic for everyone who died and also the police officer. And, people may not like me saying this, but for Silka too. I say this because Silka’s eternal destination does not look too promising. In fact it seems horrifying.

  • Mr.Pimms

    I agree with Craig on this. Check your thoughts, if you find yourself wanting evil there must be an underlying cause. I also don’t rule out parenting and a large part of why stuff like this happens. It doesnt just affect the perp but also the LEO’s, and their families of all involved.

  • SDCO

    Everytime I read about this it gives me cause to stop and reflect. It was only 5 months after the Silka shooting that I found myself involved in one is a small village west of Barrow. I still don’t like to talk about it. However, I do try to impart the same lessons that Jeff does to the other officers I work with whenever I get the chance. Thanks Jeff for sharing all of this with us.

  • Joe33

    To Craig and anyone else lamenting about Silva, give me a break. This POS stole too much oxygen for too long. Innocent men, women and babies were slaughtered by this thing. Nice work to the Alaskan SERTS. I’m very sorry for the other losses.

  • http://www.eagtactical.com Pat Rogers

    Brother- i finally managed to catch the History Channel show.

    Well Done Jeff.
    Actions are only valuable as training tools when the participants can pass on that information to others.

    Your mindset, martial exxperience and devotion to the Warriors art allow you to efficiently pass on the lessons learned to others.

    It was a pleasure having you at class Jeff, and look forward to seeing you again soon.

  • 7thSFGA

    my lesson, dont get in a hurry when dealing with a psycho. certainly dont put yourself in the path of his bullet. the sniper up river was their best bet with this guy.

  • http://www.yahoo.com Andy Watson

    What was Silka’s motive for killing those people?

  • Kelly

    God bless the Alaska state troopers who got rid of this evil man. Just seen the show on history channel and depressing about what happened to the people he killed.

  • Karen

    This mad man was seen by a friend of mine at the entry to the tanana river. She had just pulled her boat in when she looked over and there was Mike with no shirt on. She commented that he must be cold and he just glared at her. It was soon after that he started his rampage on the river. She was lucky, but so many were not.

  • AlaskaNow

    As many on this site have noted kudos to the brave law enforcement individuals in Alaska who tracked this nut job down and ended his evil rampage. I’m not in law enforcement and would not want to have a take a human life but to the folks showing sympathy for someone who would shoot a defenseless 2 -year old and a pregnant mother? I can only repeat the wise words of one of Jeff’s mentors Clint Smith, “Some people just need to be shot.”

  • aaa

    I was in Fairbanks when this happened. The frustrating part is that this seemed to be preventable. A trooper went to Silka’s cabin in Fairbanks right after he had killed his Fbks. victim. The police man noticed blood in the snow and Silka would not come out of the cabin. Silka told the policeman that the blood was a moose he had killed.
    The policeman had a bad feeling and backed away. He said later that if he had persisted in questioning or confronting, Silka probably would have killed him.
    What I lament is that it was NOT moose season!!!! Had the trooper backed off and called for enforcement then and there Silka would have never made it to Manley.
    This aspect was never really talked about in the news or newspaper. I think at that point everyone was still in shock over the whole tragedy.

  • Kelly Madigan

    Jeff, I just finished watching a re-run of the documentary of the Manley shooting. I can still hear the quiver in my mothers voice the day she called me and told me my cousin Dale Madjski was one of his victims. Dale wasn’t my cousin by relation but we grew up very close and our families did alot together.I still consider him my cousin and think of him often. After all these years it still hurts to know he died the way he did. I am thankful for people like yourself that do what you do. And I am sorry for the loss of your partner. I am amazed that after almost 30 years the way the story was told was much like what my mother told me. My heart goes out to his family, his dear parents Karen and Jim, his brothers Dan, Darren, and sisters Dana, and Dawn, see the trend they were all “D’s” and they were a wonderful family. Dale had set off to the Alaskan wilderness to pursue his dream. I was in the Marines in Yuma, Az. He left a young wife and a young child. Thanks again Jeff,
    Kelly Madigan, Pendleton, Kentucky.

  • Scred

    Silka deserved to die. You don’t kill a child. Made him worse than a pedophile doing that. I hope they threw his carcass in with the Alaska roadkill shredder when the investigation was done.

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  • Tony

    I just moved from Maine to Fairbanks with a friend in March 1984. I was staying in a cabin in Hopkinsville or “ton” and met both Roger Kulp and Silka soon after moving into the area. I believe I heard the shots that killed Kulp while in my cabin but did never though a person got shot. The next day I saw blood tracks in the mud and leading across the road to the rest area across from the cabins which abutted the Tanana River. Later (days or week)I saw Silka’s car stuck up to his wheel wells in mud trying to escape Hopkinsville. I laughed at him and he went towards his rear door of his car (guns) and gave me a deathly scare. If the Tow truck operater was not tring to get Silka’s car unstuck from the mud I’m convinced I would not be recounting this today. I rarely discuss this because I came so close to death that day. I was never interviewed by anyone regarding what I saw or heard in Hopkinton.

  • DNH

    Just saw a rerun of this. I caught part of it last year. I tell my friends and family that we live in a dangerous world, and predatory people are everywhere. Thanks to all of you who train hard, work hard, and do the rough and dangerous things required to protect the rest of us. God Bless all of you.

  • TDinAK

    Mr Dirtbag Silva’s ashes where buried in SITKA, AK at the Nat Cemetary, at tax payers expense, with military honors I had read. His father requested it. Dropped down a outhouse hole would of been more fitting.

  • https://www.createspace.com/3577952 Shirlee Lisowski

    Wanna hear the voices from the grave.

  • Vietnam Vet

    how did this retard get in the military, and no one killed this ahole before this! What an incredable piece of sh8 must have been a Republican!

  • http://n/a DanInTN

    Nutjobs like this usually don’t have a political affiliation. Vietnam Vet must be a sorry excuse for a human.

  • Jamie kunz

    Vietnam vet ?…….?…..
    Must be on the dole………on the couch playing with his gun

  • Facts please

    The killer was NOT a Viet Nam vet. The pilot of the law enforcement helicopter, Tom Davis, was. The killer, though a veteran, was too young to be in Nam. Born in ’58, graduated from high school in ’76. The pilot was interviewed on the show that just aired on ID channel. He’s NOT to be confused with the killer.

  • Vietnam Vet

    He wasn’t a Republican; almost certainly a Democrat.

  • vietnam vet super spy and secret mall ninja

    silka was a registered pedigreed democrat,,need proof? only a democrat mountain man would steal firewood from an old lady instead of cutting his own

  • rogerdoger

    Just an FYI- Don’t know if it will help anyone- I knew the
    Silka since the moved into the area- They lived on a cul-de-sac that backed up to a park in Hoffman Estates.
    Seems like he was a pre-teen when the moved there. He had a brother (1 yr. Younger?).
    Mike was obsessed with the outdoors. Someone threw out a play house- He made a cabin
    there and he liked camping in it, even into his early teen years. He was always
    building a fort in the woods. He liked to play tom Sawyer type fantasy stuff. Someone
    commented that Mike was a Republican. No. His parents were extremely devout Jehovah’s
    Witnesses. He also had a younger sister;
    I did not know her well. His brother was
    an artistic prodigy. Mom was attractive-
    seemed a lot younger than the dad. Where did things go wrong?