Twenty years ago, Gary Silk and Rodney Miller were sitting in an unmarked Commodore in front of a Chinese restaurant called the Silky Emperor. It was a Saturday night. Anyone driving by might have thought they were two regular blokes in their mid-30s waiting on a takeaway order.
In fact, Sergeant Silk, a dyed-in-the-wool police veteran, and Miller, a senior constable with a young family and an easy smile, were staking out the low-key Silky Emperor because it had been identified as a potential soft target for armed robbery.
Melbourne had suffered a rash of such robberies that year. This was the tailend of sprees that had run hot and cold for seven years. On this particular night, there were police stakeouts in play throughout the lonelier parts of Moorabbin. Silk and Miller were still sitting there as midnight rolled around when they noticed a Hyundai Excel X3 suspiciously making a second pass by the restaurant.
Out came the flashing blue light, the Hyundai was pulled over. A second police car went by, gave a hard look at what appeared to be a routine stop, and pulled over down the road to watch. What they saw was gunfire. As the Hyundai sped off, the other police car tried to save their brothers. Gary Silk was apparently already dead and Rodney Miller close to it.
This was a horribly Victorian crime: Policemen have been notoriously ambushed and killed since the Kelly Gang. Exactly 10 years before Silk and Miller were murdered, young police constables Steven Tynan and Damien Eyre were shot dead while investigating an abandoned car in what became known as the Walsh St killings – a revenge shooting by armed robbers who’d lost their own in shootouts with police.
And now it had happened again, two good cops dead at the tailend of a trigger-happy decade that brought the 20th century to a regretful close.
Photographs of Gary Silk, be it in his uniform or a tuxedo with bow tie, show a man with a careful smile and watchful eyes. He’s remembered as a man who regarded his fellow cops as family.
Rodney Miller is forever caught with a toothy grin that he was trying to hold back. Their faces have been staring out at us for a long time.
Nothing seems to go easy when putting cop-killers away. Justice for Tynan and Eyre was bloody, contentious and left a bad taste in the mouth.
For Silk and Miller it seemed to go more smoothly.
Classic, careful detective work involving a piece of broken glass stamped with the letter H – found near the front of the police car – eventually led to the arrest of armed robber and psychopathic killer Bandali Debs, who’d been terrorising soft targets since 1991. Also arrested was teenager Jason Roberts, the boyfriend of Debs’ daughter. Both men were jailed for the killings, but Roberts’ conviction has been called into question by new evidence suggesting serious police misconduct. That matter is now the subject of an IBAC investigation.
For the families of Miller and Silk, this is one more agony to endure.
On Saturday, August 18, the annual Silk-Miller Cup, a football match between St Kilda and Prahran police members, will be played at Etihad Stadium. Commencing at 5.05pm, the game will serve as a curtain raiser to the Blue Ribbon Cup between St Kilda and Hawthorn football clubs. The match is a tribute to the 159 members of the Victorian Police killed in the line of duty since the force was established in 1853.
Thirty of them – nearly one in five – were murdered.