On the night of 15 August 1998, Sergeant Gary Silk, 34 and Senior Constable Rodney Miller, 35 were seconded to Victoria Police Armed Robbery Squad operation named Operation Hamada investigating a series of armed robberies committed at at least ten restaurants over a seven-year period, starting on 20 February 1991.
Silk and Miller, operating an unmarked patrol car, (callsign Moorabbin 404), were assigned to stake out one of the potential targets; the Korean BBQ.
At 10:50pm, Silk and Miller drove from the Korean BBQ when it closed for the night and joined two more officers sitting in another unmarked patrol car, (callsign Moorabbin 403) parked outside the Silky Emperor Restaurant, arriving at 11pm and taking position in an underground car park next to the Silky Emperor.
At 11:28pm, Silk and Miller spotted a dark blue Honda Civic pulling into the underground car park. Upon seeing Silk and Miller, the Honda then reversed out of the car park at high speed, leading to a brief chase only for Silk and Miller to lose the vehicle on the back streets.
After losing the Honda, Silk and Miller drove back to the underground car park and continued the stakeout. At 12:08am on 16 August, Silk and Miller spotted a dark coloured Hyundai Excel hatchback pulling in and out of the car park, prompting them to follow the vehicle.
After following the vehicle a short distance, Silk and Miller pulled the vehicle. With Miller standing between the vehicle and the unmarked police vehicle, Silk walked over to passenger side of vehicle. As he asked for the driver’s details, the driver produced a revolver and fired through Hyundai’s passenger window, hitting Silk in chest and pelvic area, sending Silk to ground.
Miller seeing Silk being shot, pulled out his service revolver and went to return fire, but a shot fired through the Hyundai’s rear window caused Miller duck only for a second shot fired through the shattered rear window and hitting Miller under his left arm and exiting through to his hip.
After shooting Miller, the gunman got out of the vehicle and walked over to Silk lying on the verge next to the passenger side of the Hyundai and fired a third shot to the head, killing Silk instantly. Despite being wounded, Miller returned four shots at the Hyundai as it was speeding off.
Upon hearing the shots over the two-way radio, Silk and Miller’s fellow officers in Moorabbin 403 responded to the scene, arriving at 12:11am and finding Silk dead and Miller missing, despite mortally wounded, Miller managed to walk the short distance back to the Silky before collapsing on the verge where he was found by a uniformed officer, still alive.
As Senior Constable Miller was loaded into the ambulance, he told responding officers that he and Sergeant Silk had been shot by two gunmen. Miller was taken to Monash Medical Centre and later died of his injuries at 4:39am.
Police investigations into the murders were named Operation Lorimer. Victorian Police Minister Andre Haermeyer announced a A$500,000 reward for information on the murders, and later said he would consider increasing the reward.
Evidence left at the scene of the crime included pieces of glass, suspected to be from the getaway car used by the killers. Police tested this glass and discovered it came from a late model Hyundai hatchback.
After extensive investigations, which took the team to the Hyundai factory in South Korea to obtain vital prosecution evidence, police narrowed down the exact make and model of the vehicle involved in the shootings from the glass samples.
The vehicle was registered to the daughter of known criminal Bandali Debs. Police also recovered three spent bullet casings matching to those fired from Miller’s service revolver, indicating Miller’s fourth shot hit the gunmen’s Hyundai.
Ballistics testing on the bullets recovered from the bodies of Silk and Miller revealed that two different firearms were used in the murders. Ballistics also revealed the bullets matched to those recovered from the scenes of the armed robberies that Silk and Miller were investigating as part of Operation Hamada.
On 24 September 2001, Bandali Debs, a father of five from Narre Warren, Victoria and Jason Joseph Roberts, boyfriend of Debs’ daughter, an apprentice builder, of Cranbourne, Victoria faced charges relating to the murders of Silk and Miller as well as 13 other charges of armed robbery relating to offences alleged to have occurred between March and July 1998.
Debs and Roberts were found guilty of the murders and sentenced to life imprisonment.
In November 2020, Jason Roberts had his conviction quashed and a retrial was ordered based on evidence tampering by the Victorian police.
In May 2007, Debs was convicted of a third murder of an intellectually handicapped teenager named Kristy Mary Harty in Beaconsfield Upper, Victoria around June 1997. This led to his term in prison being without the possibility of parole.
Debs was also found guilty of the April 1995 murder of Donna Ann Hicks, a mother of three from New South Wales, on 12 December 2011.
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