Divers scouring the Yarra River for the gun used in a suspected gangland murder 14 years ago have made a significant discovery.
Investigators pulled an ‘‘object of interest’’ from the murky river water in South Yarra shortly after 1pm on Wednesday.
Police cannot yet confirm whether it is the gun believed to have been dumped in the river after the execution-style killing of property developer Dimitrios Belias in 1999.
The object, which is of similar size to a handgun, was placed in an evidence bag and taken away immediately after.
It would undergo examination on Friday, a police spokesman said.
Other items, including spent ammunition of various calibres, have also been found at a search site at a rural property in Strath Creek in central Victoria.
Police dive teams set up two sites along the river – one at the Power House Rowing Club on Alexandra Avenue, South Yarra, and the other near the Hoddle Street Bridge – as they search for evidence of the gun, shells and casings from the cold-case murder.
Mr Belias, 38, was lured to a St Kilda Road car park in September 1999, and killed with a single bullet to the head. His body was found in a pool of blood.
Homicide detectives were led to the river banks by an anonymous tip-off that the weapon had been dumped in the river.
Police received fresh tip-offs from two independent sources about Mr Belias’ unsolved murder after they launched an appeal for information on Wednesday.
After reopening the cold-case murder file, they were appealing for information about the mysterious disappearance of Mr Belias' friend and business partner, Milorad Dapcevic.
The disappearance only came to light when police realised Mr Dapcevic had not been heard from since giving evidence about Mr Belias’ murder in September 1999.
It is believed he has also been murdered.
Detective Inspector Ken Ashworth, of the homicide squad, said new information from people calling Crime Stoppers, had led police to believe both men were murdered by the same killers.
He said police believed the killers were still alive, but could not reveal whether they were in jail.
Another police search team is combing a rural home at Strath Creek, about 100 kilometres north of Melbourne, for evidence. The current homeowners did not live there at the time of the murder, and are not connected with the case, police said.
Mr Belias and Mr Dapcevic had worked together as property developers during the late 1990s, and Mr Belias owed significant debts to Melbourne gangland figures in the lead-up to his murder.
Mr Ashwood said the likelihood the pair had been murdered by underworld criminals had strengthened since Wednesday.
He said finding the evidence police were looking for would be challenging, given the case was 14 years old.
‘‘It’s difficult, but we don't know until we look, and we have to look,’’ Mr Ashwood said.
‘‘We now have two very good, independent sources of information.’’
Mr Ashwood urged the person who called Crime Stoppers with one of the tip-offs on Wednesday night to get back in contact with police.
There remains a $100,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of Mr Belias’ killer.