Wisconsin fugitive survived 3 years in makeshift bunker: ‘Not only surviving, but thriving’

  • Aug 14, 2019
  • WITI

RINGLE, Wis. — A Wisconsin fugitive wanted on child sexual assault and child pornography charges hid out for more than three years in a makeshift bunker powered by solar panels and a pedal generator before a hunter stumbled onto him Aug. 9, police said.

WSAW-TV reported several months ago, Thomas Nelson of Wausau found a bunker with a log door carved into an embankment on state land in the Ringle, west of Wausau, about 145 miles (233 kilometers) north of Madison. He became curious and returned to the bunker on Friday morning, Aug. 9 to see what was inside.

The door was unlatched, so he went inside. He discovered 44-year-old Jeremiah Button, who disappeared in February 2016, just weeks before he was scheduled to stand trial on child sexual assault and child pornography charges.

“I pushed the door open, and I look inside, and I can see canned foods,” said Nelson. “There’s little storage boxes, and I’m like … ‘I gotta go in.’ I come around the corner a bit, and there he is, laying in his bed. I mean, I was shaking when I went in. I was shaking when I went out.”

He moved away and called police, guiding them to the bunker’s door. A 20-minute standoff ensued before Button surrendered.

Marathon County Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Kecker said Button seemed almost glad for human interaction. Kecker said Button told deputies that he had been building the bunker while his case was moving through court, stockpiling it with items he found in the Marathon County landfill.

Sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Stefonek said Button set up solar panels on the bunker’s roof to power LED lights, radios, cooling fans, and all manner of electronic equipment. He also had a pedal-powered generator for cloudy days. The bunker was small enough that it stayed warm in winter and cool in summer.

“He was not only surviving, but thriving in this structure, through all of the different supplies he was able to find,” Stefonek said.

Button was taken back into custody, held on a $100,000 cash bond — due back in court for a pre-trial conference on Sept. 16. His attorneys, public defenders Anne Renc and Jessica Phelps, didn’t immediately return phone messages Wednesday, Aug. 14. Court records showed they were assigned to Button’s case on Tuesday.

His attorney in 2016, Gary Kryshak, withdrew from the case in February 2017, a year after Button fled. He didn’t immediately return a message left at his office Wednesday.

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