Jeremiah Button even had a bike-powered generator for those overcast days when his solar panels weren't doing the trick.
About a year and a half after Jeremiah Button was released on a $25,000 cash bond, he vanished into thin air. It was early 2016 and he was two weeks away from a jury trial in Portage County, Wisconsin to face charges of first-degree child sexual assault and possession of child pornography. Then suddenly, he was gone.
According to WSAW, authorities finally just now figured out where he was hiding all these years when they discovered his makeshift bunker on Aug. 9, 2019. He has since told the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) that he started building this shack, in the woods near the Ice Age Trail in the township of Ringle, upon his release.
For nearly three and a half years, Button’s isolated hideout kept him stealthily camouflaged from detection. Eventually, however, a hunter noticed this strange hut and called the police — putting an end to Button’s flight from justice.
“I followed the brush marks, I saw the door,” said Thomas Nelson, who’s lived in the region all his life and frequently hunts on the state land. “I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.”
Button seemingly forgot to factor in the curiosity of somebody like Nelson, or that they’d be brave and brazen enough to actually enter a mysteriously concealed shack in the middle of the woods. It was the last mistake he made before being apprehended after more than three years in the wind.
It took the hunter a few months to muster the courage to return to the bunker after first finding it. He had a gut feeling that someone was actually living in there, and had to figure out who — and why.
“There was no way you could have seen this if you didn’t know there was something there,” he said. “I pushed the door open, and I look inside and I can see canned foods, 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.”
At this point, the hunter had no idea who Button was — or that he had been avoiding charges ranging from first-degree child sexual assault and possession of child pornography to incest with a child.
Nelson then called the police and led them to the location in question. That led to a 20-minute standoff between Button and local deputies, some of whom positioned themselves on the bunker’s roof. Despite the tense standoff, Button seemed fairly jovial after finally coming outside.
“He told us that he was wanted through Portage County for numerous warrants,” said Deputy Matt Kecker, who described Button’s attitude as welcoming and appreciative.
Button seemed starved for human interaction, with deputies stating it was almost effortless to get him to explain his survival methods across three hot summers and three freezing winters. Of course, the bunker itself — littered with a variety of household items and unexpected electronics — spoke for itself.
The bunker wasn’t all that spacious, though the walls were lined with cans of food, storage bins — even a television that he found in a nearby landfill. Mini fans hung from the ceiling, while an old radio played commercials as Kecker and Detective Lieutenant Jeff Stefonek escorted reporters inside. These amenities no doubt helped allow Button to live there for so long.
“He has solar panels up on the roof that power three car batteries inside the structure,” said Stefonek. “And from those three car batteries he has running to LED lights and radios and cooling fans, all sorts of electronic equipment, some of it left intact for its intended purpose, and other things he took apart to fit the needs he had.”
Button seemed to have been so determined to live there for the long term that he even had a bike-powered generator in his possession. This allowed him to retain power on those overcast days when solar panels weren’t providing the necessary power to his batteries.
“He said the initial build took him from the time he got out to the time he disappeared,” said Kecker. “It was roughly about half this size, but as he started bringing stuff back from the landfill that he needed to make his life more comfortable, he had to expand. So he dug out even further into the wall.”
Button even built a water purifying machine that pumped the liquid through charcoal and filters before boiling it.
From electricity to computers, radio, and TV, Button hadn’t just built himself a new temporary home, but a new life that he seemingly intended on maintaining for the foreseeable future.
“He was not only surviving, but thriving in this structure through all of the different supplies he was able to find,” said Stefonek.
“Not a lot of air comes in from the outside, and it was a small enough space that he was able to survive the winters obviously, and keep himself warm, and it’s cool down there this time of year, and it is stocked full of all of the items that he was able to pilfer from the Marathon County landfill by sorting through garbage.”
According to CNN, Sheriff Mike Lucas of Portage County said that in his nearly 30 years with the department, he couldn’t remember anything quite this “bizarre.”
Button told Marathon County Deputy Sheriff Troy Deiler that he chose this particular location for both easy access to the Ringle landfill and for the advantageous, thick forestry.
“Button had explained he could find just about anything in the landfill,” Deiler wrote in his report.
Button explained that once he dug the area out he began transporting canned goods, electronics, and other supplies over using one backpack at a time — presumably to avoid suspicion from passersby.
Nonetheless, when he saw hikers or hunters, Button said he’d usually make “small talk with them about a nice day to be on a hike and continued on his way.” Meanwhile, he left his car, wallet, and ID at his mother’s house.
In the end, Button is being held on a $100,000 cash bond and waiting for a pretrial conference in mid-September. Whether or not any additional charges will be added will depend on what authorities find at the site — particularly on Button’s hard drives.
As for the bunker, Department of Natural Resources Communications Director Sarah Hoye said they’re currently assessing the site and will establish a plan to clean it up in the near future.