Man Found Hiding In Wisconsin Bunker For 3 Years After Fleeing Child Sex Crime Charges, Authorities Say

Jeremiah Button created an underground lair, complete with electricity and a computer, to live in after being accused of sexually assaulting a child.

By Dorian Geiger

It was two weeks before Jeremiah Button was supposed to stand trial on several child sex crime charges in Portage County, Wisconsin when the 44-year-old vanished without a trace. 

That was early 2016. Last week — and three and a half years later — police say Button turned up in an underground bunker in the Wisconsin wilderness. His secretive lair was accidentally uncovered by a curious hunter, local station WSAW-TV reported. 

Thomas Nelson, the local hunter, had reportedly spotted the bunker, located outside Ringle, Wisconsin, near a forested hiking trail months earlier in Marathon County. On Aug. 9, he decided to return and investigate.

"I followed the brush marks, I saw the door,” Nelson told WSAW-TV. “I couldn't get out of there fast enough. There was no way you could have seen this if you didn't know there was something there."

What the man discovered inside spooked him. 

Jeremiah Button

"I pushed the door open, and I look inside and I can see canned foods, there's little storage boxes,” Nelson recalled. "I come around the corner a bit and there [Button] is, laying in his bed. I mean, I was shaking when I went in, I was shaking when I went out."

Nelson had no idea at the time he had come face-to-face with an accused child sexual predator, let alone a fugitive who had lived like a hermit for nearly half a decade. The hunter quickly notified law enforcement

"My agency received information from a reporting party citizen about an unknown male acting in a suspicious manner located on state forest land in the town of Ringle," Marathon County Sheriff Scott Parks told Oxygen.com.
 
"Deputies were dispatched to the area, backtracking with the citizen to the location of the in-ground bunker where the deputies contacted the unknown male who surrendered peacefully without incident," he added. "Upon identifying the male, it became known he had active felony warrants from Portage County for sexual assault."

Button was charged for first-degree child sexual assault with a minor under 12, incest with a child, repeated sexual assault of the same child, and possession of child pornography.

Button, authorities said, was starved for human contact, after surviving three nasty winters in the ground.

"Given the chance, I think the majority of the U.S. population would choose prison over this type of isolation from human contact," Lt. Jeff Stefonek said to WSAW-TV.

Law enforcement also said Button was eager to relay how he eluded capture for so long — and how he built the do-it-yourself bunker in the forest.

After his initial arrest in 2014, police said Button began assembling his bunker, which he dug out of an embankment in the woods. He added brush for extra camouflage. Two weeks before his trial was slated to commence, he descended into his new home and makeshift hiding place, and went completely off the grid

Button used a water filtration system and also employed solar panels to charge car batteries on sunny days, and a stationary pedal bike to generate power when it was cloudy, police said. 

"[Button] has solar panels up on the roof that power three car batteries inside the structure," Stefonek, the Marathon County lieutenant, said to WSAW-TV while touring the bunker with media. "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."

He furnished his cramped and minimalist quarters with a radio, computer, and other items he brought from home or collected from a landfill. 

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

Button is accused of sexually assaulting a young relative, who told her middle school counselor about the alleged abuse in 2014, according to Fox 6. At the time of his arrest, officials say they also discovered an SD memory card containing child pornography at Button’s residence. Button was also found guilty of child pornography possession and marijuana-related charges in 2005, according to online court records.

Button is scheduled for a pre-trial court appearance on Sept. 16. He’s currently being held on $100,000 bond. 

The Department of Natural Resources plans to dismantle his underground hideaway.

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