A Man Wanted On Child Sex Assault Charges Disappeared 3 Years Ago. Police Found Him In A Solar-Powered Bunker.
Jeremiah Button lived for years off of trash in a hideout, complete with solar energy and a well. When people saw him, he pretended he was a hiker.
Last year, a Wisconsin hunter discovered an unusual door peeking out from behind some thick underbrush off a dirt trail. After thinking about it for months, he decided to go back last week and see what it was all about.
Hours later, authorities arrested a fugitive wanted on multiple charges of incest, child sexual assault, and child pornography who they said had been living for nearly four years in a solar-powered bunker that he'd built.
Jeremiah Button had not been seen since he disappeared in February 2016, two weeks before he was supposed to stand trial on a slew of child sexual assault and child pornography charges.
The 44-year-old had been out on $25,000 bond for about 18 months. Authorities say that during that time, Button had been building a small, wooden bunker tucked into the side of an embankment along the Ice Age Trail in a state park near the rural, woodsy Wisconsin town of Ringle.
Thomas Nelson, a hunter from nearby Wausau, told WSAW-TV that he first stumbled across the brush-shrouded hideout in November, but when he noticed a door built into the earth, he bolted.
But Nelson couldn't stop thinking about it. Months later, he retuned to the state-owned wilderness, retraced his steps, and pushed the door open.
"I come around the corner a bit and there he is, laying in his bed." Nelson said in an interview with the station. "I mean, I was shaking when I went in, I was shaking when I went out."
In an incident report, Nelson told Marathon County sheriff officials that he had reported the shelter to law enforcement, the state's Department of Natural Resources, and the Parks Department, but they were "unsuccessful with any results."
When he actually entered the cave and saw a man sitting in a bed, he again called authorities and led them to the hideout, the report said. Lt. Troy Deiler and another deputy arrived, but said they were unable to make contact at the front door due to its "extremely tactically unsafe location."
The officers made 50 to 60 verbal commands and banged on the roof with a metal post they had found, the incident report said, before Button, dressed in full camouflage, finally emerged after about 20 minutes.
"I am a wanted man," he told officers with his hands up, the report said, and then proceeded to explain how he had been living in the woods for nearly four years. As they walked him out handcuffed, officers said Button was extremely chatty and remarked how "it was nice to talk to some human beings."
"It's quite something. Definitely a new one," Lt. Steven DeNovi , who has been with the Marathon County Sheriff's Office for about 16 years, said of the case.
According to authorities, who later interviewed Button after apprehending him inside his fort, the fugitive had chosen the area for its remoteness and proximity to a local landfill. He then spent months digging and building out his cave.
"This individual in particular was extremely crafty with going into the wilderness and going off the grid," DeNovi told BuzzFeed News.
To survive, Button had brought in backpacks full of canned goods and other supplies, including a flat-screen TV. As the months wore on, he would walk and bike about a half-mile to the Marathon County landfill and "scavenge" whatever he needed.
"He was basically living off trash. From what I understand, he went there almost every day for things," DeNovi said, adding that the bunker was packed full of "all sorts of items" that he had found over the years.
Button found his camouflage outfit, complete with a "boonie style" hat, in the landfill, and told officers it was "a really great find for him," the incident report said.
Video of the hideout from WSAW-TV revealed a cramped room filled to the brim with cans, clothes, several laptops, storage items, and an array of other things.
On top of the cave, officers found several solar panels and car batteries, which Button later told authorities he used to power his radio, TV, lights, and fans.
"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," Detective Lt. Jeff Stefonek told the station.
For backup power, Button created a generator using a bicycle that he could pedal. To ensure he had water, the fugitive sought out a wet part of the woods and built a well. He would filter the water through charcoal and sand-lined filters before boiling it.
"He was not only surviving but thriving in this structure through all of the different supplies he was able to find," Stefonek said.
Despite the elaborate, crowded setup, authorities say there is no evidence that anyone else had been living there. Detectives do not know if he had been communicating with people from the bunker, DeNovi said.
However, Button often interacted with hikers and hunters, like Nelson, and would occasionally chat with people at the dump, the lieutenant explained.
"He stumbled across or had random encounters with people in the woods and the landfill and would pose as someone hiking or who was out for a walk," DeNovi said. "He would have casual conversations with people about the trails or the weather."
Before he disappeared, Button was set to stand trial for four counts of child sexual assault and child pornography from 2014, including first-degree sexual assault and incest with a child, according to court documents. He had pleaded not guilty to all charges.
To trick people into believing he fled the area, he left his wallet at his mother's house with a note that he was moving to Florida, the report said. He then hopped into a train's coal car in Stevens Point and covered himself with the material. Once he got to the Wausau area, he got off and quickly found himself lost. It took him about two days of walking to find his way back to his bunker.
Button is currently in custody in Portage County Jail and is being held on a $100,000 bond. He scheduled to be back in court on Sept. 16.
Authorities say they're baffled at the lengths the fugitive went to create a completely new life in the woods.
"There are fugitives around us all the time," DeNovi said. "It's rare when they go off the grid like this and pull off something like this."