A wanted fugitive has been found by police after hiding for more than three years in a solar-powered, makeshift bunker.
According to reports, Jeremiah Button had been out on a $25,000 bond for 18 months, and was two weeks away from trial when he disappeared in early 2016.
Button, 44, was apparently facing changes for child sexual assault and possession of child pornography, but authorities had had no trace of him since 2016. According to police, he evaded capture through careful planning and extreme isolation from human contact.
The fugitive was eventually discovered by a hunter, who spotted the makeshift door to the bunker carved into the embankment near the Ice Age hiking trail near the town of Ringle, in Marathon County, Wisconsin. The hunter reportedly peered through the door and saw a man sleeping inside surrounded by canned food and numerous boxes.
Speaking to CBS News, the hunter Thomas Nelson, said:
I followed the brush marks, I saw the door. 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.
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.
Nelson said he moved to a safe distance and called law enforcement. When officers arrived, there was a 20-minute standoff between them and Button, before they apprehended and took him into custody.
Despite the standoff, according to Deputy Matt Kecker, Button seemed almost welcoming and glad of the interaction with other people. Button even wanted to talk, and was almost happy to describe to officers how he had survived in the underground bunker.
The bunker was reportedly full of clever designs and contraptions, including electricity for computers, television, radio and lights, a filter which pumped water through charcoal to clean it, solar panels on the roof for power and a bike-powered generator inside for back up.
Detective Lieutenant Jeff Stefonek told CBS News:
He was not only surviving, but thriving in this structure through all of the different supplies he was able to find.
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.
Marathon County Deputy Sheriff Troy Deiler told CNN there were around eight solar panels on top of the bunker, with wires going inside. There was also a stove pipe, made from tin cans, coming up and out of the ground.
When officers discovered Button, he was apparently head to toe in camouflage. Button told officers he chose this location because of the woods, and the nearby Ringle landfill, where he could source items for the bunker. Button reportedly dug out the area before bringing in canned food, a flat screen TV and other items salvaged from the landfill.
Before moving in to the bunker, Button left his car, wallet and ID at his mother’s house, with a note saying he was moving to Florida. He then rode in a train’s coal car to Wausau, before hiking for two days to get to the bunker.
Though Button said he’d interacted with the occasional passing hiker, his isolation from human contact was extreme, telling officers he’d not left the area for the past three and a half years.
Stefonek added: ‘Given the chance, I think the majority of the U.S. population would choose prison over this type of isolation from human contact.’
The 44-year-old is now in custody on a $100,000 cash bond as he awaits a pretrial conference in September.
Stefonek and the Department of Natural Resources have seized the bunker and plan to dismantle it.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.