Fugitive lived in isolated bunker for 3 years to evade arrest in Wisconsin

Natalie Brophy
Jeremiah Button

RINGLE, Wis. – A Wisconsin fugitive was sleeping in a homemade bunker the morning of Aug. 9 when his three-year run from the law came to an end.

A hiker walking in the woods off the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Ringle came across a shelter dug into the side of an embankment, according to a Marathon County Sheriff's Office incident report. The hiker opened the log-paneled door a crack, peeked in and saw a man sleeping on a cot surrounded by tools and canned food. He called 911.

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The hiker later led Marathon County deputies to the hidden bunker, where they arrested Jeremiah Button, 44, on a Portage County warrant for child sex crimes.

Button disappeared in 2016, less than two weeks before he was scheduled to stand trial on charges that he repeatedly sexually assaulted a young girl and took nude photos of her. He was freed from jail on a $25,000 bond paid by his mother, Lynda Miller, in July 2014.

The Marathon County Sheriff's Office incident report details how Button was able to evade capture for three years through careful planning and by subjecting himself to a life of total isolation.

In this undated image made from video provided by WSAW-TV, authorities investigate a makeshift bunker in the township of Ringle, near Wausau. A fugitive is in custody after a hunter discovered him hiding in the makeshift bunker in the woods.

'I'm a wanted man'

Portage County prosecutors charged Button in February 2014 with sexual assault of a child and possession of child pornography.

Facing decades in prison if convicted, Button hatched a plan to disappear.

After his arrest last week, he told police he used a map to pick out the location where he would hide. He chose a spot that was in a wooded area and close to the Marathon County landfill, where he would make frequent trips to gather food and other supplies for his bunker.

His hideout was near the Ice Age Trail, a 1,000-mile footpath that winds through Wisconsin woodlands. It's a rustic trail, still partially in development, and in remote places like Ringle sees very little foot traffic.

Button began digging out the bunker, lining the walls with cardboard and tarps. He made a roof out of tarps and logs. When it was finished, he started moving in supplies one backpack load at a time. He bought half a pallet of canned food and brought in a TV.

When it was time for Button to finally disappear, he said he left his car, wallet and ID at his mother's house in Richfield, along with a note that he was moving to Florida. He hopped a train in Stevens Point and covered himself with coal in one of the coal cars to avoid detection. He got off the train in Wausau, and it took him two days to walk to his bunker.

Over the years, he was able to ride a bike to the landfill to collect food, clothes, tools, electronics and other supplies.

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Button attached a TV antenna to a tree outside the bunker and used a system of eight solar panels and numerous car batteries to power the TV, other electronics, lights and fans. When he needed more electricity, Button pedaled a bike attached to a homemade generator.

In winter, Button kept warm by lighting a fire in his Dakota-style fire pit, complete with a tin can chimney that piped the smoke out of the bunker. He built his own well for drinking water by digging a hole in a wet area of the woods and lining it with sand and charcoal. He boiled the water before drinking it. He also grew marijuana out in the woods, up to a pound a year.

Apart from the occasional hiker or hunter, Button saw no one.

When police got to the bunker last week, he initially would not come out. When he finally did, Button told deputies, "I'm a wanted man" and remarked that it was "nice to talk to some human beings."

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Button is now in custody at the Portage County Jail on a $100,000 bond. His next court appearance in the 2014 sexual assault case is scheduled for Sept. 16.

Portage County Sheriff Mike Lukas said the sheriff's office is still investigating the three years between Button's run and capture and does not yet know if his family or friends were aware of where he was hiding out.

Messages left for Button's family members by the Wausau Daily Herald were not immediately returned Friday.

The sheriff's office could recommend charges relating to his time on the run as the investigation continues, Lukas said.

Contributing: Karen Madden; follow Natalie Brophy at on Twitter: @brophy_natalie


This article originally appeared on Wausau Daily Herald: Fugitive in Wisconsin bunker lived for three years in isolation