Fugitive's bunker first reported to law enforcement 9 months ago

By  | 

RINGLE, Wis. (WSAW) -- The underground bunker in Ringle, where a Portage County fugitive accused of multiple sex crimes against children hid for more than three years, was first reported to law enforcement in November last year according to police reports obtained by NewsChannel 7.

Wausau hunter Tom Nelson, the man who led deputies to the bunker last Friday leading to Button's arrest, reported “a bunker in the side of a hill” last November, according to notes from an event report from the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office.

The report occurred on November 17, the opening day of gun deer season in 2018. According to the report notes, Nelson guessed a man had been living there for years, and described an elaborate septic system as well as tracks in the snow from the bunker door.

MCSO's Sheriff Scott Parks told NewsChannel 7 on Friday that the biggest reason they weren't able to follow up on the report was because they weren't able to get enough information to locate the bunker.

"In conversation with [Nelson], he said that he did not have the GPS coordinates for that particular area, that he didn't know if he could take us back to that particular area," Parks said.

Nelson told NewsChannel 7 on Tuesday that he had reported the bunker in November and offered to show deputies the way out there; NewsChannel 7 received the event report on Friday confirming Nelson had called MCSO. Nelson did not respond to a request for an interview on Friday.

The event report indicates a deputy spoke with Nelson initially, and that Nelson told the deputy he "was going to try to GPS its location on his way out of the woods after hunting." In the final note on the report, timestamped just before 7 p.m. after the first call earlier in the afternoon, the deputy wrote that he was waiting to hear back from the reporting party.

The report shows that squad cars were dispatched to the general area, but Parks says they didn't have a way to find the bunker without further information.

"When you're walking down some of those trails," Parks said, who has visited the bunker since Button's arrest, "You're almost on top of it, and you don't even realize you're there." When NewsChannel 7 visited the bunker earlier this week, it was concealed by underbrush in a way that made it completely invisible standing about 20 feet away.

"They did not know the area to search," Parks said. "The description they were given is 3/4 mile north of Poplar Lane--and 3/4 of a mile, depending on how you're gonna do your pie, could be a vast area continuing out further into the woods. When you're walking down some of those trails, you're almost on top of it, and you don't even realize you're there."

"More follow-up could have been done," Parks said. "But we did ask for that information so we could then make contact."

Parks added that they are typically very busy with calls about suspicious behavior during hunting season.

"We receive a number of calls during opening days of the gun deer season, and that we have a lot of trespassing, suspicious activity, a number of different things that come in--that we don't always, aren't always able to follow up on," Parks said.

"If you had additional information that the person was involved in felony cases or in this particular case the felony sexual assault, that would definitely up the ante as far as how much you're going to put into this at that particular time."

NewsChannel 7 first showed you inside the bunker on Tuesday; click here for full coverage.