Milwaukee’s “Bunker Guy,” Is Free. What’s Next?

Geoffrey Graff was released and all charges against him were dropped.

Geoffrey Graff finally walked free in September. But first he needed duds. 

“They just kind of turned him loose,” says Kathy Graff, mother of Geoffrey. “Some of the people from the Rescue Mission took him to Goodwill to get clothes and shoes and stuff so he had something to wear.”

Graff, the East Side drifter who was made Milwaukee-famous when authorities discovered the riverside bunker he’d called home for at least a decade, had been in the county lockup since the November 2019 day when he fired three shots into the Milwaukee River. He’s been free on signature bond since September. 

Last week, he got another jolt of good news when all charges against him were dropped. It ended a saga that placed the social-phobic Graff in an overpacked jail during a pandemic. As usual with Graff, the dropping of charges begs more questions than it answers. Here are some.

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Where will he live?

Graff, who couldn’t be reached for comment, was under orders to live at a local homeless shelter under terms of his release in September. His mother believes he’s been housed at the Milwaukee Rescue Mission. However, state voting records show that he voted in November’s general election and listed his address at an apartment complex on South 5th Street. One place he won’t be: at his grandfather’s family homestead in Pennsylvania. Graff is close to his 96-year-old grandfather and spent much of his childhood living with his grandparents, but the family patriarch has made clear he’s not welcome back.  

“My father refuses to let him come anywhere near,” says Kathy Graff, citing her son’s many indiscretions the last time he lived there, including crashing cars and dealing drugs. “If he’d come back here, he wouldn’t be able to live in the house you know where he grew up.”

Can he return to the woods?

Maybe. Before the charges were dropped, he had to wear a GPS location-tracker and stay clear of the Estabrook Park area, site of his earlier bunker. But those restrictions went away with the charges being dropped. He clearly had found a groove in his bunker life, which allowed him to be live totally outside society but also have access to the things a city provides, like short-term jobs and abundant food.

“He seemed like he was thriving on solitude,” says his mother. 

How did he do in jail?

It appears that he did better than most expected in his 10 months in the clink. He served a stint in solitary confinement early on — Kathy Graff says it was because he threatened a guard — and had to have his rations increased after he lost significant weight. But it appears, according to his mother, that he found a way to survive alright.   

“He’s fairly adaptable, I guess,” she says.

What’s a best-case scenario for him going forward?

Kathy Graff says she hopes her son, who’s had a long history of mostly untreated mental illness, will be able to get some help.

“I was hoping that he’d be in some kind of a program there where he’d be getting counseling,” she says. It’s unclear if he has access to mental health services, inside or outside jail. His mother also stresses the importance of human contact, which Graff has tended to shun. She says that he could be talked out of his irrational behavior sometimes when he got a case of what he called “the noids,” or paranoia. 

“If you really talk to him, you can kind of get him settled down,” she says, “but sometimes it can take an hour or more.” 

Was his long-ish stay in jail, extended due to court shutdowns for Covid-19, necessary?

People close to him say no. A friend with inside knowledge of his case and the criminal justice system (he spoke on condition of anonymity) says he believes Graff was subject to overzealous prosecution due to the media spectacle created by his arrest.

“He was portrayed as a crazy white guy in a bunker with guns,” he says, “which makes certain people go all kinds of crazy. They were going to make a scapegoat out of him.”

Most low-level criminals in his situation charged with weapons possession would be out of jail in days, he says. 

“He had a couple functioning guns and that was it. The extent of his collection was paltry at best,” he says. “I would say that gun crimes in Milwaukee County, outside a violent crime, the DAs don’t even deal with.” 

Kathy Graff points to her son’s immediate surrender to authorities on the day of his arrest as a reason he should have been shown mercy.

“Think about the guy on the street,” she says. “What message does it send that (authorities) aren’t going to cut them any slack for trying to be cooperative?”

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Daniel Simmons grew up in St. Paul, Minn., the “good twin” city. He started his writing career covering the midsection for the Mayo Clinic. Since then he’s written about human smuggling by sea in San Diego, the coyote invasion of Chicago and the political circus in Madison. He also got to write about his childhood idol, Larry Bird, for Runners World. He’s the managing editor.