Radio City has been home to WTMJ since the early 1940's, nestled near Estabrook Park on the west bank of the mighty Milwaukee River. Home to broadcast legends, the building was made to do TV and radio, the first of its kind in an industry that was still in relative infancy. Its art deco lobby is a local archetectural treasure. From its doors, reporters have emerged on a daily basis for decades, eager to cover breaking news, find local features, work various beats in quest of stories just waiting to be uncovered.
Who knew there was one right in our own backyard–for some ten years, apparently.
News broke earlier this month of a man living in a bunker along the bank of the aforementioned river, quite literally across the street from our building. Police say Gregory Graff had spent years in a ditch he'd apparently dug–eight feet wide and tall, some 20 feet long–on land owned by MATC. Said bunker rested just outside our building, yards from my office window which faces east toward the river. A Today's TMJ4 employee heard noises coming from the spot about a month before the story hit the headlines, and even shot video of the emcampment. Admittedly, you can't see much what with the trees and bushes extending from the east side of Humboldt down to the water. Graff was hardly hiding in plain sight, which is why he got to do the hermit thing undetected for so long.
That is, until he supposedly squeezed off a couple of shots on November 20th, telling police he did so because he was upset one of his dogs had run away. At least one guy says he had a few encounters with Graff before that including one during which he was Graff threatened him with one of his hounds, another where he allegedly flashed a pistol. It's the gun that blew his cover, and the guns that have him in trouble with authorities: two of the three counts he faces involve his weapons. Strangely enough, he's not charged with anything linked to the fact he was living on land that wasnt his.
I've driven by that spot on the river for decades, coming and going to Radio City for almost four decades now, depending on my route to and from work. This year, in fact, I've used the Humboldt entrance a ton, since the eastbound Capitol Drive off-ramp from I-43 has been closed for months. If Graff was rockin' out in the wee smalls, I never heard him as I glided on by. Not once did I say, “Was that a gunshot?” as I pulled up to the building's east gate. Never once did I look out from my desk and see a guy emerge from the trees, acting as if he lived on the river bank because, in fact, he did.
Glad we never bumped into each other because, judging by his police record, Graff wasn't pleasant. Aside from the brushes with civilization mentioned above, he had several run-ins with officers over the years including one where he had to be tased. A court-ordered psychological evaluation revealed nothing that required further attention and he was found competent to stand trial. Investigators found that he'd been treated at the County Mental Health Complex three times during his childhood. A guy from Whitefish Bay tells the Journal/Sentinel he'd see Graff in the woods, and would sometimes help him track down his dogs, decribing him as “isolated” and “an outcast,” someone who “needs help.”
Indeed. That Graff's been able to live on the banks of a river in a homemade bunker undetected for up to ten years is pretty amazing. That someone didn't learn of his plight, lend him a hand or get him in touch with an agency or two that could give him the hand he seemed to need is a story that needs to be followed up on. That the caper appears to be ending peacefully is a blessing. Authorities gathered up Graff's belongings and MATC excavated the bunker. Graff's dogs are with the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission, so at least they're taken care of.
Let's hope the same can soon be said for their owner, someone who obviously needs some help.