RHINELANDER - Images of a burned down cabin remind Oneida County Sergeant Tyler Young just how far some people will go to cover up a crime.
"It was kind of a growing theme for them of activity," Young said.
Fire destroyed the cabin on Crystal Lake Road in Pine Lake this spring. Deputies first thought it was a lightning strike until a suspect from a different case started talking.
"When people have a conscience and they're relieving themselves of the guilt they have, they tend to be like a confessional at times," Young said.
Young arrested 19-year-old Nicholas Wilmot on Monday after running a wanted person's check on him and investigators built a complete case. But Wilmot had been talking about the cabin and some crimes from within city limits months earlier.
Rhinelander police started investigating storage unit break-ins on the city's north side at Beloff Storage in June. Police say locks were cut and items like fishing gear were taken.
Officer Chad Brown and Detective Josh Chiamulera used evidence at the scene and security camera footage to track down Wilmot.
Initial conversations with Wilmot and police happened in June, when police told him he wasn't under arrest and were just looking for information.
"They knew what they were doing. This wasn't just a crime of opportunity. You have to plan something like this," Brown said.
Wilmot showed police where he was keeping some stolen items -- including a boat, motor, and trailer -- at a property on Flowage Road. Wilmot then also started talking about the cabin. The suspect said he, 20-year-old Alex Volzka, and 18-year-old Keanu Sneller went to the cabin, smashed plates and windows, then burned it down with kerosene.
The criminal complaint says, "Wilmot's information was descriptive enough to provide details in which only a person who had been at the scene would have known, but his accounts and details when it came to his and the other actor's individual actions remained somewhat vague."
"To go to that level [of burning a building down to cover evidence] that quick at that early of an age, that's concerning," Brown said.
Police then built their case against the three. Sheriff's Deputy James Adams interviewed Wilmot in July after the 19-year-old was arrested on an unrelated case. During that interview, Wilmot "confirmed that he, Alex James Volzka, and Keanu Sneller were at the cabin," the criminal complaint says.
Wilmot got out of jail, then disappeared for several months. Police told Newswatch 12 on Thursday that Wilmot likely went to North or South Dakota for work before returning to the area this fall.
In the meantime, police interviewed Wilmot's mother. She told police Volzka asked her to cash a check from "The Bait Shoppe" in Rhinelander for him. The mother "stated she thought it was odd that he was asking her to cash his check and refused to do so," according to the complaint.
Records also showed Sneller pawned a heater that was stolen from the destroyed cabin at Hodag Gun and Loan. Police say that connected Sneller to the arson case.
"Once somebody does something and gets away with it, they tend to be more repetitive with it until they get caught," Young said.
Wilmot told police he and Sneller smashed dishes and windows at the Pine Lake cabin, left the property, then returned later with Volzka. Wilmot says Volzka wanted to start the fire, noting their fingerprints were all over the cabin.
Now, thanks to police work across two agencies, a string of burglaries and an arson appear to be solved.
"It's a daily occurrence that we're having contact with [police] officers because the people that are committing crimes in the city a lot of times are committing crimes in the county and vice versa," Young said.
"I'm glad we were able to stop that trend that they were going down and hopefully future behavior," Brown said. "We're a brotherhood is what we are. We all wear different colored uniforms, but we all have the same goal."
The trio of suspects all face burglary, theft, or trespassing charges. Only Volzka faces an arson charge, based on the evidence police have at this time.
Volzka faces a combined 56 years in prison, Sneller faces 7 1/2 years in prison, and Wilmot faces more than 16 years in prison. All three are due back in court later this fall.