April 10, 2013

After 27 years of burglaries, 'North Pond Hermit' is arrested

Christopher Knight, 47, says he stole to survive solitary life in the woods of western Maine.

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By Craig Crosby Kennebec Journal

ROME — Christopher Knight went into the central Maine wilderness 27 years ago.

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Game Warden Sgt. Terry Hughes, right, Maine State Police Trooper Diane Perkins-Vance, center, and Somerset County Deputy Sheriff Jeremy Leal on Tuesday inspect Christopher Knight's camp in a remote, wooded section of Rome.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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Christopher Knight

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Maine Warden Service Sgt. Terry Hughes discusses encountering Christopher Knight, the alleged North Pond Hermit, at the Pine Tree Camp on Thursday.

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Maine Warden Service Sgt. Terry Hughes and Maine State Police Trooper Diane Perkins-Vance discuss Christopher Knight's habits and life in the woods of Rome.

He built a hut on a slope in the woods, where he spent his days reading books and meditating.

There he lived, re-entering civilization only to steal supplies from camps under the cover of darkness. During those nearly three decades, he spoke just once to another person – until he was arrested during a burglary last week.

In between, Knight told police, he committed more than 1,000 burglaries, always taking only what he needed to survive. He became so familiar for his thievery and elusiveness that he spawned the local legend of the North Pond Hermit, who for years confounded both locals and police investigating the break-ins.

In June 2005, the Morning Sentinel published a story about the "hermit of North Pond," who, it said, "for the last 15 years has been picking his way through dozens of the 300 or so camps around North Pond."

"It's been a myth, or legend, that a hermit was responsible," Maine State Trooper Diane Perkins-Vance told the Kennebec Journal on Tuesday. "That happens to be the case."

The 47-year-old hermit now awaits his future at the Kennebec County Jail, where he is being held in lieu of $5,000 cash bail on charges of burglary and theft.

Even as law enforcement continues to piece together a story that sounds too incredible to be true, every new layer of evidence uncovered since Knight's arrest has buttressed the legend of the hermit burglar in the area of the pond, which is surrounded by Smithfield, Mercer and Rome.

On Tuesday, police uncovered the ultimate evidence of Knight's odyssey: the makeshift campsite in the woods of Rome that was Knight's home for 27 years.

"He said he just came into the woods one day in 1986," Perkins-Vance said. "He claims he hadn't had a conversation with another human being since the mid-1990s, when he encountered someone on a trail. I was the first person he talked to since the 1990s. People are like, 'No way!' But yeah, it's true."

While police are still investigating how Knight managed his decades-long withdrawal from society, they have not learned why. And they may never know.

Knight has always been interested in hermits, according to Perkins-Vance, and loved the book "Robinson Crusoe," the story of a man stranded on an island for decades.

Beyond that, Perkins-Vance said, Knight had no deeper explanation for heading into the woods. He said he had a good childhood growing up in Albion. He left society after the April 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Russia, but Perkins-Vance said Knight remembers that event to mark the date of departure rather than to provide its motive.

"He didn't give a reason," Perkins-Vance said. "He said he frequently asks himself that same question."

"I couldn't fathom why he has done what he has done," said Sgt. Terry Hughes of the Maine Warden Service.

There must have been times during the winter, Hughes said, when it was well below zero and the wind was howling that Knight dreamed about checking into a motel or a shelter.

"To maintain his position is phenomenal," Hughes said.

Hermit arrested

Christopher Thomas Knight's first contact with another human being in 27 years — outside of that hiker with whom he exchanged a greeting in the mid-1990s — came around 1:15 a.m. Thursday.

Hughes said he arrested Knight as he carried meat and other food from Pine Tree Camp in Rome, which serves children and adults with disabilities.

Knight estimated he had broken into the camp more than 50 times over the years and taken thousands of dollars of meat, beer, coffee and other supplies.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Somerset County Sheriff's Department Cpl. Gene Cole, left, helps Maine State Police Trooper Diane Perkins-Vance inventory money recovered from Christopher Knight on Tuesday at the Pine Tree Camp in Rome. Knight, a hermit who lived in the woods since April 1986, was apprehended when he broke into the camp, police claim. He was captured carrying a knapsack and bag of tools. Many of bills date from the 1980s and 1990s, Perkins-Vance said, and were never circulated by Knight.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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Pine Tree Camp facility manager Harvey Chesley inspects a door that Christopher Knight alleged broke open in the dining lodge at the Rome camp, on Tuesday. Knight, a hermit who lived in the woods since April 1986, was arrested in after allegedly breaking into the lodge on Thursday, according to Warden Service Sgt. Terry Hughes.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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Tools recovered in a bag that Christopher Knight was carrying when he was apprehended at Pine Tree Camp in Rome Tuesday.

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Christopher Knight was arrested at Pine Tree Camp in Rome carrying candy, potato chips, a ball cap, poncho and a wristwatch that were all allegedly stolen from the camp.

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Game wardens and state police retrieve global positioning coordinates before hiking to Christopher Knight's camp in Rome Tuesday.

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Game wardens, state police and Somerset County sheriff's deputies hike to Christopher Knight's campsite in Rome Tuesday.

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Christopher Knight's campsite, located in a remote stand of woods in Rome, moments before game wardens, state police and Somerset County sheriff's deputies inspected the camp Tuesday.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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Game Warden Aaron Cross photographs Christopher Knight's camp Tuesday.

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A surveillance photo taken in 2011 allegedly shows Christopher Knight, a hermit police believe engaged in more than 1,000 burglaries to support his lifestyle.

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Game Warden Sgt. Terry Hughes, right, and District Warden Dave Ross inspect Christopher Knight's camp Tuesday.

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Christopher Knight's camp on Tuesday in a remote, wooded section of Rome.

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A television found at Christopher Knight's camp on Tuesday.

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District Game Warden Aaron Cross inspects Christopher Knight's camp Tuesday.

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Christopher Knight's camp Tuesday in a remote, wooded section of Rome.

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District Game Warden Aaron Cross exits Christopher Knight's camp Tuesday.

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Coffee cups, lights and a clock hang under a tarp in Christopher Knight's camp Tuesday.

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Christopher Knight's 1984 Lawrence High School senior photo, taken from the yearbook.

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