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

(Continued from page 1)

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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.

Hughes heard about the case when he joined the Maine Warden Service 18 years ago and has been involved in investigating the burglaries in recent years.

"He made one fatal mistake," Hughes said. "He hit this year on my birthday."

That mid-March birthday break-in, combined with Hughes' interest in the case, spiked his determination to catch the burglar. Working with U.S. Border Patrol in Rangeley, Hughes set up surveillance equipment that would trigger an alarm at Hughes' nearby home if someone entered the camp's dining hall after hours.

"I was extremely confident he would be apprehended," Hughes said. "I knew sooner or later he was going to trip that camera."

That moment came last Thursday morning. Hughes made it to the campground within minutes and watched from outside as Knight went through the kitchen collecting food items.

Hughes said he knew it was the hermit. "There was absolutely no question," he said.

Knight left the building and Hughes identified himself as a warden before ordering Knight to the ground and placing him under arrest. Knight had been carrying about $280 worth of food.

Knight was relatively clean-shaven, his hair was cut to a normal length and he was balding, Hughes said. He was wearing a clean pair of jeans and a clean shirt.

"You could walk into a store and walk by him and never know," Hughes said.

Police said they found Knight carrying a wad of bills — some of the money dated back to the 1990s — and some of it was moldy. Knight told them "he carried it in case he ever needed to go to a store someday," Perkins-Vance said.

'Every step was calculated'

Knight has admitted to committing about 40 burglaries a year for the past 27 years, according to Perkins-Vance.

"I would say it's well over 1,000 burglaries," Perkins-Vance said. "He did it to survive. Everything he stole was to survive."

Knight said he stole everything he has, except for his aviator-style eyeglasses, which are the same pair he wore in 1986.

"He did make the comment that he's having a hard time seeing," Perkins-Vance said.

Knight's dramatic story began to take shape under questioning by Perkins-Vance and Hughes.

"He was very intelligent," Perkins-Vance said.

"He thought about what he wanted to say before he said it and was very articulate," Hughes said.

Knight graduated from Lawrence High School in 1984. His senior photo in the yearbook shows him standing with his arms crossed and no hint of a smile on his face. Knight listed no clubs or activities and, for future plans, said he would be a computer technician.

Two years later he took to the woods.

He spent a few years at one camp before moving to a new location because of fears he would be spotted. Warden Dan Christianson said Knight had been at his current location since 1989.

On Tuesday, Christianson pointed to a spot a few feet away from Knight's tent: "He said he's watched that mushroom grow for the last four years."

Knight went to great lengths to make the camp invisible from the ground and the air, even covering a yellow shovel with a black bag. Knight never had a fire, even on the coldest days, for fear of being detected. He covered shiny surfaces, like his metal trash cans, with moss and dirt and painted green a clear plastic sheet over his tent.

Knight even situated his campsite facing east and west to make the best use of the sun throughout the day.

Knight's abilities at concealment at first made Hughes believe that he must be a military veteran.

(Continued on page 3)

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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.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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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.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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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.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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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.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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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.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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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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