How could a hermit hide in Maine woods for 27 years?

 ‘Hermit’ burglar compound littered with batteries, ‘tons and tons’ of propane tanks

Maine State Police photo

Photo of the camp where Christopher Knight lived in the woods near Rome.

When it was reported Tuesday that Maine State Police arrested a man last week who is suspected of committing more than 1,000 burglaries, slipping into camps at night to steal supplies to support his existence as a hermit, many people had the same question:

Is it really possible that the “Hermit” burglar, 47-year-old Christopher Knight, survived in the Maine wilderness for more than a quarter of a century? Without fire? Without any human contact?

Doug Rafferty, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s information and education director, said on Wednesday that game wardens have been dealing with reports of break-ins — perhaps as many as 1,000 — in the North Pond area in Rome, Maine for years.

Rafferty said that at first blush, the story of a hermit who had roamed the Maine woods for 27 years sounds far-fetched, but the DIF&W is confident that the tale is true.

Knight was caught last week when he set off surveillance equipment at the Pine Tree Camp, which he admitted breaking into more than 50 times in the past three decades.

“Rome isn’t exactly remote,” Rafferty said, describing the central Maine town in the middle of the Belgrade Lakes region. “It’s not like the North Maine Woods.”

And Rafferty admitted that it was hard to believe that a man living alone in the woods within 10 miles of Waterville could do so unnoticed for 27 years.

“Someone might have stumbled onto Knight’s compound at some point and thought, ‘Well, some guy’s got a camp up here for the summer,’” Rafferty said.

Knight likely began avoiding people soon after leaving civilization back in 1986, said Michael Douglas, adult programs director at Maine Primitive Skills School based in Augusta.

“I would say the first thing that happens, and we see this with people that get lost in the woods, is you start to hide from people that you see in the woods,” Douglas said. “That would be a pretty defining moment for him, when he started to flee and hide from people.”

Douglas says that this basic human instinct to flee from strangers typically begins after just a few days of solitude in the woods.

“The thoughts that run in people’s heads about being late for work and what to have for dinner and what’s on TV that night, those go away in about four days to two weeks of being in the wilderness,” Douglas said. “Then you develop a more intuitive and emotional communication in your head. You eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired, and you’re mindful of weather changes.”

It was reported that Knight never lit a fire for fear of being caught. In response to that, Douglas says that survival would have been possible without a fire, but only if Knight had a “really warm sleeping bag.”

“But he’d be living like an animal in a cocoon for most of his waking days [in the winter] or moving around constantly just to stay warm.”

Like many mammals in the Maine wilderness, it was reported that Knight usually made an effort to put on weight in the fall so he would have to eat less in the winter.

“To have the foresight to do that is pretty unique, but not unheard of,” Douglas said. “When you live in the out of doors for a while, you slow down and your awareness goes beyond what you need in the moment and it becomes seasonal — so that makes sense.”

Another aspect of Knight that might cause people to question whether he truly lived for nearly three decades in the wilderness is his appearance. He doesn’t fit the typical depiction of a hermit — shabby, dirty, with long hair and a beard. Upon being caught, Knight was clean shaven, with short hair, glasses and clean clothing.

Douglas speculates that perhaps Knight had problems early on with mites, fleas and ticks, and therefore decided to shave. He also imagines Knight may have put efforts into his personal hygiene as a sort of “dual camouflage,” so he could blend into a town environment while breaking into buildings and camps for supplies.

“If he had gone just totally native, where he would make his own debris hut and get fire off the landscape, it would have taken him a little longer and he would have been more uncomfortable at first, but he could still be out there if he had just stayed away from people’s camps,” Douglas said. “His taking the convenient way out is what did him in.”

Among the factors that have led investigators to believe the story: When Knight was apprehended, he was wearing an important piece of evidence.

“When he was caught, he was wearing a pair of boots that had been stolen five years ago,” Rafferty said. “We knew the boots, and who they had been stolen from.”

Some high-tech cooperation between the U.S. Border Patrol and DIF&W wardens played a key role in the apprehension, Rafferty said.

Rafferty said the Border Patrol loaned Warden Sgt. Terry Hughes a camera that would alert him when it was triggered. Hughes set the camera up at Pine Tree Camp in Rome, which had reportedly been targeted several times by Knight.

“When the alarm went off, Terry Hughes lives just down the road, and he was there in like six minutes,” Rafferty said.

‘Hermit’ burglar compound littered with batteries, ‘tons and tons’ of propane tanks

By Bangor Daily News Staff

Below are comments from the Thursday news conference about the arrest of Christopher Knight, also known as the North Pond Hermit:

Harvey Chesley, facilities manager at Pine Tree Camp

Harvey Chesley, the facilities manager at Pine Tree Camp, had no doubt that a single thief had been victimizing the camp and countless others on North Pond for years.

When Knight was arrested, he was wearing a pair of shoes that had been taken from Chesley’s cabin at Pine Tree Camp. The shoes belonged to one of Chesley’s family members, he said.

Chesley said he and others had long thought that the person responsible for the frequent thefts lived in the woods.

“Where I was wrong was I thought he left in the winter,” Chesley said on Thursday. “I thought he went to a homeless shelter or somewhere else. I was wrong. He lived in the woods.”

Chesley said that last summer he had Knight’s photo on a game camera. So, too, did neighboring landowners to the east and west of the Pine Tree Camp property.

“[The photos] were kind of generic. They showed a big guy, middle-aged, with glasses,” Chesley said. “The wardens took the photos to the towns of Mercer, Smithfield, and Rome. They took [photos] to the stores, the post offices, the town offices. Nobody could identify him.”

Another odd twist: When the man was arrested, not only was he wearing familiar shoes, Chesley found out that Knight had attended Lawrence High School in Fairfield at the same time as he had.

“I was two years ahead of him in high school. My wife was two years behind him,” Chesley said. “I didn’t know him. I recognize the family name, but I didn’t know him.”

Chesley said Knight’s regular raids on Pine Tree Camp indicated that a single survivalist was at work.

“It was because of the M.O.,” he said. “He would take essentials. He would take batteries, books, reading materials, alcohol, foods, paper products. You could leave phones, money, your wallet and that wouldn’t go missing.”

Knight was finally apprehended after the Maine Warden Service and the U.S. Border Patrol utilized a remote camera and alarm system that was used to offer more protection at the camp’s new dining hall.

Chesley was on the scene soon after Knight was caught, and has been to the camp where Knight lived for 27 years.

“He was shy and answered questions in sort of a monotone,” Chesley said. “I asked him, ‘Why did you take things a little bit at a time?’ He answered, ‘All I could carry.’ Just monotone.”

When Chesley saw Knight after the arrest, he initially thought that he had guessed correctly.

“I said, ‘Gee, he’s wearing decent clothes, I was right: He’s just coming back for the summer,” Chesley said. “But no, he was just like a bear, coming out of his den at the end of the winter.”

Chesley went with law enforcement officers when they traveled to Knight’s campsite. Chesley has been advised not to disclose the location, but said it was about a 30-minute hike — perhaps two miles — to the west of Pine Tree Camp.

“He had tons and tons of propane cylinders, probably 40 or 50 of them,” Chesley said. “I don’t know if he rigged them up for heat, but he said he didn’t burn wood because a fire would attract people.”

Chesley said that last fall he received word from a local contractor who hunts in the Rome area. The contractor had some thrilling news.

“He said, ‘I think I found where the hermit lives,’” Chesley said.

Chesley accompanied the contractor to the site, but determined that an old structure on the site wasn’t the one he’d been hoping to find.

After walking to the actual site earlier this week, Chesley learned how close he’d been.

“We were literally within a football field diameter of the [actual] site,” Chesley said. “But it was hidden.”

Chesley said the site was also littered with discarded marine batteries and all-terrain batteries.

“He used them to power things,” Chesley said.

Chesley said that after the arrest, the warden advised Knight that he had victimized Chesley for years and that an apology might be in order.

“[Knight] said, ‘If you thought I was sincere, I’d apologize,’” Chesley said. “I told him, ‘I think you’re sincere.’ And then he says, ‘I’m truly sorry for all the harm I’ve caused.’ It was monotone, but it was sincere.”

Doug Rafferty, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife information and education director

Doug Rafferty, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s information and education director, said on Wednesday that game wardens have been dealing with reports of break-ins — perhaps as many as 1,000 — in the North Pond area in Rome, Maine for years.

Rafferty said that at first blush, the story of a hermit who had roamed the Maine woods for 27 years sounds far-fetched, but the DIF&W is confident that the tale is true.

Knight was caught last week when he set off surveillance equipment at the Pine Tree Camp, which he admitted breaking into more than 50 times in the past three decades.

“Rome isn’t exactly remote,” Rafferty said, describing the central Maine town in the middle of the Belgrade Lakes region. “It’s not like the North Maine Woods.”

And Rafferty admitted that it was hard to believe that a man living alone in the woods within 10 miles of Waterville could do so unnoticed for 27 years.

“Someone might have stumbled onto Knight’s compound at some point and thought, ‘Well, some guy’s got a camp up here for the summer,’” Rafferty said.

Among the factors that have led investigators to believe the story: When Knight was apprehended, he was wearing an important piece of evidence.

“When he was caught, he was wearing a pair of boots that had been stolen five years ago,” Rafferty said. “We knew the boots, and who they had been stolen from.”

Some high-tech cooperation between the U.S. Border Patrol and DIF&W wardens played a key role in the apprehension, Rafferty said.

Rafferty said the Border Patrol loaned Warden Sgt. Terry Hughes a camera that would alert him when it was triggered. Hughes set the camera up at Pine Tree Camp in Rome, which had reportedly been targeted several times by Knight.

“When the alarm went off, Terry Hughes lives just down the road, and he was there in like six minutes,” Rafferty said.

Michael Douglas, Adult Programs Director at Maine Primitive Skills School, Augusta

Knight likely began avoiding people soon after leaving civilization back in 1986, said Michael Douglas, adult programs director at Maine Primitive Skills School based in Augusta.

“I would say the first thing that happens, and we see this with people that get lost in the woods, is you start to hide from people that you see in the woods,” Douglas said. “That would be a pretty defining moment for him, when he started to flee and hide from people.”

Douglas says that this basic human instinct to flee from strangers typically begins after just a few days of solitude in the woods.

“The thoughts that run in people’s heads about being late for work and what to have for dinner and what’s on TV that night, those go away in about four days to two weeks of being in the wilderness,” Douglas said. “Then you develop a more intuitive and emotional communication in your head. You eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired, and you’re mindful of weather changes.”

It was reported that Knight never lit a fire for fear of being caught. In response to that, Douglas says that survival would have been possible without a fire, but only if Knight had a “really warm sleeping bag.”

“But he’d be living like an animal in a cocoon for most of his waking days [in the winter] or moving around constantly just to stay warm.”

Like many mammals in the Maine wilderness, it was reported that Knight usually made an effort to put on weight in the fall so he would have to eat less in the winter.

“To have the foresight to do that is pretty unique, but not unheard of,” Douglas said. “When you live in the out of doors for a while, you slow down and your awareness goes beyond what you need in the moment and it becomes seasonal — so that makes sense.”

Another aspect of Knight that might cause people to question whether he truly lived for nearly three decades in the wilderness is his appearance. He doesn’t fit the typical depiction of a hermit — shabby, dirty, with long hair and a beard. Upon being caught, Knight was clean shaven, with short hair, glasses and clean clothing.

Douglas speculates that perhaps Knight had problems early on with mites, fleas and ticks, and therefore decided to shave. He also imagines Knight may have put efforts into his personal hygiene as a sort of “dual camouflage,” so he could blend into a town environment while breaking into buildings and camps for supplies.

“If he had gone just totally native, where he would make his own debris hut and get fire off the landscape, it would have taken him a little longer and he would have been more uncomfortable at first, but he could still be out there if he had just stayed away from people’s camps,” Douglas said. “His taking the convenient way out is what did him in.”

Hermit Arrest
Kennebec County Sheriff's Office

Christopher Knight was arrested April 4 and charged with stealing food from a camp in Rome. Authorities said Knight, known as the North Pond Hermit and who lived for 27 years in the woods of central Maine, may be responsible for more than 1,000 burglaries.

What do you think of this story?

Login to post comments

In order to make comments, you must create a subscription.

In order to comment on SunJournal.com, you must hold a valid subscription allowing access to this website. You must use your real name and include the town in which you live in your SunJournal.com profile. To subscribe or link your existing subscription click here.

Login or create an account here.

Our policy prohibits comments that are:

  • Defamatory, abusive, obscene, racist, or otherwise hateful
  • Excessively foul and/or vulgar
  • Inappropriately sexual
  • Baseless personal attacks or otherwise threatening
  • Contain illegal material, or material that infringes on the rights of others
  • Commercial postings attempting to sell a product/item
If you violate this policy, your comment will be removed and your account may be banned from posting comments.

Advertisement

Comments

Eric  LeBlanc's picture

I took this comment from a

I took this comment from a user on Yahoo named Cats Pajamas. Ithink it's spot on.

"Not everyone is capable of living in a 9-to-5 world, meeting societal expectations for appearance, social skills, cognitive skills, etc to be able to find stable employment.
In the past, they could have simply found a prosperous area in the wilds and set up shelter, hunting or farming as needed, trading with others, etc. Take care of themselves. Today, you can't set up shelter without owning the land. You can't own the land without paying property taxes. You can't build your shelter without permits and paying fees, and without establishing the proper utilities. Etc, etc. If you are unable to navigate society in a manner which will obtain stable employment, you're in serious trouble, since we do not allow you to take care of yourself without paying us in some way.
While some of us in society have tried to set up programs to help you, there are others who are constantly finding reasons to take those assistance programs away from you, or judge you on it, dictating what you should or shouldn't be capable of doing in society without actually knowing what you're capable of. When you fail to be able to perform within society's standards, they won't allow for you to actually be deficient in some way, they'll say you're just "being lazy". Mainly because it's easier for them to get on with their day, since they're doing just fine navigating the artificial system, often prospering from it.
It's not even "survival of the fittest", since, if it came right down to it, you might win against them as an individual in a fight to the death. But you're not fighting an individual. You're fighting a system. An artificial one, with overwhelming numbers of people behind it.
Hopefully, a day will come in which we support people like you without judgment. Without imprisoning you. Give you BACK the basic tools of nature that you need to survive - those tools we took away from everyone, hoarding them, only allowing people to survive when they do exactly what we tell them to, when they become societies slaves."

Steve  Dosh's picture

Eric? noon hst ? Hug a

Eric? noon hst ? Hug a child ? Today • /s, Dr. Dosh

Steve  Dosh's picture

How could a hermit hide in Maine woods for 27 years?

all 13.04.09 19:0 hst ?
. . Not all that strange ref : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoichi_Yokoi
Aloha from Pahoa ;)
/s, Steve

JOANNE MOORE's picture

Family?

He would have been 20 or so when he went "away". Didn't he have a family that might have missed him? Was there a report of a missing person back then? Lots of questions still unanswered.

Hope he gets gentle care and not locked up in some cell.

 's picture

I know what he did was wrong,

I know what he did was wrong, and looks like he does too, but deep inside I hope the judge shows leniency, his anti-socialist behavior could be best addressed by a psychologist and not by a jailer.

David Marsters's picture

The Hermit

I love this story. He will be able to survive in the event of a major nuclear explosion knocking out the power grid of the US. He should apply for SSI now.

 's picture

Just call him "Survivor Man"

Just call him "Survivor Man" of Maine :-P

Steve  Dosh's picture

Wanda Moore ? No0o•øOn - ish

Wanda Moore ? No0o•øOn - ish hst Thursday
Hahahah yeah, i know you get it •
Let's hope he was eating coy dogs and other feral animals such as pigs and chickens , moose , deer , antelope . .lol. . Here in Hawai'i we have mongeese . Hawai'ians call 'em ' squirrels.' We also have feral children . Adopt ? /s, Steve ;)

Advertisement

Stay informed — Get the news delivered for free in your inbox.

I'm interested in ...