BELGRADE — Folk heroes often begin life as normal people, going through the motions of everyday life, but then are transformed into something extraordinary.
They become legends.
That begs the question: Is the North Pond Hermit a folk hero?
Though the subject material is five years old, dozens packed the one-room Belgrade Public Library on Wednesday night to hear the legend of Christopher Knight, the North Pond Hermit, who plagued the region unseen for 27 years. He burglarized local camps nearly 1,000 times.
Knight is the subject of a New York Times best-selling book, “The Stranger in the Woods,” by Michael Finkle.
As for his folk hero status, District Attorney Meaghan Maloney, who prosecuted Knight’s case, said many people fantasize about leaving everything behind and heading into the woods.
Maloney, who was only four months into her position when Knight was caught, said most of Knight’s burglary cases were committed long before the statute of limitations ran out on them. However, instead of throwing the book at him and trying to lock him up for his entire life, Maloney said, “I became convinced I could rehabilitate Christopher Knight.”
Game Warden Terry Hughes found Knight in 2013 after setting up cameras at Pine Tree Camp, the Pine Tree Society’s summer camp for children with physical disabilities, where Knight stole food and other items over the years.
Hughes recounted how after Knight was caught, which required technological help from the U.S. Border Patrol, he walked Knight back out to his compound in the middle of the woods. Hughes said he initially thought Knight had a military background because of how stealthy he was. He was able to leave no visible trace of himself behind.
“He had no military training, but he had military written all over him,” Hughes said of Knight’s ability to survive.
Knight would not venture out in the winter and would not rob the home that stood on the land he was squatting on, Hughes said. He wouldn’t fish or hunt. He would steal only from the homes and camps where he thought he wouldn’t get caught.
If Hughes took the dozens of people at the library Wednesday night out to within 100 yards of Knight’s camp, they wouldn’t even know what they were looking at, the warden said.
Knight was a methodical person, Hughes said, even though he didn’t particularly like Hughes. However, Knight cooperated after being captured and admitted to burglarizing the camps he had entered. As the story goes, he entered a camp with someone in it only once.
Maloney said Knight was adamant about staying away from other people.
Hughes said that in his entire time in the woods, Knight said he spoke with only one person.
Once Hughes came upon the camp, he knew the story was true. He saw decades’ worth of trash, tents hidden behind boulders, decades’ worth of propane tanks. Ropes hung around trees and the trees had grown around the ropes.
One of the reasons Knight was able to live out in the woods so long was that the homeowner was not active on the land, Hughes said. She had gotten the land in a divorce settlement and didn’t use it for timber.
Hughes said he has heard from Finkle, and that the story of the North Pond Hermit is being optioned in Hollywood to be made into a movie.
Now out of prison, Knight largely keeps to himself and has spurned media contact except for participating in Finkle’s book.
Christopher Knight, center, sits silently during his graduation from the Co-Occurring Disorders Court in Augusta in March 2015. Known as the North Pond Hermit, Knight spent seven months in jail followed by 17 months in the special court program. (Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file photo)
District Game Warden Aaron Cross inspects Christopher Knight’s camp April 9, 2013, in a remote, wooded section of Rome. Knight, who went into the woods near Belgrade in 1986, was a hermit who committed hundreds of burglaries to sustain himself. (Andy Molloy, Kennebec Journal file photo)