Saturday, March 8, 2014
By Betty Adams firstname.lastname@example.org
ROME — A trek to a site believed to be one the former hideouts of the North Pond Hermit was part of the regular tour offered to friends and family visiting Garry and Brenda Hollands' cabin on Little North Pond.
Garrett Hollands said a shelter, at left, in Rome was discovered in the late 1980s. A wooden framed bunker excavated into the side of a hill contained books, a bed frame, cooking material and propane tanks behind a sliding glass window entrance, according to Hollands. Remnants of glass and metal were still apparent when Holland led his family to the site on July 3.
Andy Molloy / Staff Photographer
A metal bed frame in the collapsed shelter in Rome that Garrett Hollands was discovered in the late 1980s. Wednesday July 3
Andy Molloy / Staff Photographer
Their daughter, Betsy, now 27, remembers going every year.
"Dad never made it creepy," Betsy Hollands said. "He'd say, 'Let's go look at this guy.' We'd always go hiking to see the place. Seeing the books, the bed, it was a novelty."
Betsy's friends, who remembered hiking to the site with her many times, sent her messages via Facebook after they read news stories following the April 4 arrest of Christopher T. Knight, the man accused of being the hermit.
Knight, 47, faces two counts of burglary and theft related to recent break-ins at Pine Tree Camp and a private camp in Rome. However, he told authorities he lived in a makeshift camp in the woods in Rome for nearly three decades, stealing from various camps everything he needed to survive while avoiding contact with anyone. The campsite he had at the time of his arrest was also in Rome, but in a different area.
A court-ordered psychological evaluation of Knight by the State Forensic Service has been completed.
Knight was scheduled for a hearing Tuesday in Kennebec County Superior Court. However, the case was continued.
His attorney, Walter McKee, said Tuesday that he is in discussions with the district attorney's office to try to resolve the case without going to trial. In the meantime, Knight remains In Kennebec County jail.
He liked the classics
This year -- despite the fact that the alleged hermit is behind bars -- the Hollands' trek took place as usual.
The hike through some dense, tick-laden woods and briefly along an old clear-cut ended at a tall riverbank of dark soil.
A stream rippled and gurgled as it ran down a hill among boulders and stones.
Garry Hollands, a geologist whose permanent home is Boylston, Mass., bent down to point out a decomposing wooden board that had once been a bookshelf.
"Somebody was an active burglar in the late 1980s," Hollands said. "I know he was here stealing my stuff when construction was going on." It's the same site where Hollands found the paperbacks that had disappeared from his camp.
The hermit liked the classics, including "Ulysses" and military histories. There was no pornography, no booze.
"He may have taken stuff later," Hollands said. "He did a great job of hiding things."
Maine State Trooper Diane Perkins-Vance, who arrested Knight and is the lead investigator in the case, said Monday the site visited by the Hollands family could have been Knight's.
"It's quite plausible because he moved around in the early years," she said. Knight was arrested leaving Pine Tree Camp, a camp for disabled children and adults, his backpack and a duffle bag laden with food and other items from the camp.
The site he led investigators to in April had been his base since the early 1990s.
At the earlier campsite visited by the Hollands, a rusted set of bed springs was on the ground.
"This wasn't a hole in the ground caused by some other things," Hollands said. "He was sleeping there. He could lay in there, but he could not stand up."
Hollands also said the site had 20-pound propane gas cans connected in series.
"I don't know if he used it to cook with or not, but it looked like he used it for heating," Hollands said. "He liked to be near water."
Triangular shards of glass littered the ground in front of what had once been a small dugout in the hillside, but had mostly caved in. The cave once had a sliding glass window covering the entry hole.
"When I saw it the first time, it was pretty much intact," Hollands said. "But the window had been broken."
Hollands theorized it was a temporary, rather than a permanent camp.
"He may have built a number he could use if he needed to. I think he had more than one of those to go to. He had to pick up a 20-pound gas can and carry it somewhere in the dark," Hollands said. "You'd have to have way stations."
Across the stream, the base of a propane-fueled grill was upended among the leaves. More of the Charette Gas Grill was closer to the cave. Advertisements for similar grills date to 1976.
"It seemed clear to me that he existed," said David Smith of Wayne, Pa., who went on the 2013 pilgrimage and who has been visiting the Hollands, his in-laws, since 1988. The hike to the site is usually around the Fourth of July holiday.
Trouble from the start
The Hollands' trouble with a burglar began in 1989, as they were building their cabin by lake.
"Once the roof was up, we would bring the family up," Garry Hollands said. They slept in sleeping bags, leaving them at the Rome site while they went back and forth to their Massachusetts home.
Then one day, two of the L.L. Bean down sleeping bags were missing. "We feel we don't have to put all those other locks on windows so I can just open and close them without going through all those different steps," Brenda Hollands said.
She thought at the time that they must have taken them home. But then they weren't at home either. Then a Coleman stove disappeared. Then batteries from a flashlight. Then a set of pots and pans.
Then they talked to Bob Moreau, a longtime Rome resident and selectman. "There's somebody in the woods," he told them.
When the Hollands found sand in their bedroom they realized the intruder was getting in a window.
Brenda Hollands said she initially believed their home was less a target for burglary because of the new construction, with sturdy new windows. But the realization that someone had gotten in easily shook her. So the Hollands put extra screws and locks on all the windows and extra locks on the entry door.
"You just don't want someone coming in the house," Brenda Hollands said. Today, they have an alarm system.
Their boat was vulnerable as well. Four marine batteries were taken over the years, two each time.
A year or so later after some of the thefts, Garry Hollands said he learned hunters found the campsite they believed was being used by the burglar, and they destroyed it. That was when he went to visit it.
"When I first saw it, there were things scattered all over the place," Hollands said.
This year, their sojourns in Maine have a more restful atmosphere.
"First of all, we don't have to triple lock all of our windows and doors," Garry Hollands said. "You don't have that feeling that somebody is sneaking around and you don't know who that person is or what they're up to and whether they're dangerous or not."
Betty Adams -- 621-5631
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The overturned lid of a gas grill is covered in leaves in the collapse shelter in Rome that Garrett Hollands said was discovered in the late 1980s. Wednesday July 3
Andy Molloy / Staff Photographer