April 11, 2013

Neighbor: Family believed 'North Pond Hermit' had run off to New York

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Robert Milliken talks about former neighbor Christopher Knight on Wednesday during an interview at Milliken's Albion farm.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Staff photo by Andy Molloy Game Wardens, State Police and Somerset County Sheriff's deputies hike into Christopher Knight's camp site in Rome Tuesday April 9, 2013. Police believe Knight, who went into the woods near Belgrade in 1986, was a hermit who committed hundreds of burglaries to sustain himself. The camp was located in a heavily wooded location.

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AUDIO: Hermit news conference
Audio from Hermit news conference at Dept. of Public of Safety in Augusta on April 10, 2013.
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Police detain hermit who lived in Maine woods for 27 years without human contact.

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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 burglary in mid-March spiked Hughes' determination. Working with U.S. Border Patrol in Rangeley, he set up surveillance equipment that would trigger an alarm at Hughes' nearby home if someone entered the Pine Tree Camp's dining hall after hours.

"I knew sooner or later he was going to trip that camera," Hughes said.

That moment came before dawn on April 4. Hughes said he got to the camp within minutes and watched from outside as Knight went through the kitchen collecting food items.

Hughes said he knew it was the hermit.

"Hopefully, this will bring some comfort to people who live on the lake," he said Wednesday.

Perkins-Vance said Knight told her that he went into the woods in the year the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident occurred in the Soviet Union – 1986. He moved around a while before setting up the permanent camp in rural Rome in the early 1990s, she said.

After his arrest, Knight led the trooper and the warden to his campsite, where batteries littered the ground and a propane tank was hooked up to a cookstove.

At the news conference, Hughes said officials were initially skeptical of Knight's claim that he had lived outdoors and spoken only once to another person – a passing hiker in the 1990s.

"It's surreal. He's surreal," said Perkins-Vance.

But a closer look at the well-concealed camp, where trees had grown around embedded ropes, backed up his story.

"You could be 100 feet away, and you would never know the suspect lived there," Hughes said. "There's no doubt in my mind he's lived out there the entire time."

They said Knight was clean-shaven, had short hair and was "decently manicured," wearing clothes he had stolen over the years.

Knight reportedly told authorities that his only possession that wasn't stolen was a pair of aviator-style eyeglasses that he has owned since his teens.

Hughes said Knight told him he spent his days reading books he had stolen and meditating at his well-camouflaged campsite, sitting on a bucket, looking into the sky and watching eagles.

"He had a pretty extensive knowledge of his surroundings," Hughes said.

CAMPS WERE 'SOFT TARGETS'

Wardens who did an initial survey of the campsite found an area that Knight had used as a bathroom and another area where he had buried garbage, Hughes said.

Knight told them he weathered Maine winters without heat by using multiple sleeping bags. He told them that he left his encampment only at night, which was when he burglarized the camps.

"He didn't have any indication of living off the land," Hughes said. A fishing pole was found at the campsite, but Knight told him he didn't hunt or fish.

"He said it was easy to obtain food from 'soft targets.' That meant camps."

Knight stepped on roots, stumps and rocks to avoid leaving tracks, and he didn't break into camps in the winter, when someone could track his footsteps in the snow, they said.

A black-and-white image of Knight – then an unknown suspect – was caught on film by a game camera last year. The image gained him the nickname "backpack burglar."

At that point, authorities published the photo and believed his capture was imminent, but no one called to identify the man.

(Continued on page 3)

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Additional Photos

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Warden Service Sgt. Terry Hughes, left, and State Police Trooper Diane Perkins-Vance talk about capturing Christopher Knight -- known as the "North Pond Hermit — during a news conference on Wednesday in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Warden Service Sgt. Terry Hughes, left, and State Police Trooper Diane Perkins-Vance talk about capturing Christopher Knight during a news conference on Wednesdayin Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Christopher T. Knight

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Staff photo by Andy Molloy District Game Warden Aaron Cross inspects Christopher Knight's camp Tuesday April 9, 2013 in a remote, wooded section of Rome. Police believe Knight, who went into the woods near Belgrade in 1986, was a hermit who committed hundreds of burglaries to sustain himself.

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Staff photo by Andy Molloy Somerset County Sheriff's Office Cpl. Gene Cole, left, helps Maine State Police Trooper Diane Vance inventory money recovered from Christopher Knight Tuesday April 9, 2013 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, Vance said, and were never circulated by Knight.

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Staff photo by Andy Molloy Tools recovered in a bag that Christopher Knight was carrying when he was apprehended at Pine Tree Camp in Rome Tuesday April 9, 2013. Knight, a hermit who lived in the woods since April 1986, apparently utilized the tools to break into several dozen camps in the Belgrade area, according to police.

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Staff photo by Andy Molloy Pine Tree Camp facility manager Harvey Chesley inspects a door that Christopher Knight alleged broke open in the dining lodge at the Rome camp Tuesday April 9, 2013. Knight, a hermit who lived in the woods since April 1986, was arrested in after breaking into the lodge on April 4, according to Warden Service Sgt. Terry Hughes.

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Staff photo by Andy Molloy Christopher Knight was apprehended at Pine Tree Camp in Rome carrying candy, potato chips, ball cap, poncho and a wrist watch that were all stolen from the camp, according to police. On Tuesday April 9, 2013 police inventoried the items that Knight, a hermit who lived in the woods since April 1986, was carrying when he was arrested on April 4.

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Staff photo by Andy Molloy Game Wardens and State Police get global positioning coordinates before hiking into Christopher Knight's camp in Rome Tuesday April 9, 2013. Police believe Knight, who went into the woods near Belgrade in 1986, was a hermit who committed hundreds of burglaries to sustain himself. His camp is located in a heavily wooded location.

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Staff photo by Andy Molloy Christopher Knight's camp site 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 April 9, 2013. Police believe Knight, who went into the woods near Belgrade in 1986, was a hermit who committed hundreds of burglaries to sustain himself.

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Staff photo by Andy Molloy Game Warden Aaron Cross photographs Christopher Knight's camp Tuesday April 9, 2013 located in a remote wooded section of Rome. Police believe Knight, who went into the woods near Belgrade in 1986, was a hermit who committed hundreds of burglaries to sustain himself.

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Staff photo by Andy Molloy Game Warden Sgt. Terry Hughes, right, Maine State Police Trooper Diane Vance, center, and Somerset County Deputy Jeremy Leal Tuesday April 9, 2013 inspect Christopher Knight's camp in a remote, wooded section of Rome. Police believe Knight, who went into the woods near Belgrade in 1986, was a hermit who committed hundreds of burglaries to sustain himself.

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Staff photo by Andy Molloy Game Warden Sgt. Terry Hughes, right and District Warden Dave Ross inspect Christopher Knight's camp Tuesday April 9, 2013 in a remote, wooded section of Rome. Police believe Knight, who went into the woods near Belgrade in 1986, was a hermit who committed hundreds of burglaries to sustain himself.

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Staff photo by Andy Molloy Christopher Knight's camp on Tuesday April 9, 2013 in a remote, wooded section of Rome. Police believe Knight, who went into the woods near Belgrade in 1986, was a hermit who committed hundreds of burglaries to sustain himself. Knight kept camping supplies and a tent beneath a brown tarp where he lived, police say.

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Staff photo by Andy Molloy A television found at Christopher Knight's camp on Tuesday April 9, 2013 in a remote, wooded section of Rome. Police believe Knight, who went into the woods near Belgrade in 1986, was a hermit who committed hundreds of burglaries to sustain himself.

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Staff photo by Andy Molloy Christopher Knight's camp Tuesday April 9, 2013 in a remote, wooded section of Rome. Police believe Knight, who went into the woods near Belgrade in 1986, was a hermit who committed hundreds of burglaries to sustain himself.

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Staff photo by Andy Molloy District Game Warden Aaron Cross exits Christopher Knight's camp Tuesday April 9, 2013 in a remote, wooded section of Rome after police inspected the site where Knight is believed to have lived since the 1990s. Police believe Knight, who went into the woods near Belgrade in 1986, was a hermit who committed hundreds of burglaries to sustain himself.

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Staff photo by Andy Molloy Coffee cups, lights and a clock hang under a tarp in Christopher Knight's camp Tuesday April 9, 2013 in a remote, wooded section of Rome after police inspected the site where Knight is believed to have lived since the 1990s. Police believe Knight, who went into the woods near Belgrade in 1986, was a hermit who committed hundreds of burglaries to sustain himself. Knight apparently cooked meals with propane he stole, police claim.



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