Thursday, December 5, 2013
By AMY CALDER Morning Sentinel
ROME – Dave and Louise Proulx's seasonal camp on North Pond was burglarized so many times that they began to predict what would be stolen and what would be spared.
The North Pond Hermit’s campsite, in a remote stand of woods in Rome, was dismantled Thursday by law enforcement officials, who removed two pickup-truck loads of materials.
Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal
Christopher Knight's camp was located on North Pond in Rome, not far from Route 137.
Staff graphic by Sharon Wood
They attributed the break-ins to the elusive North Pond Hermit, the legendary burglar whose likes and dislikes they learned to decipher over 20 years.
"We always had big jars of peanut butter, and every now and then one would be gone," said Louise Proulx, 65. "I don't think he liked tuna fish, because I don't ever remember any tuna fish being gone."
The couple kept a milk bottle full of coins on a counter, but didn't worry about it because the hermit never took money. "He never, ever touched a cent," she said.
Dave Proulx, 64, said their camp was burglarized more than 15 times. Everything from a battery-operated TV to pots and pans and cooking utensils was stolen.
"You name it. He's taken food, batteries. He took a boat battery," he said. "He took flashlight batteries but didn't take the flashlight. He didn't like it because it was yellow."
The Proulxs talked about the hermit Thursday at the Pine Tree Camp on North Pond as law enforcement officers dismantled the wilderness campsite they say Christopher T. Knight made his home for more than 20 years while committing more than 1,000 burglaries in central Maine.
Although authorities initially said the hermit stole mainly food and supplies for survival, a new picture of the burglar emerged as evidence from the encampment was displayed in public.
Police deposited the items on the camp dining hall's floor: a box of watches, an old-fashioned aluminum coffee pot, a high-end L.L. Bean sleeping bag, shovels, rakes, a backpack, tents, plastic storage containers, tarps, toilet paper and many other items concealed in trash cans.
There were several Nintendo Game Boys and valuable items such as jewelry.
Thursday morning, the Proulxs and about two dozen journalists, seasonal camp owners and Pine Tree Camp employees were bused about a mile and then hiked a muddy, rutted woods road to the edge of Knight's campsite.
Sgt. Terry Hughes of the Maine Warden Service led the group. Hughes arrested Knight on April 4, saying Knight triggered a surveillance sensor as he tried to steal food from the Pine Tree Camp, which serves children and adults with disabilities.
The Kennebec Journal first reported Knight's arrest Tuesday night, drawing worldwide media attention to the case.
Journalists had been invited to watch the camp's dismantling, but at the last minute police said the landowner, who lives in Rome, had had a change of heart and wanted only law enforcement officials there.
"He has a right to control access to his property," state police Sgt. Peter Michaud said just feet from Knight's camp.
Records at the Rome Town Office list Lisa Anne Fitzgerald and Ronald K. Fitzgerald as the owners of the wooded property, where it appears Knight lived since at least 1990. The Fitzgeralds bought the land in 2003, according to the records. Tax bills are sent to them via a post office box in Harpswell, but no phone number was available.
'I KIND OF FELT BAD FOR HIM'
Before taking the hike Thursday, the Proulxs said they were eager to see whether any of their belongings were at the campsite.
"I want to see if he's got my frying pan," David Proulx said. "I want to see if the TV is mine, and he stole utensils and stuff."
As the group returned through the woods to be bused back to the Pine Tree Camp, law enforcement officials dismantled the encampment, hauling away two pickup-truck loads of items.
"Oh, well," David Proulx said. "We'll see the stuff at some point in time."
Louise Proulx said the hermit stole lots of chicken and other food, as well as beer. He took Budweiser, but not Miller Lite.
The Proulxs, who live in Waterville, have summered on North Pond for many years. David Proulx said he surmised that the hermit was a Vietnam veteran, but there is no evidence Knight was ever in the military. Police believe he went into the woods in 1986, soon after graduating from high school.
"I kind of felt bad for him," David Proulx said. "I even left him a note that said, 'Tell me what you need.' I left a note on the door: 'Do not break the door; the door is unlocked.'"
As the years went by, Proulx felt that he knew the hermit by nature of his habits, if nothing else.
Neighbors would sit by an outdoor fire at night and discuss the hermit and how to catch him, Proulx said.
"I chased him one night," he said. "I stayed and hid in my truck, but around 2 a.m. I had given up and went to bed. I heard a noise and saw a canoe tied to the dock. He was coming up my stairway. I didn't have any clothes on, but I opened the door and hollered and called him every name I could think of and chased him, and he got in the canoe and left."
Many people became obsessed with the hermit, he said. One time, he and a friend were out in a boat and saw a man with a long beard sitting in a canoe. Thinking he was the hermit, they circled around the canoe and questioned the man, who said he was going to visit a certain family on the pond.
"We were getting paranoid. Everybody's the hermit," he said. "That's what happens when it keeps going and going and going. People get weird. We start acting like him, thinking like him, or we try to. It's kind of scary."
The hermit was savvy. Proulx thinks he knew every camp on the pond, and knew camp owners' patterns and when they would be away.
"I was the first one to put my dock in, and as soon as I did, he knew I had food there," David Proulx said.
The hermit would steal meat, but only if the original packaging had not been removed.
"Let's say we bought meat from Joseph's Market (in Waterville)," Dave Proulx said. "If it was still wrapped, he'd steal it. If it was unwrapped, he'd never touch it. He'd figure we put something in it, to contaminate or poison it. He wasn't stupid."
STOLEN ITEMS RETRIEVED
Maine State Police, game wardens and a Somerset County sheriff's official packed the contents of Knight's campsite into trash cans Thursday and drove them to the Pine Tree Camp.
"There's absolutely nothing in (the campsite) now other than some discarded garbage," said state Trooper Diane Perkins-Vance, the primary investigator in the case.
"We're going to need some help, having the homeowners identify" the many items, she said. "There's still a lot to do."
Hughes, from the warden service, said there are many victims. He said he hopes that television reports of the thefts will prompt people who have been burglarized to call and report the items stolen.
Authorities recovered no books -- though Knight reportedly claimed to have stolen some to read -- but Knight did have magazines, including copies of People and National Geographic.
When they dismantled his tent, there was a rug under it, and under the rug were magazines that cushioned the rug, said Perkins-Vance.
"I saw one dated back to August 1990," she said.
There was also an old TV that didn't work. It was found in the camp's trash heap, police said.
Knight had a primitive, makeshift bathroom that included logs on the ground and a wash area where laundry detergent and shampoo were placed. Police said he had nice clothes. Hughes said Knight even had a camel hair jacket.
"He had at his disposal the ability to get into a camp and take high-quality items and make them his own," he said.
ARREST MARKS END OF AN ERA
Harvey Chesley, the Pine Tree Camp's facilities manager, said he recognized stolen trash cans as belonging to the camp.
Over the years, the hermit stole many items from the camp, including all-terrain vehicle batteries, food, paper towels, toilet paper and anything battery-operated, he said.
"His favorite target was the food storage building," Chesley said. "Frozen food was a good target."
Camp maintenance director Steve Treadwell said Knight was particular and "wouldn't take the veggie lasagna."
Chelsey said the hermit would take a canoe, use it to ferry propane tanks across the lake, then return the canoe.
Jodie Mosher-Towle, who writes the North Pond Association newsletter, said the hermit has been a topic of discussion at annual association meetings for years. The association has about 125 members.
Association member Linda Rice said Knight's arrest marks the end of an era.
"It's kind of sad, in a way, but he's a human being. He has to take responsibility," she said.
Chelsey's daughter, Danielle Chesley, 21, has worked at the Pine Tree Camp all her life. She grew up hearing about the hermit. She said that when she saw photos of him after his arrest, he didn't look at all like she had envisioned him.
"I pictured him with a beard down to his belly button," she said. "He was a lot more nourished than I thought he would be."
Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Betty Adams and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at: