April 13, 2013

For victims of the North Pond Hermit, anger mixes with sympathy

Camp owners say the most valuable thing that the suspected burglar stole was their privacy.

By BETTY ADAMS Kennebec Journal

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Coffee cups, lights and a clock hang under a tarp in Christopher Knight’s camp in a remote, wooded section of Rome where he is thought to have lived since the 1990s. Police believe Knight, who went into the woods near Belgrade in 1986, committed hundreds of burglaries.

Andy Malloy/Kennebec Journal

click image to enlarge

An intruder believed to be Christopher T. Knight inspects a refrigerator in a Rome-area camp.

Photo courtesy Debbie Baker

"One year we came back and after being in the house several days went into our spare bedroom," she said.

"The mattress was gone, and we had no idea he had been in there. One time he took a new pair of jeans and a new belt my husband had just bought and left on the bed."

She said other camp owners feared getting hit by the hermit burglar.

"It's one thing to say someone came in and stole $100 or $50 or just cleaned out the refrigerator. The other thing is you're having someone watching the residence and coming in, and you don't know what would happen if at one point you were confronted."

Neal Patterson of Waterville, who bought his parents' North Pond camp years ago, said he has mixed reactions to Knight's arrest.

"This is really a fascinating case. It's something I've thought about for many years," Patterson said.

He recalled an incident 23 years ago, when his son was 10, in which a burglar took his full dresser-drawer supply of candy. "He took it all," Patterson said. "My son never forgot that."

"Over the years, I was pretty angry about him getting into my place," he said. The family lost frying pans and flashlights, and Patterson said he probably spent more money beefing up the camp's security than the stolen items were worth.

Patterson said he's no longer seeking punishment after reading that Knight apparently suffers from diabetes and poor eyesight and has traded a life of some tranquility for a busy, noisy jail.

"I have mixed feelings about him. He lives close to nature as a somewhat distorted version of Henry David Thoreau. This hermit was a real naturalist. He walked in the woods; he lived in the woods. I admire kind of his free lifestyle. Of course, he was wrong to steal from people, especially from Pine Tree Camp. It's too bad he didn't find an alternate way of feeding himself."

PRIVACY STOLEN

Dwight Allison of Rye, N.H., and Rome, said his family bought its camp in December 1986, and his wife's family has owned camps there since 1935.

"Every one of them has been broken into multiple times through the years," Allison said. "It happened to us routinely until 2000. We rebuilt our camp and put hermit-proof windows and doors in; we specifically did stuff to prevent break-ins."

When another incident occurred last spring, he said his wife was convinced it was the same burglar.

"I couldn't imagine how someone could do that for so long," Allison said. "We are glad to see that he's caught. It will be nice not to expect to have multiple break-ins all the time."

Garry Hollands of Boylston, Mass., built his family's cabin on Little North Pond in 1987, losing five L.L. Bean down sleeping bags to a thief that year.

He saw them again a decade later, inside a ravine cave.

"In the dugout, he had a library of books, many of them mine," Hollands said. "His dugout was pretty neat, actually; you couldn't see it until you were right on top of it. He had 20-pound propane bottles rigged in series and had a propane light and stove and all kinds of other stuff."

Hollands said the effect of the repeat burglaries was more insidious than the nuisance created by the items stolen.

"The thing that he took that was of most value was your privacy. You no longer had control of your home," Hollands said, adding that he eventually took to bringing a shotgun with him when he was heading to camp alone.

"He took away your sense of security, your sense of freedom. You didn't feel comfortable walking in the woods at night. Here we're having campfires at night with the kids, and there's some creep out there in the woods sneaking up on you."

(Continued on page 3)

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