The following story is updated from a story that ran in the BDN on April 11, 2013.
ROME, Maine — Kitchen gadgets, Old Spice deodorant, an L.L. Bean sleeping bag and handheld electronics were hauled out of the woods on April 11, 2013, as law enforcement dismantled the camp of Christopher Knight, a man known by local residents as the North Pond Hermit.
The hermit wasn’t just a legend. He was real. And he had been discovered.
After living, by choice, alone in the woods by scenic North Pond for 27 years, it was time for Knight, 47, to rejoin society, whether he wanted to or not.
Bins holding the contents of his camp were piled in the middle of Pine Tree Camp’s dining hall in Rome, and reporters gathered around, seeking answers from the common household objects — a coffee mug, roll of paper towels, colander and cooking pot.
Look but don’t touch — those were the instructions. The items from Knight’s camp were evidence of more than 1,000 burglaries Knight had allegedly conducted to survive for more than a quarter-century in the woods.
That day, members of the media had been invited to visit the site of Knight’s camp. National and local media outlets had gathered in the small central Maine town for the opportunity to report on the remarkable story. But at the last minute, all media personnel were ordered by police to leave the property and wait back at Pine Tree Camp for law enforcement to dismantle Knight’s camp.
Maine State Police Sgt. Peter Michaud stopped the group of media, neighbors and the law enforcement officials leading the “tour,” saying the property owner had revoked permission to allow anyone other than law enforcement officials on the land.
One reporter asked Michaud whether the group would be arrested if it didn’t leave.
“You can answer that question for yourself,” Michaud said.
The woman who owns the property where Knight’s alleged campsite is located originally had given consent to allow media and others on the property, Maine State Police spokesman Stephen McCausland said, but she revoked that consent after the group already was in the woods.
Police remained on site, continuing their investigation and disassembling the camp — tarps sheltering a tent and cook area, surrounded by plastic bins, trash cans, batteries and propane tanks.
“He obviously took time and chose a location that would be undetected,” Sgt. Terry Hughes of the Maine Warden Service said. “So you could walk through the woods and come within a hundred feet of it and not even realize he lived right there, right on the other side of a few rocks.”
Hughes described the campsite as sheltered by a thick patch of old hemlocks and boulders and that it was located on the side of a ridge that sheltered Knight from the north wind, as well as concealed him from hunters and roaming hikers.
Two hours after the media was asked to leave the property, law enforcement transported the contents of Knight’s camp in a caravan of pickup trucks to the nearby Pine Tree Camp, where the items were catalogued as evidence.
Though the trash cans and plastic tubs weren’t opened while media was present, Maine State Police Trooper Diane Perkins-Vance and Hughes relayed that they were filled with a variety of items, from “everything you’d find in a kitchen” to handheld Game Boys and games.
An L.L. Bean sleeping bag was stuffed in one of the many metal trash cans, as well as a disassembled tent, in which Knight slept on a mattress that he told police he took from Pine Tree Camps and transported in a boat.
“He did admit to using a canoe or a boat from time to time, but he’d always return it,” Hughes said.
Various items could be seen through some of the clear plastic totes, including multiple watches, sneaker balls, antacid tablets, toilet paper and matches.
While previous reports state that Knight spent much of his time reading, few books were found. Instead, investigators found stacks of magazines, such as “National Geographic” and “People.” In fact, Knight appears to have used magazines as cushioning and insulation under his sleeping area. Police found a collection of magazines, some dating back to 1990, under the rug that his tent was set up on.
One of the oddest discoveries at the campsite was the effort Knight put into obtaining reception for an old television, which no longer works, and radio. Police were in awe when they noticed an antenna secured to a tree about 25 to 30 feet off the ground. In order to place the antenna that high, it appears that Knight cut down the tree, fastened the antenna to the trunk, then stood the tree back up and roped it to another tree.
Hughes described Knight’s makeshift bathroom as “nothing elaborate” — just a few logs located in a private spot a short distance from the site.
Knight’s food supply was running low, Hughes said, but it appears he carefully stored all the food in bins and coolers surrounded by mouse traps.
“There’s no question he took care of his stuff,” Vance said, noting that Knight possessed a number of cleaning supplies, such as laundry detergent, soap and a razor. He hung washed clothing on lines strung throughout the site.
“I think what it amounts to is that he had at his disposal the ability to take new tents, new sleeping bags, mattresses,” Hughes said. “The clothing he was wearing was very new — brand new work gloves, new shoes. He told me he rotates his tent, but then again he can find a new one in a garage or in a camp across the lake.”
Owners of nearby camps and homes lingered at Pine Tree Camp that day, eager to see if they could identify any of the items hauled out of Knight’s encampment.
“I want to see if I can identify any of my stuff,” said David Proulx, whose camp on North Pond has been broken into numerous times over the years. “Not that it would be any good anymore but just for fun.”
“After a while, it became pretty regular,” Proulx said of the many burglaries reported by landowners on North Pond. “We knew when he was going to hit — in the early spring or the fall … people started carrying guns in their camps, baseball bats.”
Proulx believes he may be one of the only people who came face-to-face with Knight over the past 27 years. Seven or eight years ago, Proulx woke up at 2 a.m. to a banging outside, he said.
“I flipped on the floodlight, and he was halfway up the steps coming to my camp,” Proulx said, describing the man as having “a scraggly black beard.”
Proulx remembers rushing outside and yelling at the man as he ran away and climbed into a canoe.
“He never said a word,” Proulx said and then chuckled. “I probably didn’t give him a chance to say much. I was pretty upset.”
The campsite, home to Knight since 1989, is completely dismantled. All that remains is bits of trash, much of which Knight buried, Perkins-Vance said. Knight originally went into the woods in 1986, but told law enforcement officials he moved his “residence” once.
Knight was caught by law enforcement while breaking into Pine Tree Camps for supplies on April 4, 2013. He later pleaded guilty to 13 counts of burglary and theft that October and spent 7 months in jail as part of a plea agreement. Also as a part of that agreement, he was accepted into the Co-Occurring Disorders Court, a special court program aimed at helping people with mental health and substance abuse problem.
On May 4, 2013, about 40 camp owners from the North Pond area gathered at Maine State Police Troop C barracks, where the items from Knight’s camp had been stored, according to a BDN story that ran that day. The camp owners were required to give specific details about the items they believe Knight stole, then Vance went into the storage room and returned with the item or items. But according to a story that ran in the BDN that day, most of the camp owners didn’t want their items back.
In an interview this week, Vance recalled that the supplies Knight stole were mostly practical items, including a bin full of flashlights. The case from four years ago will likely go down as the most high profile case of her career.
“It was a big case. It had a lot of media attention worldwide,” Vance said.
Then, after a pause, she added, “It was an unique case.”