Nearly a quarter-million dollars donated and set aside for Canterbury squatter David Lidstone to buy property of his own are now in the hands of River Dave himself, after the trust that held the funds was dissolved at the end of March.
The trust held more than $200,000 in donations given to Lidstone last year and had stipulations on how the money could be spent. Last week, the trustees closed the account at Merrimack County Savings Bank, trustee Jodie Gedeon said. Lidstone picked up the check on Monday.
The 82-year-old hermit entered the limelight last summer when he was arrested for remaining on the Canterbury woodlot owned by Vermont landowner Leonard Giles, a spot along the Merrimack River where Lidstone has made his home for over two decades.
While he was in jail, the cabin Lidstone had built suddenly burnt to the ground. The blaze was discovered hours after one of Giles’ family members was at the site dismantling the structure. Fire officials said it was accidental.
Donations poured in from people who read about Lidstone’s story and off-the-grid lifestyle. Billionaire Alexander Karp, founder of Palantir Technologies and a Grafton County resident, contributed $180,000.
Those funds and other donations were placed into a trust, overseen by three trustees chosen by Lidstone. The money was designed to be used for his well-being, including paying for medical costs, living expenses and a new place to live, according to Gedeon.
Gedeon said the decision to dissolve the trust came after heated disagreements with Lidstone over access to the funds and how the money could be used. She said Lidstone tried to withdraw $30,000 from the account in late March, telling trustees he wanted to buy a truck for his son. “We tried to follow the rules of the trust,” she said.
A voice message left for Lidstone was not returned Friday.
Although much of the media sparked sympathy for the elderly former logger, a Bangor Daily News story from December painted a more complex picture of Lidstone, who is estranged from his wife and some of his children.
“In our last conversation, he was very vulgar and disrespectful,” said Gedeon, who once picked up Lidstone when he was released from jail. “It’s not the David that I know.”
Accusations have flown about access to the money and the trustees’ motivations on a Facebook group supportive of River Dave in recent weeks. The group was closed by a page administrator on April 5, pausing further activity.
“Anytime money gets involved, it gets convoluted,” Lidstone’s neighbor Bob Albini said Friday. “That was never Dave’s thing, he never asked for a dime. All of sudden that’s what everyone’s concerned about.”
Lidstone returned to the site during the winter and was arrested again. In March, he was arraigned for a misdemeanor criminal trespass charge.
Albini called the situation “heartbreaking,” and said it was sad that Lidstone had been living in a tarp-covered woodshed next to the ashes of his cabin during the coldest months of the year.
“I hope he takes the money and runs,” he said.
Gedeon said that before closing the account, trustees attempted to contact Karp and a legal representative for the billionaire acquiesced to handing the money over to Lidstone directly.
“We were done with the whole conflict and the fighting and the negativity and we just wanted to put it behind us,” she said. “I feel like we did the right thing.”
At a civil contempt hearing on March 31, Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Andrew Schulman ruled that Lidstone will be fined $500 for each day he remains on the land beginning April 11. Those fines will go to Giles, who has spent more than $390,000 on the case since 2016, according to court documents.
“I’d like to see the happy ending, that he did find something and a good place to live,” Gedeon said. “That’s what I would like to see.”
This article appears in coordination with the Concord Monitor.