With an expert twist of a screwdriver, he popped open a door of the dining hall and slipped inside, scanning the pantry shelves with his penlight. Always good. Ten rolls of Smarties, stuffed in a pocket. Then, into his backpack, a bag of marshmallows, two tubs of ground coffee, some Humpty Dumpty potato chips. Burgers and bacon were in the locked freezer. The key was attached to a plastic four-leaf-clover key chain, with one of the leaves partially broken off.
A three-and-a-half-leaf clover. Newly installed in the Pine Tree kitchen, hidden behind the ice machine, was a military-grade motion detector. Hughes lived a mile away. He raced to the camp in his pickup truck and sprinted to the rear of the dining hall.
He peeked in a window. And there he was. The person stealing food appeared entirely too clean, his face freshly shaved. He wore eyeglasses and a wool ski hat. Hughes used his cell phone, quietly, and asked the Maine State Police to alert trooper Diane Perkins-Vance, who had also been hunting the hermit. Before Perkins-Vance could get there, the burglar, his backpack full, started toward the exit. If the man stepped into the forest, Hughes understood, he might never be found again.
The burglar eased out of the dining hall, and Hughes used his left hand to blind the man with his flashlight; with his right he aimed his. The thief complied, no resistance, and lay facedown, candy spilling out of his pockets. It was one thirty in the morning on April 4, Perkins-Vance soon arrived, and the burglar was placed, handcuffed, in a plastic chair.
The officers asked his name. He refused to answer. His skin was strangely pale; his glasses, with chunky plastic frames, were extremely outdated. The officers searched him, and no identification was located. Hughes left the suspect alone with Perkins-Vance. She removed his handcuffs and gave him a bottle of water. And he started to speak. A little. He spoke haltingly, uncertainly; the connection between his mind and his mouth seemed to have atrophied from disuse. But over the next couple of hours, he gradually opened up. His name, he revealed, was Christopher Thomas Knight.
Born on December 7, He said he had no address, no vehicle, did not file a tax return, and did not receive mail. He said he lived in the woods. Knight thought for a bit, then asked when the Chernobyl nuclear-plant disaster occurred. He had long ago lost the habit of marking time in months or years; this was just a news event he happened to remember.
The nuclear meltdown took place in , the same year, Knight said, he went to live in the woods. He was 20 years old at the time, not long out of high school. He was now 47, a middle-aged man.
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- The Hollow Tree Snowed-In Book (Annotated).
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- The Last Leaf.
- St. John Passion: Part I, No. 3, O grosse Lieb.
Knight stated that over all those years he slept only in a tent. He never lit a fire, for fear that smoke would give his camp away. He moved strictly at night.
The Strange & Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit
He had never in his life sent an e-mail or even seen the Internet. But never when anyone was home. He said he stole only food and kitchenware and propane tanks and reading material and a few other items. The only exception was his eyeglasses. Perkins-Vance called dispatch and learned that Knight had no criminal record. He said he grew up in a nearby community, and his senior picture was soon located in the Lawrence High School yearbook. He was wearing the same eyeglasses. For close to three decades, Knight said, he had not seen a doctor or taken any medicine.
He mentioned that he had never once been sick. You had to have contact with other humans, he claimed, in order to get sick. Other than that single syllable, he insisted, he had not spoken with or touched another human being, until this night, for twenty-seven years. Christopher Knight was arrested, charged with burglary and theft, and transported to the Kennebec County jail in Augusta, the state capital. For the first time in nearly 10, days, he slept indoors. News of the capture stunned the citizens of North Pond. It was hard to say what.
At first, in the late s, there were strange occurrences. Flashlights were missing their batteries. Steaks disappeared from the fridge. New propane tanks on the grill had been replaced by old ones. Then people began noticing other things. Wood shavings near window locks; scratches on doorframes. Was it a neighbor? A gang of teenagers?
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The robberies continued—boat batteries, frying pans, winter jackets. Fear took hold. The police were called, repeatedly, but were unable to help. Locks were changed, alarm systems installed.
Nothing seemed to stop him. Or her. Or them. No one knew. Incidents mounted, and the phantom morphed into legend. Eventually he was given a name: the North Pond Hermit. Seventy-five raised their hands. Campfire hermit stories were swapped. One kid recalled that when he was 10 years old, all his Halloween candy was stolen. That kid is now Still the robberies persisted. The crimes, after so long, felt almost supernatural.
Who really could? The truth was stranger than the myth. One man had actually lived in the woods of Maine for twenty-seven years, in an unheated nylon tent. Winters in Maine are long and intensely cold: a wet, windy cold, the worst kind of cold. A week of winter camping is an impressive achievement.