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Hermit accused of hundreds of burglaries after 27 years in Maine woods

From Brittany Brady, CNN
April 11, 2013 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Locals told stories of a hermit who stole food and camping gear from lakeside properties
  • Last week, a game warden arrested longtime recluse Christopher Knight
  • Officials say Knight, 47, broke into a camp's kitchen to steal food

(CNN) -- For years, stories about the North Pond Hermit circulated around central Maine.

According to lore, the shadowy figure would sneak into cabins, camps and houses surrounding North Pond, and steal food, clothing, camping gear and other supplies. But he never took money and never caused damage, according to a 2005 story on the hermit in the Kennebec Journal newspaper.

Locals, the newspaper reported, said they found odd caches of goods in the woods. Some speculated the hermit slipped out on wet or dark nights, gliding across the 273-acre pond in a boat to burglarize camps, the newspaper reported.

Now state game warden Sgt. Terry Hughes says he caught 47-year-old Christopher Knight last week as he burglarized a camp for disabled people, at once confirming local folklore and ending a longtime nuisance for lakeside residents and property owners.

Christopher Knight, 47, is being held at the Kennebec County Jail after his arrest last week.
Christopher Knight, 47, is being held at the Kennebec County Jail after his arrest last week.

Knight could be responsible for as many as a thousand burglaries, authorities say.

"It's been a myth, this character, this folklore person who is known as the hermit, who we've all known about, this unknown suspect who moves around in society and burglarizes camps," Hughes said at a news conference Wednesday.

"It's surreal, he's surreal, the situation is surreal," said Maine State Trooper Diane Perkins-Vance at the news conference.

Knight had apparently lived in the woods for 27 years, speaking to another person just once in all that time, according to CNN affiliate WCSH. That person was a hiker he came across on a trail in the 1990s. Investigators say he kept his mind sharp with the books he stole during break-ins, the station reported.

Pine Tree Camp was a favorite target, staffers told WCSH.

At first, employees thought camping gear that was missing back in the 1980s and 1990s had just been misplaced. After the thefts continued -- including hundreds of dollars worth of food at a time -- camp officials decided a burglar was at work.

The burglar would jimmy the locks on sliding glass doors and "take anything he could find," including sliced meat, Parmesan cheese, coffee and camping equipment, Harvey Chesley, the facilities manager of the nearby camp, told WCSH.

The camp put security cameras in its kitchen last year, capturing a clear picture of the burglar inside. But nobody recognized him, the Portland television station reported.

Authorities captured Knight only after Hughes put up detectors that set off an alarm at his home if anyone broke into the camp, according to WCSH.

Knight, who went to high school with Chesley, apologized for the break-ins, Chesley told the station.

"I do believe him," Chesley said.

Knight is being held on a $5,000 cash bond at the Kennebec County Jail. As is custom in Augusta, he had a video arraignment Friday for his first court appearance. His next court date is yet to be determined.

CNN's Michael Pearson contributed to this report.

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