Christopher Knight's encampment in the woods of central Maine, where authorities say he's been living for 27 years.
Sgt. Terry Hughes has been with the Maine Warden Service nearly 18 years, and for as long as he can remember, there's been a search for a person suspected of stealing from dozens of camps around North Pond, near Waterville. Last week, Hughes says he finally caught Christopher Knight while he was allegedly stealing from one of the camps.
"It's a little overwhelming, because it's been a myth. It's been this character, this folklore person, who is known as the hermit, who we've all heard about," Hughes said at a news conference today. "We have pictures of him, we couldn't identify him."
Police believe Christopher Knight (right) has lived in the woods since he was 20 years old. He told police he just decided to disappear, and Hughes says Knight did it very well. He didn't have contact with his family and told police he hadn't spoken to another person since the '90s.
After he was arrested, Knight led Hughes to his campsite. As they walked through dense woods, Hughes says he wasn't sure what to expect. "And we stepped around a rock and a tree, and then all of a sudden, there we were, standing right in the middle of this encampment, that a hundred feet away, you would never even know that a suspect lived there," Hughes said.
Hughes says Knight's campsite was neat - everything had its proper place. There's a tent, a radio, a propane stove for cooking, bucket for a chair. Maine State Trooper Diane Vance says Knight was meticulous with his own appearance.
"You would think you would see somebody with a long beard, ong hair," she said. "He was clean-shaven, short hair - decently manicured for living in the woods for 27 years."
Knight told police he never lit a fire for warmth for fear of being caught. He told them he survived Maine winters by using lots of sleeping bags, and passed the days by meditating and reading books he had stolen.
He also survived by stealing food. And police say that's how he was ultimately caught. Last week, Knight tripped a surveillance system at Pine Tree Camp, one of his favorite targets because of the ready supply of bulk food.
Camp Director Dawn Willard-Robinson and Facilities Manager Harvey Chesley say Knight stole from their camp at least 50 times over the years. Talking to reporters at Maine State Police headquarters, they motioned to a table (left) displaying some of Knight's possessions - things like flashlights, screwdrivers, and a lighter.
"This stuff on the table, a lot of it is ours - hers or mine or the camp's stuff," Chesley said. "And the frustration and aggravation that you couldn't leave anything at camp because it was open game to him - he used us as like his local WalMart."
Knight told police he committed more than 1,000 burglaries in the area. Harvey Chesley says robberies were so common that some camp owners left their doors unloked so Knight wouldn't break a window or door while stealing from them.
Police say Knight had a system - he would steal at nightime, walking on roots, rocks, and tree stumps to avoid leaving footprints. He would stockpile food in the fall so he could make it through the winter. Sgt. Diane Vance says Knight told her his only contact with another person during his years of isolation was in the 90s, when he said hello to someone on a trail.
Vance says Knight is intelligent, and she's spoken to him a few times since we was arrested. "And he's actually - I was pleasantly surprised how well-adjusted he is. And he actually has emotion on his face now, smiling and actually interacting better than he was the first day we interacted with him."
Knight told Sgt. Vance he's sorry for all the harm he's caused. He's been charged with burglary and theft currently and is being held in the Kennebec County Jail. Sgt. Vance says his mother, who never knew what happened to him, has been notified of his whereabouts.
Photos courtesy of the Maine Department of Public Safety.