Who’s Out There?
27 years of confusion awaited for the residents of North Pond, Maine, and surrounding communities, but they were unsuspecting in the beginning. When people began to notice things were missing, nobody saw anything except for occasional shadows or murky shapes in the woods.
Getting Away From The World
Christopher Thomas Knight was raised in Albion, Maine. Though he had a regular upbringing, he found it extremely difficult to connect with other people. So much so, that he ran away from the world in 1986, choosing to live in complete isolation in a forest in Maine. He didn’t tell his family or folks at his job. He just vanished into the forest, with no idea of what he was doing or where he was going.
The Hungry Man
A burglar in the area began stealing all kinds of small items from local residents, and rumors of someone lurking in the woods led to nicknames such as the “North Pond Hermit” and even “the Mountain Main.” Some called the perpetrator of these stealthy crimes “the Hungry Man” because he never stole expensive items, instead choosing food, winter clothes, batteries, and other essentials.
Those who lived in the North Pond area looked to police for help, telling them how powerless they felt and stating that they always felt as if they were being watched. Residents put up cameras and kept their eyes open but were never able to find the man that the police referred to as “Hermit Hermit.”
In the Spring of 2013, the perpetrator of the burglaries decided to start stealing items from Pine Tree Summer Camp. Not only was the area easy to watch out for, it had plenty of supplies and was only lightly staffed in the offseason. Unfortunately for “Hermit Hermit,” local police were already on to him.
The Trap is Set
Sergeant Hughes of the local police force used cameras, military-grade motion sensors, and floodlights all throughout the grounds of the camp. There was also an alarm placed in the kitchen, where a key had been stolen by the hermit not long before.
Hughes’ trap worked. Security footage gave Hughes his first glimpse of the so-called hermit via the footage captured with his security devices and cameras. He was surprised to see that the man looked well kept and even a little overweight instead of being a ragged, skinny homeless man.
Hughes was able to get to the scene fast enough to confront the intruder. The mysterious hermit himself was caught red-handed as he emerged from the dining hall with a backpack of food. Hughes yelled for him to get on the ground and the man complied. Hughes was able to cuff him at ease, as the man put up no resistance.
After a couple of hours of not getting any information, the suspect finally said that he was ashamed and gave his name: Christopher Thomas Knight. He didn’t give his address, though, because he had none. Instead, he told the police that he had been in the woods since after the Chernobyl disaster, which was in 1986. That meant he had been in the woods for an astonishing 27 years.
The Mystery of Knight’s Life
Christopher Knight was born in 1965 in Albion, Maine, just 21 years before he disappeared into the woods. Knight told police that his family was a good one, but that they were a stoic bunch that didn’t share a lot of emotions. Christopher was prone to spending a lot of time by himself as a young person, but not to the extent that he would show later in life.
Making Plans for the Future
Christopher was a smart student and got great grades before moving on to Sylvania Technical School in Massachusetts. He breezed through a nine-month course there where he learned to install home and car alarms. However, he never managed to make many friends. Still, he showed no signs of wanting to leave civilization, even going so far as to take out a car loan shortly before his disappearance.
Home Security Specialist
Christopher enjoyed a stable family life, as mentioned earlier. His parents were not touchy-feely, but they encouraged Christopher’s curiosity in science as he grew up. The family was not wealthy, but Knight had a good start to a career in home security. Strangely enough, although he enjoyed the outdoors as a kid, he never went camping in a tent with his father.
There was nothing to indicate that Knight might head into the woods and not return to civilization for decades. He told police later on that he had no plans when he left. He didn’t say goodbye to anyone and he didn’t tell anyone at work that he would be leaving. He just left.
Off Without a Plan
With just a tent and a backpack, Christopher departed in 1986. He didn’t even have a compass or a map when he left. He just drove south until his car ran out of gas. When that happened, he left the car along the side of the road with the keys still inside it and walked away into an uncertain future.
Into the Wild
For two weeks, Christopher wandered through the woods somewhat aimlessly. He was woefully unprepared, having never so much as spent a night in a tent before. He had very little knowledge of the wilderness and had put himself at serious risk by going out to the woods without a plan.
Happy to Be Lost
For weeks Christopher lived in the woods, foraging for berries and other items to ward away his hunger pangs. He had hunted before, but he didn’t bring any hunting gear with him on his unplanned quest. He said later that he wanted to lose himself and be alone, with no desire to interact with others. He lost track of where he was, and that was okay with him.
Why Become a Hermit?
Hermits are not a very common thing at this point, but that wasn’t always how it was. In the past, hermits were usually religious figures who got away from the world to concentrate on their faith. Christopher was not this way. He wanted to be alone, but not because of religious beliefs. Instead, he wanted to get away from people and enjoy solitude.
Setting Up Shop
Christopher didn’t always wander around the woods. He would regularly find places to set up a makeshift settlement and stay at for a while. There, he would have a place to return to and a home base from which to forage for food.
Knight was enjoying the solitude of his new living experience in the woods, but he was having a hard time finding anything to eat. He consumed the edible plants that he found in the area and finally consumed a dead bird raw, but he knew he had to do something different in the long run.
Although he would eventually graduate to burglary, Christopher didn’t begin that way. Instead, he encountered gardens where he would take some vegetables, such as corn or tomatoes. This allowed him to survive without arousing much suspicion, although he still had lean times.
As you already know, Christopher Knight didn’t have much of a plan when he first entered into the woods. Soon, he realized a tent wouldn’t always be the most comfortable living arrangement. As such, he decided to give in to temptation one night and begin sleeping in a cabin.
Staying inside of a stranger’s cabin wasn’t what Christopher expected. Instead of being a nice break from the elements, his night was a fitful one where he wasn’t sure if someone may enter at any minute. He slept only intermittently and decided that he would never sleep inside someone else’s cabin or property again.
The Right Location
Knight knew that he didn’t want to wander the woods forever. Instead, he wanted to find a good location that he could stick with for a while. The trick was finding a place that was suitable, but where no humans would happen upon him.
Home Sweet Home
Eventually, he found an area that had just one path leading towards it…a path which eventually ended and gave way to unforgiving boulders and rocks. Past this area, he found an almost imperceptible passage that led to a small clearing surrounded by boulders. It was the perfect spot for his needs.
Enjoying the Woods
Knight grew to enjoy his new home. He used discarded magazines to build a floor and even used his hands to cup snow to sate his thirst during the winters. Still, he never was able to completely defeat his hunger or needs for things that the forest couldn’t offer.
Knight really showed off his creativity with his finished home. He used the magazines to make a patchwork carpet and used the surrounding boulders as cover from prying eyes, even though it was unlikely that anyone would venture out near his new home. How did he get the magazines? That was a whole other story.
Covering His Tracks
As mentioned before, Knight lived in fear of being discovered, even though he hadn’t yet committed any crimes. He wanted to avoid human contact and didn’t want to be told that he couldn’t live in the woods. He would later say that he even sneezed quietly to avoid potential detection. He also covered his footprints when he ventured off into the snow.
When Christopher Knight started entering people’s homes or taking their belongings, he didn’t do so out of malice. He simply wanted to ensure he had the few things he needed without having to ask for them, since he didn’t want any kind of human contact.
When he started burglarizing homes, his previous skills from another life came in handy. You’ll remember that Knight was trained as a home security professional, so he knew how to circumnavigate security systems. He was also very patient and observant and would always track a home’s residents before making a move to avoid possible detection.
Of course, in remote areas, many cabins don’t even have good security systems. Instead, many people would leave such dwellings completely unlocked and vulnerable. In those cases, Knight would be in and out with a few essentials within minutes.
Also important to Knight’s success was the fact that he’d raid cabins only when residents were away at work. He avoided doing so on weekends. This also helped him out because people would come back after a week or two away and simply think missing items were misplaced. He’d even snatch up spare keys at times to make future entries easier.
On occasion, Christopher would borrow certain items instead of stealing them outright. This was the case when he took a canoe from one cabin’s dock. He used it to access other cabins across the lake, but was careful to bring it back when he was finished.
Just the Essentials
It was very important to Knight that he only take the most essential items when he entered other people’s cabins. Usually, this meant food. He wasn’t the healthiest eater, though, and loved snacks, desserts, and soda more than anything.
Swiping Some Supplies
Christopher didn’t just steal food, however. In addition, he used some of the things that he pilfered to upgrade his living area. A tarp helped to keep the harsh heat from the sun out and protected him from the rain. He also regularly took jackets and other items for the winter. Finally, he took magazines whenever he could, often to read when he’d get bored. If you had National Geographic or Playboy magazines, he’d definitely nab them.
No Forced Entry
With residents away, it would have been quick and easy for Knight to knock down doors or break through windows. However, he prided himself on getting into homes without causing damage. He would even take the time to uninstall and reinstall doors!
Handle With Care
After his capture, Sergeant Terry Hughes remarked at Knight’s ability to get in and out without a trace. He noted “the level of discipline” Knight showed when entering homes without causing damage. This also meant it was even harder to notice that a burglar had been in the area.
Quite a Crime Spree
Knight may have been the most successful burglar ever, as he committed about 1,000 burglaries without being caught over his 27-year period in the woods of Maine. Still, he rarely stole anything of serious value during those years, which made his case a very low priority, especially when police didn’t realize the acts were all perpetrated by one individual.
One thing that Knight had to adapt to over the years was the specific challenges that came with each of the passing seasons. For instance, spring and summer would often bring a number of storms and even flooding in certain areas.
The Numbing Cold of Winter
There was no season that challenged Knight’s ability to survive like winter did. Winter in Maine is very cold and dark, and Knight took to starting his days at 2 a.m. so that he could keep moving during the coldest part of the evening, avoiding the chance of freezing to death.
Acclimating to the Weather
As much as a human being can do so, Knight adjusted to being exposed to the elements. Even when a persistent chill lodged itself in his bones, Knight knew that as long as he avoided succumbing to frostbite, he would get through even the most uncomfortable of nights.
After years of surviving in the wilderness, Knight was ready to await justice for his burglaries. He pled guilty to 13 charges of burglary and was leniently given just seven months of time in jail, along with restitution that would have to be paid to victims. He was also ordered to attend a mental health program and submit to probation.
Judge Nancy Mills took a lenient approach because she didn’t think that Knight was likely to hurt anyone. She also thought that his chance of recidivism was very low. The real question was not whether Knight would commit crimes again, but whether he could transition back into society.
Back to Life
As part of his sentence, Knight had to meet with the judge every week, which helped him get used to having human contact again. He even managed to reconnect with his family during his time in jail. His brother even offered him a job!
Alive After All
It’s easy to forget that Knight’s family may have assumed the worst when he disappeared in 1986. After all, he disappeared without a trace, even leaving his new car behind. Still, they say now that they always believe that Knight had stayed alive somehow, even if they weren’t sure where he might be.
Nothing to Say
Knight’s biggest difficulty upon his return was overcoming his social struggles. He was never extremely outgoing in the first place, and going 27 years without so much as talking to other human beings certainly didn’t help that. Knight said that in 27 years, he only spoke to another human being once – he said hello to a hiker in the woods. That was it.
Telling His Story
Fortunately for all of us, Knight has become more and more open to telling his fascinating story to others. He even cooperated with journalist Michael Finkel for the release of a book on his time in the woods.
Knight does not regret the solitude that he lived his life in, but he has stated that he does feel remorse for his crimes. He does not brag about his successful burglaries and has expressed sincere apologies to those that he stole property from.
Not a Thoreau Fan
People tried to make sense of Knight by comparing him to Henry David Thoreau, who famously enjoyed getting away from civilization into nature. Knight disagreed, saying that he didn’t immerse himself in nature to write stories or understand nature, but to enjoy the pure solitude of it all.
Losing His Sense of Self
Knight’s ideas on solitude are pretty amazing. Spending nearly three decades completely alone was an experience that most humans have never had before. Christopher said that spending so much time alone causes you to lose your identity, since there is never anyone to observe you or to perform for.
No Big Deal
Knight said that he never felt lonely during his decades away from the people he knew and loved because he liked the solitude he enjoyed. He also said he didn’t care to regularly see how he looked or find out what was going on in the world.
Strange Kind of Freedom
Identity is central to Knight’s experience as a hermit. He said that losing his identity was the ultimate freedom. Without being Christopher Knight any longer, he could be nothing whatsoever and be “completely free,” as he has put it. “My desires dropped away,” Knight said. “I didn’t long for anything.”