The desire to escape to solitude is all too common. With the immense stresses of everyday life, getting away from it all can certainly be appealing. While a week-long vacation will usually suffice, for others, not even a month or a year is enough. In some cases, it can take decades.
One man decided that he needed to get away from society and its strictures, but he didn’t settle for a week off from work. Instead, he hid from the world for nearly 30 years. When he was finally found, no one could believe his story.
When most people decide to take a break from life’s stresses, a week-long trip to a tropical locale will usually suffice. All people need is some brief time to recharge before returning to daily life.
Yet, for Christopher Thomas Knight, the “North Pond Hermit,” that wasn’t even close to being enough. Raised in Albion, Maine in 1965, Christopher had a relatively normal upbringing for the most part…
Christopher always had a hard time relating to other people, even his peers. He preferred enjoying his own company to spending time with others. But even though he mostly kept to himself, he was smart and his future looked promising.
Yet, in 1986, just as his life was supposedly coming together, Christopher ran away from everything he knew. His desire to escape society was so strong that he didn’t even tell his family or work what he was doing. In fact, with no map or compass, not even he knew where he was going.
After driving in no particular direction, Christopher ditched his green Subaru, leaving the keys in the ignition. Armed with a tent and backpack, he began his trek into the unknown. There was just one problem, he had zero experience living in the wilderness.
He spent his first two weeks simply traversing the Maine forests. But he soon realized how ill-prepared he’d been, especially in terms of getting food. He had no weapons to hunt, and he was forced to eat berries, which were harder to find than expected.
Christopher eventually realized he would have to break into nearby cabins for food while the inhabitants were away. At first, he stole mostly from their gardens, hoping they would think it was a wild animal who took their vegetables.
Simultaneously, Christopher soon began to deal with the harsh elements in the Maine wilderness—his tent would no longer suffice. And so, one night, he decided to sleep in an empty cabin. Too afraid the owners would return to find him, he decided to sleep outdoors from that point forward—no matter how bad the weather.
Christopher did eventually find an area to stay. It was so off the beaten path that he knew no one would ever just stumble upon him. Soon, he began to fully embrace the life of isolation he made for himself.
After creating a structure to live in, he did his best to keep quiet at all times for fear that someone would somehow hear him. All the while, it was common for Christopher to break into surrounding cabins to steal what food and drinks he could.
Over time, he became a skilled and stealthy thief. Even homes with alarm systems were no match for the man who used to install them for a living. Only when he was 100 percent certain no one was around would he dare to enter their home, sometimes taking spare keys, so he could get in easier the next time.
Christopher was always sure to only take what he needed. Any obvious moves would surely give him away. He mostly took snack cakes, bars of chocolate, and sodas, like Mountain Dew. This way, he could keep himself from losing too much weight and succumbing to the elements.
But eating wasn’t his only concern, he also had to maintain his shelter. So, he stole tarps, blankets, and coats whenever he could. He also pilfered magazines, not only to read, but so he could rip out the pages, lay them on the floor, and soak up any possible moisture.
Christopher was sure to leave as little evidence that anyone had broken into a home as possible. Though he didn’t break windows, he often removed doors, only to reinstall and repair them once he had all the supplies he needed.
This way of life continued for nearly three decades! But over time, no matter how precise Christopher tried to be, the inhabitants of the homes began to notice things missing, as well as a number of damages done to their homes.
Christopher soon began to even break into homes at night. Residents of North Pond, Maine, would often report having heard strange noises around their property during the evenings. Yet, they could never spot an actual intruder.
Though they’d just go back to sleep, they woke up to find random things gone from their homes. Most people reported missing various items to the police including books, magazines, pants, boots, radios, batteries, and junk food.
That’s when police focused their efforts on finding whoever was breaking into the homes. It wasn’t long before people began giving him various monikers. These included not only the North Pond Hermit but “Maine’s Loch Ness monster,” and the “stealthy yeti.”
Soon, everyone in North Pond was installing surveillance cameras in their homes. Yet, no matter what, he could seemingly break in and get away with it over and over. Without anyone to pin the crime on, however, police filed a report, where they referred to Christopher as the “Hermit Hermit.”
Police caught their first big break when Christopher decided to break into Pine Tree Summer Camp. An obvious choice, since it was stocked with all the tools and food anyone would need to survive in the wilderness, and there was a low chance someone would notice items missing.
But what Christopher didn’t know was that police were hot on his trail. The facility was managed by Sergeant Terry Hughes, who had a plan to catch the North Pond Hermit—he installed industrial-grade floodlights, military-grade motion sensors in the kitchen, and lots of food!
When alarms started going off on April 4, 2013, Sergeant Hughes leaped into action. When he arrived in the kitchen, fully expecting a burglar with weapons, he was shocked to find a seemingly normal middle-aged man.
When Sergeant Hughes demanded the criminal to get on the ground, he immediately complied. As he got down, candy fell to the floor from his backpack. The man had no identification and didn’t want to answer any questions.
After two hours of questioning, Christopher began to open up. Investigators were shocked to learn he was living in isolation for 27 years! “The level of discipline he showed while he broke into houses is beyond what most of us could remotely imagine,” Sergeant Hughes said.
In an interview, Christopher once admitted that in his 27 years living in isolation, he only interacted with one person—a hiker making their way through the Maine wilderness. And what did he say? Simply, “hi.”
On October 28, 2013, Christopher pleaded guilty to 13 charges of burglary and theft at Kennebec County Superior Court. But what shocked people the most was that for his crimes, which estimated to be upwards of 1,000 break-ins, he only received a seven-month jail sentence.
Additionally, he had three years of probation, had to meet with a judge every Monday, and pay each of his victims $1,500 in restitution. Furthermore, the judge demanded he took part in a program for people with mental health issues.
While serving his jail sentence, Christopher made an effort to reconnect with his family that he abandoned without so much as a goodbye all those years ago. When he was finally released, his brother offered him a job.
Of course, with such a unique story, it was only a matter of time someone wrote a book about it. Just recently, Michael Finkel, an American journalist, wrote the book The Stranger in the Woods, after interviewing Christopher while he was still incarcerated.
By the end of his journey, Christopher had all but lost who he was. “Solitude increased my perception. But here’s the tricky thing: when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. There was no audience, no one to perform for. There was no need to define myself [sic]. I became irrelevant,” he explained.
We may never know why Christopher sought such extreme solitude, but his story is fascinating. Thankfully, all of the people whose homes he burglarized over the years will be repaid, too.
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