Thieving Maine 'hermit' arrested after 27 years

NEW YORK (AFP) - A legendary loner who vanished into the wild woods of Maine three decades ago, reemerging only to steal supplies, has finally been caught, police say.

Christopher Knight, dubbed "the North Pond Hermit" in the north-eastern US state, vanished from sight in the picturesque area around the town of Rome back in 1986.

Regular small-scale break-ins at area holiday camps were the only clue to Knight's existence, but he was never found - until last week.

Knight, 47, was caught after a park warden noticed a surveillance camera showing him allegedly stealing from the kitchen in the currently uninhabited Pine Tree Camp.

Sergeant Terry Hughes said he rushed to the site.

"Soon as he stepped outside the door, I just turned, (saying) 'Game warden: on the round, on the ground, show me your hands,' and he immediately just dropped right on the ground," Sgt Hughes said on Wednesday on local WMTV television.

The mystery of the so-called hermit was quickly unravelled.

Sgt Hughes said that Knight's own campsite was well-camouflaged.

"We stepped around a rock and a tree and all of a sudden there we were, standing right in the middle of this encampment," Sgt Hughes said.

State trooper Diane Perkins-Vance expressed amazement that the fugitive had managed to survive so long outdoors in the long, severely cold New England winters.

"It's just amazing to me he can make it through Maine winters like that, living in a nylon tent," she said in comments broadcast on Kennebec Journal.

For survival, Knight went foraging - although allegedly through deserted holiday camps, not nature.

Authorities estimate he may have carried out more than a thousand burglaries. In his final break-in, camp manager Harvey Chesley said on Kennebec Journal that the hungry woodsman was after "hamburger and pepperoni and cookie dough". Police said the now imprisoned Knight is intelligent and told them that he never burglarised a home, apparently because he wanted to keep away from other people.

The only possession that was not stolen, he reportedly told authorities, were his reading glasses. He read stolen books and also had grabbed a radio.

When Knight first disappeared, no missing person report was filed. Even now, there's little clue to why he went wild.

"He claims he hasn't had contact with another human being since the mid-1990s, when he encountered somebody on a trail and they just exchanged a common greeting and that was about it," trooper Perkins-Vance said.

"He just decided to take off into the woods. He's telling us there was no reason for it, it was just something he decided to do," trooper Perkins-Vance said.

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