For years, a mysterious figure lurked in the darkness of a rural town in Maine, stealing from homes and running away. Nobody had ever seen the person and hardly even knew whether it was a human or supernatural demon committing the series of crimes. All they knew was that they were afraid and even the police were powerless to stop it. Who was really behind it all? Why was someone mysteriously entering people’s homes and stealing the most bizarre items? Read on to unearth the mystery of this incredible story.
For almost 30 years, residents of North Pond, Maine had heard disturbing rustlings in the night. People would awake to a startling noise, though when they turned on the lights, nothing was there. Once someone managed to see a lurking figure, but nothing more. They could feel something had been creeping in the darkness and knew that things went missing soon after.
Who was this ominous creature or demon snatching away their things? Inhabitants of the placid town were now living in sheer terror every time they went to bed. Why was the crazed thief targeting them day in and day out?
Whoever the thief was, he or she was incredibly odd. The thief would steal small items: books, magazines, junk food, jeans, winter jackets, heavy boots, small radios and batteries. Never any expensive gear that could easily sell for thousands of dollars. Rumors went wild and the creeping lurker attained all manner of curious nicknames such as the “North Pond Hermit”, “Maine’s Loch Ness monster”, the “stealthy yeti”, “the Hungry Man”, and “the Mountain Man.”
Vacation homes and cabins were often targeted in the middle of the week, while the owners were away. Neighbors lived far apart from one another that there was nobody to spot the thief in the act. It was an incredibly bizarre case and police became dead set on finding this miscreant. Could the burglar targeting the community have more sinister plans?
Living in terror had become a regular occurrence for the few people who lived along North Pond. “We always felt like he was watching us,” a resident said in an interview with GQ in 2014 . No longer did doors and windows go insecure. Cameras became a necessity, but the thief was somehow able to outsmart it all. So they turned to law enforcement. Police were called regularly, though they were powerless. After many years, though, enough was enough.
Although there wasn’t much police could do without being able to put a face to the crime, they agreed to file a report, calling the faceless burglar “Hermit Hermit.” Still, in 27 years, nobody had even managed to see this criminal. Was it the work of a human or something else completely?
Everything changed in the Spring of 2013. Whoever this criminal was, it had decided to target Pine Tree Summer Camp. It was seemingly a perfect place to steal from: easy to sneak into and a bounty of supplies and food. Surely, no one would notice anything missing.
However, the culprit did not notice one important thing: Police were already on their trail. Furthermore, Pine Tree Summer Camp was managed by police Sergeant Terry Hughes. He had devised a perfect plan to catch the criminal. The hunt had begun.
Despite being deep in the woods at nature-drenched camp, Sergeant Hughes went to great lengths to create the perfect trap to capture the person behind the crimes. Cameras, silent military-grade motion sensors and industrial-grade floodlights were installed in every spot on the grounds that had items to steal— especially food.
The camp had already suffered from the culprit’s late-night snack attacks, so a motion sensor with a silent alarm was installed in the kitchen. When the thief was last there, many items were stolen, including the kitchen’s spare key. Sergeant Hughes knew the criminal would be back. Now all he had to do was wait.
On the night of April 4, 2013, an alarm at the home of Sergeant Terry Hughes started going off. That meant that someone was in the kitchen of the summer camp. It was installed in the back of an ice machine. Hughes raced to the scene, expecting to find a burly criminal, possibly with weapons; At the very least, he could have expected a ragged homeless person, just desperate for food.
Peeking into the kitchen through a window, Hughes discovered the person was nothing he imagined. He was clean and well dressed. His smooth face meant he had recently shaved. He was even a bit overweight. Who was this thief, who seemed to be just a regular, middle-aged man? The sergeant knew now was the time to pounce.
As the mysterious man walked out of the dining hall, carrying a full backpack of food, Sergeant Hughes blinded him with a huge flashlight, holding a gun in the other hand. He yelled at the man to “get on the ground.” And surprisingly, the intruder followed the orders instantly.
As the man kneeled down, pieces of candy fell all over onto the ground. A state trooper, Officer Diane Perkins-Vance, was already at the scene, and the two cops handcuffed the suspect to a chair. He didn’t put up a fight. They now noticed his pale skin and dated glasses. He had no ID and refused to answer questions at first. Slowly, he began to reveal his unbelievable story.
It took two hours until the man finally opened up enough. Officer Perkins-Vance asked why he wouldn’t answer her questions. He said that he was “ashamed”. Soon he revealed his name, though: Christopher Thomas Knight. Occupation? Nothing. Address? The woods. Could things get any stranger?
The big shock came when asked how long he had been living in the woods. He had no sense of time but remembered that the Chernobyl disaster happened right before he went into the woods. That meant he began living in the woods in 1986. What made this normal-looking man retreat to a life of solitude and theft in the woods? And how did he even survive out there for 27 years?
Christopher Thomas Knight was born on December 7, 1965 in Albion, Maine. He was always a loner from the time he was born. His family wasn’t so different. “I had good parents” he recalled. “We’re not emotionally bleeding all over each other. We’re not touchy-feely. Stoicism is expected.” People puzzled him; he struggled to relate to others beyond a basic level.
As a young man, Christopher kept to himself and to stay busy with the things that mattered to him most. But as odd as he might have seemed to others, no one expected him to cut himself off completely from the world.
Knight had been a talented student throughout his school years. His grades were superb and he even graduated early – but never made friends. After high school, he went right to Sylvania Technical School in Waltham, Mass., where he studied electronics. The city, close to Boston was definitely a change of pace from his life in Maine. Yet he still did not make friends. After he finished his nine-month course, he was able to get himself a successful job installing car and home alarms.
He was intent on buying himself a car and eventually obtained a hard-earned Subaru, although it of course came at a price. He took out a loan, with which his brother agreed to assist. However to this day, he still owes his brother for it. Little did he or anyone know that he would soon vanish into thin air.
Dark-haired and bespectacled, Christopher Knight would often try to make himself appear as small and unassuming as possible. He was a middle child, with four older brothers and one younger sister. Growing up, he went on a number of hunting trips with his father and they would all sleep in the back of their pick-up truck, never in a tent.
His family life was not particularly unhappy or turbulent; they were just very reluctant to share their private affairs with the world. He had four brothers, so naturally sibling rivalry was common. Although not particularly wealthy, Knight’s parents cherished art and knowledge. Every night, they would summon their boys to discuss a poem of some kind. They also reveled in the wonders of science; physics was a popular subject. By 1986, 20-year-old Christopher Knight lived and worked near Boston, Massachusetts. Practical and efficient, he worked in the security industry and expertly equipped homes and cars with state-of-the-art alarm systems. He had a secure job and life seemed to be alright for him.
Nobody could have imagined that Knight would up and leave, separating himself indefinitely from the demands of the world. In fact, he likely never imagined he could pull off such a stunt either. It seemed to just happen for no reason, without an incident sparking such a sudden move. He had so many good things coming to him and a budding career. It was all proving to be too much for Knight.
When he decided to finally leave it all, he didn’t say goodbye to family or anybody else that he knew. He did not put in a two-week notice at work. He simply vanished one day, spur of the moment. In an interview, he recalled: “I had no plans when I left, I wasn’t thinking of anything. I just did it.”
Armed without a compass or a map, Knight followed the sun, still scorching hot in the summer sky, and headed southward, just driving until his car had used up all the gas. He abandoned the car and started walking onward until his shiny new Subaru was nothing but a fleck of metal in the distance. He even left his keys in plain view on the dashboard. It was all part of a world he wanted to leave behind.
The most extraordinary thing about Knight’s big decision to leave everything behind was that it was never something he actively planned to pursue. The only possessions he had brought with him were a tent and a backpack. How was he able to survive even a week in these conditions?
Sure, like anyone, he might have fantasized about a life of simplicity, silence, and solitude. For someone with so little wilderness training, it would be incredibly easy to get hurt, starve and die all alone in the woods.
His first two weeks, he traversed the Maine forests, guided only by his instincts. However, Knight soon discovered that he could not quell one innate desire. That’s what eventually brought him to turn to a life of crime.
Although Knight’s initial intention was not to live in the woods, and he was definitely ill-prepared for that, he did have the desire to do one thing: to simply wander about, get lost and be completely alone. He had no desire in talking with people or encountering them. “Soon I lost track of where I was,” he would later say in an interview, speaking about his first few days out alone in the wilderness. “I didn’t care… I was content in the choice I had made.”
Though he had some hunting experience, he took no hunting gear or weapons with him on his hastily-planned excursion. His first few weeks were spent foraging for the sparing food that existed in the wild, such as berries. Would this really be all he would survive on for the rest of his life?
The word hermit may conjure up any number of whimsical images. Some people might picture a crab curled up tightly in its spiraling shell. Other people may picture a sage elder who putters away, lost in meditation, deep in a cave, always ready to impart his wisdom upon a weary traveler. Simply put, a hermit is a person who chooses to live alone, often secluded from the outside world. Some people may choose the hermit way of life for religious reasons. Others might prefer it for the simplicity it brings.
In Christopher Knight’s case, he was not led to this strange way of life due to any deep religious conviction or any clear reason. For him, it simply came to be. Unlike other hermits throughout history, he never resorted to begging or selling simple wares on the street in order to purchase food. He wanted absolutely no human contact whatsoever and he would go to any extremes to get what he wanted.
Although Knight wanted so badly to completely get lost in the wilderness, he eventually found a place where he wanted to settle and it was all a game of trial and error. His journey continued for several months and Knight found a few places that might work as his new “home”.
There, he would finally was able to set up his few belongings that he brought with him. But there were still other, more pressing concerns that Knight could not escape from no matter how much he tried.
It didn’t take long for Knight to realize that the provisions he had brought with him wouldn’t do. This realization came at an unfortunate time: when he was uncomfortably experiencing the serious pangs of hunger. Despite the vastness of the Maine woods, there is hardly anything to eat. Some edible plants only last for a weekend before they are gone again. It would have been a different story if Knight had planned to hunt or fish, but he had not.
As he walked on in a desperate search of food, he finally chanced upon his first taste of meat while in the wilderness: a dead bird on the road. He proceeded to eat it raw. It was meager and his plans for sustenance would soon need a more bountiful source. Even Knight himself didn’t expect he would resort to what came next…
Knight knew better than to break into unsuspecting people’s cabins right from the start. Not to mention, he had no desire to run into another soul or to have his budding solitude disturbed.
He began stealing small items from gardens, taking an ear of corn here, a tomato there. Sometimes he’d work up the courage to dig up some extra vegetables. Nothing that couldn’t be blamed on a hungry, inquisitive rabbit, really.
When Knight chanced upon this secluded part of Maine for the first time, and made the decision to stay, he had to do whatever he could to survive. This pertained not only to finding food but also to securing shelter.
Sure, he had a tent, but how well would it hold up when it rained, especially when the earth was so muddy and malleable? One night, he made the rash decision to sleep inside an empty cabin.
Camping in a cabin can be an experience in and of itself—when it’s your cabin. But when you sneak into a stranger’s home, with the possibility of getting caught at any moment, things can get stressful.
That night, Knight lay in the dark certain that the cabin’s true inhabitants would arrive at any moment and find him sulking in the shadows. Needless to say, he greeted the next morning on edge and unrested. From then on, Knight vowed never to sleep indoors, no matter how harsh the elements got.
For Knight, finding the right place to stay took awhile. Deep holes that very few hikers would chance upon were possible contenders. After all, who would want to bother stumbling through the dark and chancing upon a moody bear or an unfamiliar man?
He tried settling down near the riverbank, but that wasn’t quite right for him. When he finally found his dream home, he knew it immediately.
It brimmed with overgrowth, unrelenting and cloying. One single path wound up to it before trailing off into an incomplete thought of dust and rocks. Boulders loomed over the area, casting shadows and barring sun from entering beyond a few meek beams of light.
It was an area that nobody would ever visit, he assumed. He settled in a clearing surrounded by groups of boulders. Entrance to the space was only possibly through a passage hidden to the visible eye. He set up the tent with little incident. His new home was ready. It was perfect for him. Life as he knew it was about to begin anew. But at what cost?
Knight eventually embraced his new woodland home. He’d have to stumble over rocks and damp earth and make do with what nature provided in desperate times. But that is just what he did when the need arose.
Capitalizing on his resourceful nature, he’d often cup snow in his hand and drink it melted. The magazines that coated his floor were also great for absorbing water, which would ensure he’d never go thirsty. Of course, there were some goods nature simply could not provide.
His makeshift home was a marvel of ingenuity. Tucked away behind mossy boulders and their imposing shadows, Knight lived among discarded National Geographic magazines.
They coated the earthy ground like a patchwork carpet. But how did he obtain so many magazines to make them such a crucial part of his simple but functional architecture? That required quite a bit more cunning and a lot of stealth.
Knight was afraid anyone would find him. He later reported fearing even sneezing too loud. He had to be cautious about how he ventured forward, careful not to make any identifiable footprints in the snow.
After all, unfamiliar human footprints so close to one’s own home are quite more startling than those of a meek rabbit or a cunning raccoon. Still, like a cunning raccoon, Knight managed to creep into kitchens and cozy living spaces without arousing any suspicion, at least for a while.
Knight’s intentions were never malicious. He never got greedy or too adventurous.
He cherished his independence and never was one to accept help of any kind. But when hunger gnaws, desperation grows. And desperate times, as they say, call for desperate measures — even the possibility of having to face another person.
It is safe to say that a man like Knight, who had for a living helped people make their property more secure, could outsmart even the most robust security system with relative ease.
But he still refused to pounce too soon. Before making a move on any one cabin, he would observe the inhabitants the way one might study a flock of geese or herd of buffalo. He made note of when they came and went, for how long they were gone. When he was certain no one would catch him, he’d tinker with any visible security cameras just to stay safe.
Often, cabins would be left pitifully insecure: doors unlocked, windows open. After all, in a place as secluded and peaceful like this, what danger lurked beyond a couple curious squirrels, maybe a quarreling house sparrow or two?
Knight considered these raids easy enough. He’d simply wander into the cabin, as though its own resident who might have forgotten something, and then retreat back to his shadowy lair.
Knight aimed to raid cabins during the week, when most vacationers were likely away. Many of the cabins were their vacation homes and even if something was missing, how much could they really remember after a week away?
He wanted to leave as few traces of his presence as possible. If he could find any spare keys, he would pocket them or keep them hidden someplace safe so he could access the cabin without fuss at a later date.
Knight was so careful not to raise any suspicions that he never returned things haphazardly. He took extra steps to ensure things he borrowed ended up exactly where he left them, as they had been left before he’d taken them.
Once, he pilfered a canoe in hope of accessing cabins across the water. When he returned it to its rightful owners, he did not just leave it drenched in water, out in the open. He concealed it beneath foliage, as though nature had taken it rather than a living human being.
When Knight went on one of his risky adventures, he was careful to take just what he needed. Of course, sometimes what he needed was quite a bit, especially when it came to food.
Sugary snacks were popular with the hermit. Chocolate bars, snack cakes, and other confectionary would keep him plump and prevent him from wasting away in the cold. He was also quite fond of sodas, Mountain Dew in particular. When he came across the drink, he swiped it without much thought.
Of course, a full stomach could get him only so far. He also needed to maintain his shelter and get creative about staying warm.
He snatched some tarp to hang over the boulders that made up his lovely home. He’d also take a blanket here, a nice jacket there. Magazines and books were a common way for him to keep himself entertained and his mine sharp. His victims had plenty of those. His favorites were National Geographic and Playboy.
Knight was so careful about his raids that he never smashed windows or axed down doors. His approach was much gentler and showed great reverence to his victims’ property.
He’d dismantle a door from its hinges and then sneak into the cabin. Once he was through, he’d skillfully reinstall the door.
Even his victims could not deny the care that went into Knight’s raids. They would notice small scratches on door frames or even mysterious wood shavings here and there. Unlike other burglars, he never smashed windows or broke locks. Everything was more or less left in its original state.
“The level of discipline he showed while he broke into houses is beyond what most of us could remotely imagine,” remarked Sergeant Terry Hughes. “The legwork… the talent with locks, his ability to get in and out without being detected.”
It is estimated that Knight committed a total of 1,000 burglaries over the course of 27 years.
Some have regarded Knight as the perpetrator of one of the “biggest burglary cases in the history of Maine.” But even with all the goods he smuggled, Knight still had to weather the elements. And when you live in the woods, the seasons don’t arrive neatly, single-file. They sneak up upon you blazing and biting.
When Knight arrived at his destination, summer still endured with its longer days and earnest sun. But even with the shimmering lake within reach, this landscape was not exactly a summertime paradise at first glance.
Roads wandered in secret beneath suffocating sheaths of brambles and felled trees. The ground that was visible without so much as a swipe of the hand sunk unceremoniously with murky rainwater. So it was no beach resort. That Knight could manage. It would be the winters that proved unrelenting.
When it is numbingly cold outside, your best bet is often to keep moving. Indeed, that is exactly what Knight did to survive Maine’s brutal winters.
Each night, he’d hunker down at about 7:30 PM and doze off. By 2 AM, he would be ready to start his day. He feared freezing to death and knew that the odds were against him when starting fires was out of the question. Just perspiring too much could do him in, his own sweat encasing him in a fatal ice cocoon.
At the same time, Knight never let a little winter chill get him down. When a draft came over his body, he reveled in it as one would the warmth of a woolen blanket.
Sometimes, the cold would be so intense it would seep beneath his skin and into his bones. Still, Knight persevered with nothing more than some mild frostbite here and there. The good thing about the winter is that few campers were around, making moving about a little less risky. Still, he couldn’t deny the bounty summer brought with it, especially when a whole summer camp settled nearby.
Six months after his initial arrest, Knight took to the stand at Kennebec County Superior Court onOctober 28, 2013. He pleaded guilty to his 13 charges of theft and burglary. For this, he was given a jail sentence of seven months, which he went on to serve. Much of the sentence, it turns out, he had already served since he was taken into custody. In order to avoid getting a seven-year sentence, he also had to meet with a judge each week on Monday, find work or start taking classes of some sort.
Additionally, he would have to pay his victims a total of $1,500 in restitution. He’d also have to attend a program for those struggling with mental health problems and endure three years of probation. He also had to totally abstain from alcohol.
The judge who took on the case, Nancy Mills, had something of a soft spot for the great Mountain Man, this “last true hermit” of a man. At the very least, she didn’t think he was capable of harming anyone and was unlikely to commit any further serious crimes. Therefore, he got off with a much lighter sentence than others who were charged with 13 whole counts of burglary and theft. Many agreed that he didn’t deserve to waste away in jail.
A couple months and a hefty fee would suffice. Judge Mills sensed that something good could come from all of this but was it really enough to get Knight to finally turn his life around and rejoin the outside world again?
After being released from jail, Knight agreed to meet with Judge Nancy Mills every Monday as promised in his court hearing and he swore to abstain from alcohol. Apparently he was incredibly committed to following these orders, something he would not have dared do in his younger years when he fought convention and simply did whatever he pleased without thinking of others. It was unbelievable the progress this man, who had no human contact for so long, could make such great strides.
He got his life back on track. Reconnecting with his long-lost family while he was in jail, their relationship began to finally heal, even though he abandoned them so long ago. His brother even offered him a job, which he took. Would all these positive changes take hold for good?
At the time of his disappearance, nobody suspected that Knight was gone indefinitely. In fact, his parents never even bothered to report him as missing.
They figured that he’d be back when he was ready. He just went on a little adventure, for himself. When it became clear that he was gone, they refused to believe the worst. He was out there, alive and well. Of that they were certain. And they were correct.
When you live in isolation, all you have is your own mind. You become so use to silences that when it comes time to speak over them, you stutter. You can’t imagine your words filling the air.
In fact, in the 27 years he had been away, Knight had never spoken a word to a soul, except on one rare occasion. He greeted a hiker with a small “hi.” Naturally, then, learning how to make conversation was not easy for Knight.
Fortunately, Knight was given a chance to be heard beyond his stutters. Just this year, American journalist Michael Finkel released a book on Knight entitled The Stranger in the Woods.
Writing the book required Finkel to meet with Knight in jail. There, they conversed over the course of nine one-hour sessions.
Christopher Knight has stated in several interviews that he is not proud of what he had done.
He does not champion himself as a master burglar and is genuinely sorry to those he had harmed. As for his life as a hermit, Knight has had a few words to say about that as well.
Knight has frequently been compared to the great American author and somewhat of a hermit himself, Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau is famous for his 1854 book “Walden” in which he went to live alone at Walden Pond in Massachusetts. Though he was not necessarily a fan of Thoreau, Knight could not help balking at the comparison. Sure, he immersed himself in nature and wrote about it in great lengths. But Knight felt that Thoreau had motives that were much different than his own for going out into the solitude of nature.
To Knight, he felt that Thoreau did not go out into nature for the experience itself, but rather for the chance to show off what he could do. Meanwhile, Knight had deep, personal reasons for wanting to be completely alone. But what was going through his head during all his years alone?
Artists, poets, and dreamers alike cherish solitude. Just the word itself in its polysyllabic majesty evokes a sense of grandeur and purpose. William Wordsworth, in his famous poem “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud,” remarked: “They flash upon that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude.”
For Knight, solitude wasn’t always so poetic. Sometimes even silence itself deafens. “Solitude bestows an increase in something valuable,” he mused. “I can’t dismiss that idea. 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. I became irrelevant.”
“I was never lonely,” Knight remarked. “If you like solitude, you are never alone.” Knight did not even keep a mirror in his boulder shelter. He’d catch glimpses of himself only when he would pass by some still water or catch his reflection in the glass of a window. But he didn’t need to know what he looked like to know who he was. Even if he had shed his identity and name long ago, he was still content with himself.
That is how he was able to survive all that time without going crazy or getting immensely depressed and lonely. Most others would not likely share his sentiments and heavily base their sense of self on others. Knight’s entire identity was based on something else entirely, as is shown on the next page.
“My desires dropped away. I didn’t long for anything. I didn’t even have a name. To put it romantically, I was completely free.”
As his stunned witnesses heaped names upon him—Hungry Man, Mountain Man, Hermit Hermit—Knight grew less and less familiar with his own name. No longer was he Christopher Thomas Knight. He was earth. He was boulder. He was lake. He was sky. He was his shadow and a shadow of his former self.
Sources: GQ, National Geographic,The Guardian, The Atlantic, Outside Online