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Christopher Knight, Maine hermit, arrested for theft after living in wild for 27 years, authorities say

Christopher Knight AP Photo/Kennebec County Sheriff's Office

(CBS/AP) ROME, Maine - A man who may be responsible for more than 1,000 burglaries while living like a hermit in the woods was caught in a surveillance trap set up at a camp in Maine, authorities said Wednesday.

Christopher Knight, 47, was arrested last week when he tripped a surveillance sensor set up by a game warden while stealing food from a camp for people with special needs.

On Tuesday, authorities found the campsite where they believed Knight, known by locals as the "North Pond Hermit," has lived for 27 years.

Some residents said they were aware of the man for years, often in connection with break-ins that have occurred over the decades. He was so well known to some summer cottage owners that they left food out for him so he wouldn't break in during the colder months, state Trooper Diane Vance said.

Knight's living quarters in the woods included a tent covered by tarps suspended between trees, a bed, propane cooking stoves and a battery-run radio, which he used to keep up with the news and listen to talk radio and a rock station, authorities said.

Since vanishing from his Maine home and setting up camp when he was about 19 years old, Knight sustained himself on food stolen from dozens of cottages, but his favorite target was the Pine Tree Camp. 

Knight was apprehended on April 4 as he left the camp's kitchen freezer with a backpack full of food, authorities said. Game warden Sgt. Terry Hughes, who's been trying to nab Knight for years, set up the surveillance alarm that led to Knight's arrest.

"He used us like his local Walmart," said Harvey Chesley, the camp's facilities manager.

Ron Churchill, owner of Bear Spring Camps in Rome, said employees who maintain his camp's lakeside cabins have seen the man thought to be the hermit in the past. Churchill said his business has lost propane containers to thefts.

Despite Maine's harsh winters, during which temperatures sometimes struggle to get above 10 degrees for a week at a time, Knight stayed at his encampment and avoided making campfires so he wouldn't be detected, and he used propane only for cooking, Hughes said. To stay warm, he would bundle himself in multiple sleeping bags, authorities said.

During questioning after his arrest, Knight said that the last verbal contact he had with another person was during the 1990s, Vance said.

"He passed somebody on a trail and just exchanged a common greeting of hello and that was the only conversation or human contact he's had since he went into the woods in 1986," Vance said.

Knight was charged only with the Pine Tree Camp burglary, in which $238 worth of goods were taken, and was being held at the jail on $5,000 bail on burglary and theft charges.

Why he decided to disappear in the woods remained a question. Attempts to reach people who might be Knight's relatives were unsuccessful on Wednesday.

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