ROME –– Dave and Louise Proulx’s seasonal camp on North Pond was burglarized so many times that they began to predict what would be stolen and what would be spared.
The couple attributed the break-ins to the elusive North Pond Hermit, the legendary burglar whose likes and dislikes they learned to decipher over 20 years.
“We always had big jars of peanut butter, and every now and then one would be gone,” said Louise Proulx, 65. “I don’t think he liked tuna fish, because I don’t ever remember any tuna fish being gone.”
The couple kept a milk bottle full of coins on a counter, but they didn’t worry about it because the hermit never took money.
“He never, ever touched a cent,” she said.
Dave Proulx, 64, said their camp was burglarized more than 15 times. Everything from a battery-operated TV to pots and pans and cooking utensils were stolen.
“You name it. He’s taken food, batteries. He took a boat battery,” he said. “He took flashlight batteries but didn’t take the flashlight. He didn’t like it because it was yellow.”
The Proulxs talked about the hermit Thursday morning at the Pine Tree Camp on North Pond. Their comments came as law enforcement officials dismantled the wilderness campsite they say Christopher Knight had made his home for the last 27 years while committing more than 1,000 camp burglaries in central Maine.
While authorities initially said the hermit had stolen mainly food and supplies for survival, a new picture of the burglar emerged as the evidence from the encampment was displayed in public.
Police deposited the items on the dining hall floor: a box of watches, an old-fashioned aluminum coffee pot, a high-end L.L. Bean sleeping bag, shovels, rakes, a backpack, tents, plastic storage containers, tarps, toilet paper and many other items concealed in trash cans.
There were also several Nintendo Game Boys and valuable items such as jewelry.
Thursday morning, the Proulxs and about two dozen journalists, seasonal camp owners and Pine Tree camp employees were bused about a mile away and then hiked a muddy, rutted woods road to the edge of Knight’s campsite.
Sgt. Terry Hughes of the Maine Warden Service led the group. Hughes had arrested Knight on April 4, saying Knight triggered a surveillance sensor as he was trying to steal food from the Pine Tree Camp, which serves children and adults with disabilities.
The Kennebec Journal first reported Knight’s arrest Tuesday night, sparking worldwide media attention to the case.
Journalists had been invited to watch the camp’s dismantling; but at the last minute, police said the landowner, who lives in Rome, had a change of heart and wanted only law enforcement officials there.
“He has a right to control access to his property,” State Police Sgt. Peter Michaud said just feet from Knight’s camp. “He’s the legal owner of the property, and I’m going to respect that.”
Records at the Rome Town Office list Lisa Anne Fitzgerald and Ronald K. Fitzgerald as the owners of the wooded property, where it appears Knight had been living since at least 1990. The Fitzgeralds bought the land in 2003, according to the records. Tax bills are sent to them via a post office box in Harpswell, but no phone number was available.
Other property owners who own smaller lots on McNulty Lane near the Little North Pond area where the encampment was set up are Roger F. and Gaetane A. Ouellette, of Wimauma, Fla., who have two vacant lots. Richard and Jennifer Rodgers, of Sidney, have a camp on another lot; as do Gerard Spence and Emily Spence-Pearce, of Bristol, R.I.
‘I kind of felt bad for him’
Before taking the hike Thursday, the Proulxs said they were anxious to see whether any of their belongings were at the campsite.
“I want to see if he’s got my frying pan,” David Proulx said. “I want to see if the TV is mine, and he stole utensils and stuff.”
As the group returned through the woods to be bused back to the Pine Tree Camp, law enforcement officials dismantled the encampment, hauling away two pickup truck loads of items Knight had stolen over 27 years.
“Oh, well,” David Proulx said. “We’ll see the stuff at some point in time.”
Louise Proulx said the hermit stole lots of chicken and other food, as well as beer. He took Budweiser, but not Miller Light.
The Proulxs, of Waterville, have summered on North Pond for many years. David Proulx said he surmised the hermit was a Vietnam veteran who went into the woods to be by himself, but there has been no evidence Knight was in the military. In fact, police believe he went into the woods in 1986, soon after graduating from high school.
“I kind of felt bad for him,” David Proulx said. “I even left him a note that said, ‘Tell me what you need.’ I left a note on the door: ‘Do not break the door; the door is unlocked.'”
As the years went by, Proulx felt as if he knew the hermit by nature of his habits, if nothing else.
Neighbors would sit by an outdoor fire at night and discuss the hermit and how to catch him, David Proulx said.
“I chased him one night,” he said. “I stayed and hid in my truck, but around 2 a.m. I had given up and went to bed. I heard a noise and saw a canoe tied to the dock. He was coming up my stairway. I didn’t have any clothes on, but I opened the door and hollered and called him every name I could think of and chased him, and he got in the canoe and left.”
Many people became obsessed with the hermit over the years, he said. One time, he and a friend were out in a boat and saw a man with a long beard sitting in a canoe. Thinking he was the hermit, they circled around the canoe and questioned the man, who said he was going to visit a certain family on the pond, Dave Proulx recalled.
“We were getting paranoid. Everybody’s the hermit,” he said. “That’s what happens when it keeps going and going and going. People get weird. We start acting like him, thinking like him, or we try to. It’s kind of scary.”
Proulx and his neighbor had an agreement that if one of them did not have a propane tank, he would borrow it from the other.
Sometimes, propane tanks disappeared, he said.
“I’d say to my neighbor, who’s also my cousin, ‘You take my propane tank?’ ‘No, you take mine?’ We got to the point where we’d blame each other.”
The hermit also was savvy. Proulx thinks he knew every camp on the pond, as well as camp owners’ patterns and when they would be away.
“I was the first one to put my dock in, and as soon as I did, he knew I had food there,” David Proulx said.
The hermit always would steal meat, but only if the original packaging had not been removed.
“Let’s say we bought meat from Joseph’s Market (in Waterville),” Dave Proulx said. “If it was still wrapped, he’d steal it. If it was unwrapped, he’d never touch it. He’d figure we put something in it, to contaminate or poison it. He wasn’t stupid.”
Stolen items retrieved
Maine State Police, wardens and a Somerset County sheriff’s official packed the contents of Knight’s campsite into trash cans and drove them to Pine Tree Camp on Thursday.
“There’s absolutely nothing in there (campsite) now other than some discarded garbage,” said Maine State Police Trooper Diane Perkins-Vance, the primary investigator in the case.
“We’re going to need some help, having the homeowners identify it,” she said. “There’s still a lot to do.”
Hughes said there are a lot of victims; first and foremost, Pine Tree Camp. He said he hoped television reports of the thefts will prompt people who have been burglarized to call and report the items stolen.
They recovered no books — though Knight has reportedly claimed to have stolen some to read — but Knight did have magazines, including copies of People and National Geographic, she said.
When they dismantled his tent, for instance, there was a rug under it, and under the rug were magazines used to cushion the rug, she said.
“I saw one dated back to August 1990,” she said.
There was also an old TV that didn’t work. An antenna for the television was 25 to 30 feet up on the top of a tree. Obviously he could not climb the tree, she said, but he had cut the tree down, attached the antenna to it and then hoisted the tree back up and tied it with rope to another tree.
The TV was found in the camp’s trash heap, police said.
Knight had a primitive, makeshift bathroom that included logs placed on the ground and a wash area where laundry detergent and shampoo were placed. Police said he had nice clothes. Hughes said Knight even had a camel hair jacket.
“He had at his disposal the ability to get into a camp and take high-quality items and make them his own,” he said.
Knight remains in Kennebec County jail in Augusta, where Perkins-Vance said he seems to be adjusting well to being with people.
Asked what Knight’s future holds, Hughes said he did not know.
“I don’t know if he could answer that, to be honest with you,” he said.
‘This is mind-boggling’
Meanwhile, Harvey Chesley, Pine Tree Camp’s facilities manager, said he recognized the stolen trash cans as belonging to the camp.
Over the years, the hermit stole lots of items from the camp, including all-terrain vehicle batteries, food, paper towels, toilet paper and anything battery-operated, he said.
“His favorite target was the food storage building,” Chesley said. “Frozen food was a good target.”
Camp maintenance director Steve Treadwell said he was particular. “He wouldn’t take the veggie lasagna,” he said.
Chelsey said he would borrow a canoe, use it to ferry propane tanks across the lake, and then return the canoe.
Jodie Mosher-Towle, who writes the North Pond Association newsletter, said the hermit for years has been a topic of discussion at annual association meetings. The association has about 125 members.
Association member Linda Rice said Knight’s arrest marks the end of an era.
“It’s kind of sad, in a way, but he’s a human being. He has to take responsibility,” she said.
Chelsey’s daughter, Danielle Chesley, 21, has worked at Pine Tree Camp all her life and grew up hearing about legend of the hermit. She said when she saw photos of him after his capture, he did not look at all as she had envisioned him.
“I pictured him with a beard down to his belly button,” she said. “He was a lot more nourished than I thought he would be.”
Among those who hiked about a mile into the woods with police Thursday to try to get a look at the hermit’s camp was Frank Ten Broeck, a retired New Jersey police official who has a cottage nearby.
“To me, this is mind-boggling. I just can’t believe this guy was here 27 years,” Ten Broeck said. “This is some of the most severe weather you can go through.”
Staff writer Betty Adams and Associated Press contributed to this report.
Amy Calder — 861-9247