Editor’s note: This story was originally published in April 2013. It was updated on August 20, 2014, to correct a multimedia error. The content of the story remains unedited.
SKOWHEGAN — Sandy and Gary Emmons, of Richmond, wanted their boat keys back.
That’s why they came to the Maine State Police barracks here Saturday to search among the items police say the North Pond Hermit had cached at his camouflaged campsite in Rome.
The Emmonses’ camp on North Pond had been burglarized numerous times, starting around 1993 when they bought it. The target was mostly batteries, flashlights and food, they said. Then when Gary Emmons’ keys went missing, they assumed the hermit was the culprit behind that as well.
“We knew he wasn’t harming anyone,” Gary Emmons said. “He was after food.”
The burglary suspect, identified by police as Christopher T. Knight, 47, formerly of Albion, was arrested April 4 as he was leaving the Pine Tree Camp in Rome, his backpack and duffel bag laden with foodstuffs and tools from the camp.
Later, he told investigators, including Trooper Diane Perkins-Vance, that he had committed more than 1,000 camp burglaries over almost three decades, stealing everything he needed to survive alone in the Maine woods.
The Emmonses changed the locks after the keys were taken, and replaced a door. But they never changed the boat keys, so an extra set would be handy.
The Richmond couple were among 40 camp owners permitted to attend a private meeting with District Attorney Maeghan Maloney — whose office is prosecuting Knight — and then asked to list items stolen from them at some point over the past 27 years so troopers could search for them among the evidence.
Maloney said the owners would be photographed with their items and then could bring them home.
“I don’t need to bring the actual items into the jury,” she said.
She also heard the victims talk about living with the constant fear of being burglarized.
“These people here were really uneasy,” she said.
The items police seized from the camp filled two pickup trucks, but one load of items, all belonging to Pine Tree Camp, had been returned.
The camp, which serves as a summer camp for children and adults with disabilities, was a frequent burglary target.
After an hour or so inside the police barracks Sunday afternoon, the Emmonses went home empty-handed. They didn’t find their keys. But they and a few others talked about what they believed should happen to Knight.
“I feel he should do community service,” Gary Emmons said. “He broke the law, but what purpose would it serve to keep the man in jail?”
The couple also praised the actions of investigators. “They’ve done a remarkable job,” he said.
David Proulx, of Waterville, left the barracks carrying a blue and white cooler with his name on it and a green rain parka. He was not sure he would use either again. He also declined to sort through dozens of pots and pans to find the ones that were stolen from his camp.
“Even if I found them, I don’t think I’d want them,” Proulx said.
He said his camp had been burglarized about twice a year since 1990. “At first I thought it was kids breaking in and having fun. Then I figured out it wasn’t them.”
He acknowledged that some people view Knight as a hero or survivalist.
“He’s a thief,” Proulx said. “He should be treated the same as every other burglar.”
Nancy Brooks, of Waterville, drove off empty-handed as well. She said she was missing larger items from her North Pond property: a canoe, a weed-whacker, a chain saw and a wheelbarrow. The police had already told her the items weren’t there.
“I came more to reclaim 27 years of peace of mind,” she said.
One man came out waving a large, clocklike thermometer, which he said was stolen about a decade ago. He also was carrying a small knife he had reclaimed. He declined to give his name and drove off in a car with Rhode Island plates.
Other camp owners left with paperwork, but no items.
Maine State Police Sgt. Pete Michaud encouraged the news media to take photos of the unclaimed items lying on the garage floor. He said people who can identify the items as theirs can call the barracks at 207-474-3350 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and ask for Perkins-Vance, the primary investigator.
“It’s been a huge investigation,” Perkins-Vance said. “Probably one of the biggest I’ve been involved in.”
The results of her investigation have been turned over to Maloney’s office, she said, and Maloney said she would be reviewing them this week to consider whether further charges will be filed against Knight.
Knight currently faces charges of burglary and theft from April 4 at the Pine Tree Camp and from last fall at a private camp on Little North Pond owned by Lillie Cogswell, of Wimberley, Texas.
He remains in the Kennebec County jail in lieu of $25,000 cash bail. The bail carries other restrictions as well.
Knight is due in Kennebec County Superior Court on May 28 on the charges related to burglaries at the Pine Tree Camp and June 13 on charges related to the burglary and theft at Cogswell’s.
Perkins-Vance said Knight is faring well in jail despite his years of living as a recluse. She also said family members had been visiting him at the jail.
Knight disappeared around 1986, and had been in contact with no one except a passing hiker on one occasion, until his arrest, he told the trooper.
Perkins-Vance said Knight has been willing to talk to her, but has offered no explanation about why he chose to disappear.
“He doesn’t recall why he went into the woods,” she said.
She said he also has spoken since his arrest of his remorse and about making amends.
Walter McKee, the attorney representing Knight, said last week he and his client would not be providing any comment.
Betty Adams — 621-5631