The man known as the North Pond Hermit has spoken with a journalist for the first time, saying in an article published online by GQ Magazine on Wednesday that he “has to figure out how to live” in an unfamiliar world.
The case of Christopher Thomas Knight — who was arrested on April 4, 2013, after spending 27 years alone in the woods in the Rome and Smithfield area while committing more than 1,000 burglaries — garnered worldwide media attention after the Kennebec Journal first reported the story that month.
Since his arrest, Knight has declined requests by the Kennebec Journal for an interview, but journalist Michael Finkel writes that he first connected with Knight through hand-written letters to the Kennebec County jail before he agreed to interviews.
Finkel’s article, which will appear in the magazine’s print edition set to hit newsstands on Aug. 26, paints Knight as often introspective, but terse.
“I don’t know your world,” Knight, now 48, told the magazine. “Only my world, and memories of the world before I went into the woods. What life is today? What is proper? I have to figure out how to live.”
Knight pleaded guilty in court last year to a handful of burglaries and thefts in connection with the camp break-ins.
He is out of jail and living in the community while participating in a special program that requires him to appear in front of a judge once a week.
Finkel’s interviews with Knight were conducted nearly a year ago at the jail, according to Chief Deputy Ryan Reardon, of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office. In all, Reardon said, Finkel visited nine times from Aug. 26 to Oct. 28.
In an interview Wednesday, Finkel described Knight as a careful conversationalist with no interest in extraneous small talk.
Knight read often in the woods, and Finkel said Knight often remembered passages from books he read in high school.
“I felt that he was one of the most poetic and most well-spoken people I have ever encountered,” Finkel said.
Walter McKee, Knight’s attorney, said Finkel was one of the few people Knight talked with, other than McKee and Maine State Trooper Diane Perkins-Vance, who arrested him. In response to a Kennebec Journal interview request on Wednesday, McKee said he isn’t in touch with Knight.
After his arrest, McKee said he received about 500 calls in his office from journalists from all around the world, including offers for Knight to appear on some of the nation’s most watched news programs, such as NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “20/20.” He even received a marriage proposal while in jail.
To some, Knight was something of a folk hero, admired for his ingenuity and survival skills by living the Maine woods for decades.
The GQ article draws on that folk hero motif, featuring an illustration that depicts a bearded and scruffy-looking Knight trudging through the woods as if he were Bigfoot, birds flying around him and branches tucked into his worn backpack.
The illustration is in stark contrast to the clean-shaven and balding Knight who was detained last year wearing a clean pair of jeans and a clean shirt. It’s also in contrast to the one photo police got of Knight during his years in the woods — a black-and-white surveillance photo of “the backpack burglar.”
Knight’s story inspired several songs, including a six-song EP by The Half Moon Jug Band, of Portland, and Belgrade Lakes-area musicians Stan Keach and “Barefoot” Dan Simon; plus a documentary film called “Hermythology.”
Knight was responsible for more than 1,000 burglaries in the area, taking food, clothes, alcohol and other supplies from area camps, which he said he needed to sustain his lifestyle.
His arrest came during the early morning hours as he carried meat and other food from the Pine Tree Camp in Rome, which serves disabled children and adults.
Sgt. Terry Hughes, of the Maine Warden Service, and Perkins-Vance said they had staked the camp out and caught him as he left.
In June 2005, the Morning Sentinel published a story on “hermit of North Pond,” who had been so named by locals because of the mystery surrounding the break-ins. “For the last 15 years,” it said, “he has been picking his way through dozens of the 300 or so camps around North Pond.”
In September 2013, Knight was accepted into a special court program that will allow him to get counseling for an alcohol problem. At the time of his arrest, Pine Tree Camp employees said Knight would often steal certain types of beer, but not others. He skipped Bud Light and Miller Lite, they said, but he took Budweiser.
McKee said Knight “felt bad about what he did,” and that’s part of the reason he didn’t grant media interviews.
“He didn’t want to look like he was trying to advance anything other than remorse,” McKee said.
In the GQ article, Knight admits feeling guilty about the burglaries but said he was forced to steal to survive. “It was usually 1 or 2 a.m. I’d go in, hit the cabinets, the refrigerator. In and out. My heart rate was soaring. It was not a comfortable act. I took no pleasure in it, none at all, and I wanted it over as quickly as possible,” he said.
Knight also told GQ Magazine that he wished to return to the woods, but he knew that he wouldn’t be able to because of the terms of his release.
“Sitting here in jail, I don’t like what I see in the society I’m about to enter,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to fit in. It’s too loud. Too colorful. The lack of aesthetics. The crudeness. The inanities. The trivia.”
Knight hasn’t said why he left his Albion home sometime after 1986 to live in the woods. The GQ article suggests he might have Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, but Knight told the magazine he is not taking medication.
In the GQ interview, Knight doesn’t shed much more light on why he went into the woods, saying he doesn’t have a reason and “can’t explain why.”
On his final visit with Knight, Finkel reports that Knight said he was never happy around others in his youth.
At his campsite, Knight is quoted as saying, “I found a place where I was content.” He also told the magazine he “expected to die out there” in the woods.
“What I miss most is somewhere between quiet and solitude,” Knight said. “What I miss most is stillness.”
Finkel never got a clear answer to the “why” question. He said he doesn’t know for sure, but he said Knight’s motivation could be like anyone else’s: He wanted contentment.
“He said he found a place where he was more content than any other place,” Finkel said. “It might be as simple as that.”
Michael Shepherd — 370-7652