BELGRADE — Folk heroes often begin life as normal persons, going through the motions of everyday life, but then are transformed into something extraordinary. They become legends.

That begs the question: Is the “North Pond Hermit” a folk hero?

Though the subject material is 5 years old, dozens packed the one-room Belgrade Public Library on Wednesday night to hear the legend of Christopher Knight, the North Pond Hermit, who plagued the region unseen for 27 years.

Knight was the subject of a special event Wednesday at the library. Knight, who lived in the woods for nearly three decades and burglarized local camps nearly 1,000 times during his stay on the land, was the subject of a New York Times best-selling book, “The Stranger In The Woods,” by Michael Finkel.

As for his folk hero status, District Attorney Meaghan Maloney, who prosecuted Knight’s case, said many people fantasize about leaving everything behind and heading into the woods as Christopher Knight did. Maloney, who was only four months into her position when Knight finally was caught, said most of Knight’s burglary cases were committed long before the statute of limitations ran out on them. However, instead of throwing the book at him and trying to lock him up for his entire life, Maloney said, “I became convinced I could rehabilitate Christopher Knight.”

Terry Hughes, the state game warden who caught Knight, joined Maloney at the library and captivated the packed audience.

“I know a lot of faces in this room. A lot of you I arrested,” Hughes joked, drawing a round of laughter, and cracked more jokes about catching Knight before explaining how the man who had evaded locals and authorities for 27 years came to be caught.

Hughes, a former Marine who has been with the Maine Warden Service since 1995, found Knight in 2013 after setting up cameras at Pine Tree Camp, the Pine Tree Society’s summer camp for children with physical disabilities, where Knight stole food and other items over the years.

Kennebec and Somerset counties District Attorney Meaghan Maloney, left, listens to Maine game warden Sgt. Terry Hughes describe the night he arrested Christopher Knight, the North Pond Hermit, at a talk on Wednesday at the Belgrade Public Library. Photo by Elise Klysa

Hughes recounted how after Knight was caught, which required technological help from the U.S. Border Patrol, he walked Knight back out to his compound in the middle of the woods. Hughes said he initially thought Knight had a military background because of how stealthy he was, and he was able to leave no visible trace of himself behind.

“He had no military training, but he had military written all over him,” Hughes said of Knight’s ability to survive.

Knight would not leave footprints behind, would not venture out in the winter, and would not rob the home that stood on the land he was squatting on, Hughes said. He wouldn’t fish and wouldn’t hunt. He would steal only from the homes and camps where he thought he wouldn’t get caught — until he finally was caught, of course.

Only after Hughes installed a game camera in the camp where Knight stole most of his food did anyone have any idea what he looked like.

After Knight was caught around 1 a.m. in 2013 and after hours of interrogation, Knight finally took Hughes out to the place he had called home for 27 years.

Even if Hughes took the dozens of people at the library Wednesday night out to within 100 yards of Knight’s camp, they wouldn’t even know what they were looking at, the warden said.

Knight was a methodical person, Hughes said, even though he didn’t particularly like Hughes. However, Knight cooperated after being captured and admitted to burglarizing all the camps he had entered. As the story goes, he entered a camp with someone in it only once.

Maloney said Knight was adamant about staying away from other people.

Hughes said that in his entire time in the woods, Knight said he spoke with only one person.

Once Hughes came upon the camp, he knew the story was true. He saw decades’ worth of trash, tents hidden behind boulders, decades’ worth of propane tanks. He mentioned ropes hung around trees, and the trees had grown around the ropes.

“This is not a hoax,” Hughes said.

One of the reasons Knight was able to live out in the woods so long was that the homeowner was not that active on the land, Hughes said. She had gotten the land in a divorce settlement and didn’t use it for timber, and Knight would not steal from the landowner’s home, to avoid anyone looking in her backyard.

Christopher Knight sits at his camp in the Maine woods in April 2013 after leading authorities to it. File photo by Maine State Police Trooper Diane Perkins-Vance

Hughes said he has heard from Finkel, and that the story of the North Pond Hermit is being optioned in Hollywood to be made into a movie.

Knight and Finkel did not participate in the discussion in Belgrade, though Hughes said he frequently speaks with Finkel.

Now out of prison, Knight largely keeps to himself and has spurned media contact except for participating in Finkel’s book about his decades alone in the woods. Though he said he disagrees with Finkel on a number of philosophical issues, Hughes said he still considers Finkel a friend.

“He’s intense on this,” Hughes said.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

 

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