ROME, Maine - A man who lived like a hermit for decades in a makeshift camp in the woods and may be responsible for more than 1,000 burglaries for food and other staples has been caught in a surveillance trap at a camp he treated as a "Walmart," 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 in Rome, a town of about 1,000 whose population swells with the arrival of summer residents.
Authorities on Tuesday found the campsite where they believed Knight, known as the North Pond Hermit in local lore, has lived for 27 years.
Some residents say they've been aware of the hermit for years, often in connection with break-ins that have occurred. 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.
But others were hardly aware of the hermit living within their midst without detection since 1986.
"I was born in 1987. He was there before I was," Rome resident Melissa Witham said outside her home.
Paul Anderson, a selectman in the town about 20 miles northwest of Augusta, acknowledged local talk about a man living alone in the woods.
"I've lived in the town for 32 years, and I've never, ever met the guy," Anderson said.
Attempts to reach people who might be Knight's relatives were unsuccessful Wednesday. Officials said they had no information on whether Knight has an attorney. A message could not be left after hours for officials at the Kennebec County Jail in Augusta, where Knight was being held.
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 for no apparent reason and setting up camp when he was about 19, Knight sustained himself on food stolen from dozens of cottages, but his favorite target was the Pine Tree Camp, where game warden Sgt. Terry Hughes, who's been trying to nab Knight for years, set up a surveillance alarm, authorities said.
Knight was caught Tuesday as he left the camp's kitchen freezer with a backpack full of food, they said.
"He used us like his local Walmart," said Harvey Chesley, the camp's facilities manager.