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Despite solitude, hermit had taste for fine things

ROME, Maine — He would meditate on an overturned bucket while staring up at the sky and knew all the eagles that nested nearby.

But despite his 27 years of seclusion in the woods, Christopher Knight also had a taste for the finer things in life, authorities said Thursday after dismantling the so-called North Pond hermit's lair.

In the 47-year-old's camp, they recovered goods that included high-end L.L. Bean sleeping bags and a new tent.

He was wearing brand-new shoes and gloves, all believed stolen, when authorities arrested him after he tripped a surveillance sensor at a camp last week. They believe Knight may be responsible for more than 1,000 burglaries of food and other staples during the nearly three decades he hunkered down in the woods.

Game Warden Sgt. Terry Hughes said Thursday that authorities believe Knight broke into cottages and stole quality products because they would last longer and help perpetuate his life of solitude.

And the hermit apparently didn't steal fridge leftovers either.

"He was a fussy eater," said Dave Proulx, a nearby cottage owner who tried to capture the hermit six or seven years ago after falling victim to more than a dozen break-ins.

Proulx, who said he came face to face with Knight while staking out his own cottage, said the hermit never made off with meat that wasn't in its original packaging.

On the rainy, cloudy night of their encounter, the hermit escaped by canoe after Proulx threw on a floodlight and chased him to a dock, Proulx said.

Authorities filled two pickup trucks on Thursday as they took apart Knight's camp, later displaying what they were calling evidence for local folks to sort through to try to recover their stolen goods.

There were several Nintendo Game Boys and a wristwatch, along with shovels, rakes, coolers, cooking gear, a coffee pot and even toilet paper.

Authorities said Knight used logs on the ground as a makeshift commode, and at one point, attached an antenna to a treetop so he could get reception on his battery-powered TV in his tarp-covered camp.

Many locals said they were relieved by Knight's arrest after enduring years of break-ins. Before the camp's dismantling, some curious folks hiked about a mile into the woods with police to try to get a look at the hermit's camp.

Among them 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."

But the land's owner disappointed them, deciding to let only authorities into the camp on Thursday.

A corrections officer at Kennebec County Jail in Augusta said Knight was refusing requests for interviews.

He has applied for a court-appointed lawyer and hasn't entered a plea to the burglary and theft charges stemming from the break-in at Pine Tree Camp, a facility for special needs people.

Authorities said they caught Knight with $283 in goods in his backpack after he fell into a trap set by Hughes, who's been trying to capture the elusive woodsman for years.

In his police mug shot, Knight is clean-shaven, has short-cropped hair and is sporting a style of eyeglasses from the 1980s.

It's a different look than in his photo from the 1984 yearbook from Lawrence High School in Fairfield, Maine. In it, Knight is wearing horn-rimmed glasses and has long, thick dark hair as he leans against a tree.

The blurb accompanying the picture says Knight's plans were to become a computer technician.

But authorities said by the time he was about 19, he'd disappeared into the woods.

Authorities say Knight doesn't show signs of mental illness and they've uncovered no other motive for his seclusion except that he wanted to be alone.

Knight's arrest came a little more than a week after the capture of a self-styled mountain man in Utah who shared some of the same traits. For six years, Troy James Knapp ransacked cabins on national forest land for guns, food and high-end camping gear, authorities said.

Knapp, a 45-year-old California parolee who went on the run in 2004, faces 29 burglary-related felony and misdemeanor charges in Utah that could keep him in jail for life.

Associated Press writers Bridget Murphy in Boston and Paul Foy in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.