By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - A Maine man who walked into the woods shortly after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident and lived as a hermit for almost three decades, supporting himself by stealing from nearby camps, was arrested last week, police said on Tuesday.
Christopher Knight, 47, had lived nearly without human contact in a tent near a pond outside of Rome, Maine, about 20 miles north of the state capital Augusta, state police said.
They arrested him early on Thursday morning at the Pine Tree Camp, where he was stealing food, police said. They said Knight, now being held at Kennebec County Jail, confessed to burglarizing the camp about 50 times, taking food, clothing, propane tanks and other essentials.
"Everything he owned except for his eyeglasses was stolen," said Stephen McCausland, a spokesman with the Maine State Police.
Knight told the officers who arrested him that he had spoken with only one other person - a lone hiker - during his years of solitude.
The man survived the brutal winters of central Maine, where winter overnight temperatures can drop well below freezing, by sleeping in multiple sleeping bags inside a tent that was covered with a tarp.
He appeared neatly groomed and clean-shaven in a police booking photo. Police also released photos of Knight, wearing a cap and jacket, carrying a large plastic bag inside a walk-in cooler at the Pine Tree Camp where he was apprehended.
Knight had built himself a large camp in the woods near North Pond, his tent covered by a tarp that was carefully tied to the surrounding trees, evidently to provide some shelter from the elements, according to photos released by police. He had painted garbage cans in camouflage patterns, covered shiny tools and made other efforts to conceal his presence, police said.
McCausland said Knight offered police no reason for his decision to go into the woods. The Chernobyl accident was the last major event he remembered before beginning his hermitage, he told police, but the nuclear accident had not prompted his decision.
Knight has been charged with one count of burglary so far, but additional charges are likely to follow, McCausland said. In total Knight is suspected of some 1,000 thefts over his 27 years in the woods.
His presence was long suspected by local residents and camp operators from whom he had stolen, according to local media.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Cynthia Johnston and Dan Grebler)