Durante 27 anos, Christopher Knight viveu isolado do mundo. Numa floresta. De vez em quando saia de entre as árvores para roubar roupa, comida ou baterias para as lanternas. Nunca ninguém o viu. À medida que os objectos iam desaparecendo, tornou-se uma lenda para os moradores do Central Maine. Até que, um dia, a4 de Abril de 2013, foi apanhado. E disse as suas primeiras palavras em décadas. Uma reportagem excepcional, publicada na GQ.
MICHAEL FINKEL Thehermitsetoutofcampatmidnight,carryinghisbackpackandhisbagof break-in tools,andthreadedthroughtheforest, rock toroot to rock,everystepmemorized.Not abootprintleftbehind.Itwascoldandnearlymoonless, a finenight for araid,sohehikedaboutanhour tothePineTreesummercamp, afewdozencabinsspreadalongtheshorelineofNorthPond in centralMaine.Withanexperttwistof ascrewdriver,hepoppedopen adoorofthedininghallandslippedinside,scanningthepantryshelveswithhispenlight.Candy! Always good. Ten rolls of Smarties, stuffed in a pocket. Then, into his backpack, a bag of marshmallows, two tubs of ground coffee, some Humpty Dumpty potato chips. Burgers and bacon were in the locked freezer. On a previous raid at Pine Tree, he’d stolen a key to the walk-in, and now he used it to open the stainless-steel door. The key was attached to a plastic four-leaf-clover key chain, with one of the leaves partially broken off. A three-and-a-half-leaf clover.
He could’ve used a little more luck. Newly installed in the Pine Tree kitchen, hidden behind the ice machine, was a military-grade motion detector. The device remained silent in the kitchen but sounded an alarm in the home of Sergeant Terry Hughes, a game warden who’d become obsessed with catching the thief. Hughes lived a mile away. He raced to the camp in his pickup truck and sprinted to the rear of the dining hall. He peeked in a window.
And there he was. Probably. The person stealing food appeared entirely too clean, his face freshly shaved. He wore eyeglasses and a wool ski hat. Was this really the North Pond Hermit, a man who’d tormented the surrounding community for years—decades—yet the police still hadn’t learned his name?
Hughes used his cell phone, quietly, and asked the Maine State Police to alert trooper Diane Perkins-Vance, who had also been hunting the hermit. Before Perkins-Vance could get there, the burglar, his backpack full, started toward the exit. If the man stepped into the forest, Hughes understood, he might never be found again.
The burglar eased out of the dining hall, and Hughes used his left hand to blind the man with his flashlight; with his right he aimed his .357 square on his nose. “Get on the ground!” he bellowed.
The thief complied, no resistance, and lay facedown, candy spilling out of his pockets. It was one thirty in the morning on April 4, 2013. Perkins-Vance soon arrived, and the burglar was placed, handcuffed, in a plastic chair. The officers asked his name. He refused to answer. His skin was strangely pale; his glasses, with chunky plastic frames, were extremely outdated. But he wore a nice Columbia jacket, new Lands’ End blue jeans, and sturdy boots. The officers searched him, and no identification was located.
Hughes left the suspect alone with Perkins-Vance. She removed his handcuffs and gave him a bottle of water. And he started to speak. A little. When Perkins-Vance asked why he didn’t want to answer any questions, he said he was ashamed. He spoke haltingly, uncertainly; the connection between his mind and his mouth seemed to have atrophied from disuse. But over the next couple of hours, he gradually opened up.
His name, he revealed, was Christopher Thomas Knight. Born on December 7, 1965. He said he had no address, no vehicle, did not file a tax return, and did not receive mail. He said he lived in the woods.
“For how long?” wondered Perkins-Vance.
Knight thought for a bit, then asked when the Chernobyl nuclear-plant disaster occurred. He had long ago lost the habit of marking time in months or years; this was just a news event he happened to remember. The nuclear meltdown took place in 1986, the same year, Knight said, he went to live in the woods. He was 20 years old at the time, not long out of high school. He was now 47, a middle-aged man.
Knight stated that over all those years he slept only in a tent. He never lit a fire, for fear that smoke would give his camp away. He moved strictly at night. He said he didn’t know if his parents were alive or dead. He’d not made one phone call or driven in a car or spent any money. He had never in his life sent an e-mail or even seen the Internet.
He confessed that he’d committed approximately forty robberies a year while in the woods—a total of more than a thousand break-ins. But never when anyone was home. He said he stole only food and kitchenware and propane tanks and reading material and a few other items. Knight admitted that everything he possessed in the world, he’d stolen, including the clothes he was wearing, right down to his underwear. The only exception was his eyeglasses.
Perkins-Vance called dispatch and learned that Knight had no criminal record. He said he grew up in a nearby community, and his senior picture was soon located in the 1984 Lawrence High School yearbook. He was wearing the same eyeglasses.
For close to three decades, Knight said, he had not seen a doctor or taken any medicine. He mentioned that he had never once been sick. You had to have contact with other humans, he claimed, in order to get sick.
When, said Perkins-Vance, was the last time he’d had contact with another person?
Sometime in the 1990s, answered Knight, he passed a hiker while walking in the woods.
“What did you say?” asked Perkins-Vance.
“I said, ‘Hi,’ ” Knight replied. Other than that single syllable, he insisted, he had not spoken with or touched another human being, until this night, for twenty-seven years.”
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