ABOUT THIS EPISODE

There was a legend in central Maine, about a hermit who had lived in the woods, unseen, for 30 years.  Then, in 2013, the police arrested a man named Christopher Knight.

English
United States

TRANSCRIPT

00:00:02list of supported WNYC Studios
00:00:10WNYC Studios you're listening to snap judgement class today story about mysterious someone or something living in the woods kind of story has been passed on from generation to generation the only thing is this one this might be true
00:00:33sap releaser Joe Rosenberg Texas from here
00:00:46so the story takes place on the shores of Lake about an hour's Drive in Lincoln Maine Coast call the North Pond North Pond isn't big maybe a mile on that smile wide and like a lot of lakes in the area there are many folks who live there year-round a lot of people have what they call camps and these are like very small cabins and it goes down for generations and generations Mike single is journalist and he's going to be a big part of the story you'll see why in just a little bit but he says the back in the 80s in these cabins on the pond 8687 things started to go missing Little Things
00:01:24some people are missing some steaks in the freezer and people are missing beer some people are missing propane tank there's no damage by normally stop getting nothing of extreme values taken so people are wondering if I can use this like a practical joke of some teenagers around when guy thinks maybe it's my own son some people think maybe maybe I'm just being forgetful and then the next year when I come back to the heavens there's been more that people get a little freaked out please say we've gotten a bunch of calls are going to catch him soon nobody gets caught people start reinforcing their cabins trying to lock their windows with better locks a desk or beef liver is whether they are thinking around all the security systems Sanford mother hear another guy and overtime section of his patterns, I'm only missing
00:02:24Budweiser never Bud Light every homeowner seems to get to know this person whoever they are the one thing they clearly aren't interested in is money always close supplies Necessities One Summer some of the sites you know I'm going to put a piece of paper outside at 10 and I'm going to leave a note and then it's going to just tell me what you need and I'll leave it out for you people think that's a great idea and at least half a dozen people leave these offerings to this
00:02:59mystery and none of them were ever touched no new list was ever written and the break-ins continued
00:03:09another decade went by and break-ins eventually numbered over a thousand children who inherited the cabins from their parents also inherited this ass he was like part of the scenery gets formed at BBQ's around the campfire people's just decided we're going to explain this by saying we have a Hermit in the woods and they gave him a name the North Pond hermit
00:03:36course must cabin owners Windcrest would say they didn't actually believe that the North Pond hermit was a real thing is more like a legend was a coping mechanism to explain the unexplainable but then when I early in the spring 2013 27 years after the Fest at the gun was caught at the pine tree Camp stealing food
00:04:00he's clean-shaven his hair is neatly cut his clothes steam clean does not seem like a person who spent 27 years in the woods
00:04:09the man was acting strange he refused to make eye contact wasn't speaking and I know you have a right to remain silent night away it was as if he was incredibly shy finally an officer named I am Vance sits alone with the man and about two hours after his capture a man starts to talk
00:04:30man told the officer that he was a thief the one everyone I've been looking for and yes he didn't back up in the woods so she never slept in two Wars since he never live fire he says he never touched anybody he says that everything he owns stolen except for perhaps his eyeglasses he says you one time 27 years encountered one person on a trail and said one syllable High
00:05:00of course the officer was skeptical it all seems a little far-fetched but then the man mentioned that he'd done High School not far away someone rushed out and brought back an old yearbook containing a class photo a boy named Christopher Knight
00:05:17but he says it's hard to tell who it is he says he hasn't seen an image of himself
00:05:2427 years but he had his glasses up on his head and he slides them back on this news to take a more focused look at the picture and it's then that it seems to be clear that the guy in the you're looking guy who just interested 27 years later I wear the same pair of glasses
00:05:43urban legend described as the North Pond hermit has been arrested State officials say the North Pond hermit was considered a myth or Legend because no one had ever seen him ride a guilty plea from The Man known around the world as the North Pond hermit overnight the most isolated man in the world who just want to be left alone became the most famous person in May 2017 is it go he went into the the song you're hearing it was written in his honor journalist maricruz Ordinary People they all came to the jail hoping to speak with him Christopher Knight was accepting no visitors of publicity is really heard or seen from the North Pond hermit not let people to wonder why he did this in the first place and what's next
00:06:39no we don't know what to do
00:06:46which brings us back to our journalist Mike
00:06:51Mike says that when you first read about the North Pond hermit he was tempted to just dismiss it as a human interest story of the week nothing worth his time rewards shifted my interest is a little too big in the article that said he stole hundreds perhaps thousands of books
00:07:09and somehow that got ingrained in me and my first reaction wasn't pick up the phone or want to talk to him I first thought was I should write this man a letter and I can chances of getting a response with low probably a little bit higher than 0 but not much he said he thought he had one small Advantage animal fashioned but it works nobody writes handwritten letters anymore even even just people that actually written back to me to say thanks for the let her know I can't talk to you because they're so surprised and sure enough these layer Christopher Knight would not responded to any requests out of hundreds of requests responded to Mike
00:07:53I have the whole thing right here you want to hear some of that first paragraph what you think
00:08:00Mike Finkel there's no deer in a citation this is Mike Finkel, received your letter obviously like you I too enjoy communicating by letter best choice for me as my vocal verbal skills have become rather Rusty and it must be goes on a little bit and says I don't know you so any letter from me to you would be of an Oculus content if you would like to write me don't expect much in return but I will read your letter I wince at the rudeness of this reply but I think it better to be clear and honest rather than polite
00:08:38tempted to say nothing personal but handwritten letters are always personal whatever the content you took a chance and this is the result pleased disappointed not quite sure
00:08:52Vanessa Williams
00:08:57and I'd say within 30 minutes of me reading that letter three or four times over I had taken out my pain in rib action followed night revealed almost nothing about his life in the woods at a promise that he'd send another letter but invariably he did he said that the correspondents help alleviate some of the boredom of jail meanwhile Michael's going enamored with knights pro-style something simple way of writing all his own from having no interaction with actual human beings but never less 3000 the books over the course of three years it was fascinating and Vivid and poetic and troll dryly humorous and and there was it was that feeling when it came to its lexual ability as a while this guy is just smarter than me and my go to something else other night was Garden in his writing when he wasn't being guarded he was being brutally honest kids wrote Nothing At All by the unvarnished truth
00:09:56and the letters I received if you read them back-to-back are this
00:10:01heartbreaking mental breakdown basically one of the things you said you knows more damage has been done to his mental health in a couple of months in jail and two and a half decades in the woods and is the last line of his last letter to me and he's talking about not knowing how long he's going to be locked up insert for you he does have really poetic sense of writing
00:10:27stress levels Sky High next time I meet with a lawyer I'm going to pin him down give me a number how long months years tell me the worst how long still tired more tired tired or Tire dist tired Ad nauseam tired infinitum becoming more silent
00:10:50no more for me thank you for writing it gave me Comfort and release and release signed your friendly neighborhood hermit Christopher Knight
00:11:05how's the first time you use the same with the last two words he ever open
00:11:11after that Mike wrote three more letters tonight the night never wrote back to fly to me having no idea if you would see me but figuring that
00:11:24at least I would show up and see
00:11:31I was just gotten started snapping when we return Mike Finkel goes to see the man behind the curtain the stunning conclusion to The Stranger in the woods stay tuned
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00:13:34welcome back to snap judgement classic when last we left the spike Collective Common Sense the rumor has proven true there really wasn't man but in the Central Maine Woods journalist Michael Finkel he was writing to that man are hermit. Running back and so might decide to pay the hermit of visit which yeah it is ironic recent Joe Rosenberg Texas to their most unlikely Meetup
00:14:06North Pond hermit stop riding tonight Mike wrote one last letter to say that he was going to come visit its like before he didn't hear back but might want any way up till this point no reported been granted visit until Mike had no idea if he'd be any different just showed up at the jail gave his name to the front desk and waited to see what would happen then a guard came out assured him into a walk into the room and it was dimmer and so it took my eyes a few seconds or so to figure it out and I can look through the glass and saw that actually someone was on the other side of the glass and it was Christopher Knight
00:14:45and count even went to strangers meet each other if there's a big knowledgement there's an odd there's all the Silent Communication that humans have here there was nothing looking at him he's looking slightly off to the left there I've never met the only thing that was clear was that night was not pleased to see him a whole list of questions
00:15:09I think I even printed them out of my computer and stuck them in my back pocket or probably three pages
00:15:15and within like 10 seconds I knew that that wasn't going to work and he talked about his in his letters possibly in every letter about silence and not liking people that are babbling but I thought about that
00:15:31and against all my instincts to talk as like let's just be quiet for a little while
00:15:41which picture staring directly at someone and there's absolutely nothing else going on in the room is really hard to do so I would say I lusted I am telling you an unnaturally long. Time possibly longer than I've ever just sat in front of someone silently in my life which is more than a bit but certainly less than three but a really long time and finally you was like this moment of common
00:16:10and I see a movie the phone receiver closer to his mouth and he says to me some people want me to be this warm and fuzzy person just spouting off fortune cookie lines from my current home
00:16:21how it's like I'm going to play along your hermit home
00:16:27like under a bridge
00:16:29and he should have slit his eyes over it's like he you disappoint me and he said to me a troll
00:16:39sure that the conversation started to move forward all those a move swiftly would be misleading Chris continue to avoid eye contact he said there was just too much information in the face too much too fast. The rest of the visit they deliberately looked over each others shoulders spoke haltingly
00:16:59comfortably we never really achieved any true but we would call banter and I was like this is how I should not be here
00:17:10this is the only hour that Chris would be able to put up with Mike. She might have one in with Chris kind of agreement or trade maybe I'm going to write about you you're not going to be able to have any control over what I'm going to write it was very open and blunt about it but I think Chris Knight with the situation like this that he would be hounded forever for his story or you could tell it to one person and then Retreat so when I saw the jail guard come into Discord amount Chris can I come visit you again and he's not looking at me about to hang up the phone who dis is
00:17:55accepted nine of my visits and I visited nine times he never said no
00:18:01the course of us 9 visits Chris told Mike the story of how he became a Hermit it wasn't planned exactly 4 inspired by everything he said his childhood for the most part was pretty normal good parents loving siblings is always a loner I don't like people that much
00:18:17and a 20 years old suddenly like as if you'd like I've had enough he quit his job no two weeks warning didn't even return his tools according to one of a family friend just sort of left and you took a road trip attractions were taking a show just drove South stuck to the interstate and eat at fast-food restaurants sometimes he would pull over by the side of the highway and watch the world go by from behind as windshield no interaction no activity
00:18:45I got a Florida recently turned around and started driving back North
00:18:51and by this point it was clear that somewhere on this road trip North something came to him he's like I'm going to try something that's not normal and I don't care
00:19:08he ended up driving into Maine right by his house but he never stopped went through his tiny little town drives not just into Romaine but northern Maine which is miles and miles and miles away from anything and as he described so you basically like drives it through underbrush until his car can go no further and he stops and he leaves his keys behind in the car and closes the door
00:19:37he has like a tent and a backpack and really not that much food no Maps no compass
00:19:46probably not really enough clothing and just walks away
00:19:52did you ask him though like about when he stepped into the woods that first time did he know where he was like on a map
00:20:00I mean that's that's that's the type of question that Chris and I would give you like a little bit of a long blink like he was on planet Earth in state of Maine he was in the woods like you need more so not exactly but didn't really matter
00:20:19Chris wander through the forest generally heading back south when you reach the North Pond didn't know what it was called reason precisely where it was at first nevertheless he said about finding a spot where he can hide a full-time stride 7 location so it course of two years before I found the one we would stay for the next 25 the camp was almost perfectly hidden just asked Mike cuz when he wasn't interviewing Chris he's trying to find it and know Chris was about to tell him
00:20:50and I've walked in a lot of weight in my life and I have never seen Woods thicker than the woods of Central Maine workers Night Live the it's not just the skinny little trees with branches it's the boulder that are just stacked everywhere it is impossible to move through that was sliced to bits there's poison ivy Thorns bugs that was so disoriented I went back and forth for five six times and I fell and hit my head really hard against The Rock and was very worried that I was getting knocked myself out but I wanted to find this site and find my step with big boulders in Psych
00:21:28I'd like a room
00:21:32a 20ft by 20ft like a living room but Heaven has a ceiling tree branches are linked overhead and it's perfectly flat and I'm sitting here in this room
00:21:44and every the whole forests around me and I'm telling you within moments it immediately relax me and I couldn't completely understand by Chris Knight was drawn there in the forest and it completely apart from at the same time making sure the sound of the wind in the trees without feeling it show is he on to the woods without being seen and everything has its place that way that only happens in a home that's been truly lived in or some objects on the trunks of trees and Trunks Grand around them there's a mushroom growing out of another tree which Crystal my kid watch Sprout and expand over the course of the seasons although like so many things in Chris's life couldn't tell Mike exactly how old it was
00:22:27years at absolutely no importance to him it's just the season the moon the temperature and he never ever ever was lonely or bored just sitting there quietly was extremely entertaining to him
00:22:45did you ever talk to himself
00:22:47of course I asked him that question
00:22:50he thought that was an absurd question never once never one word and I believe him Journal
00:22:58never wrote one word ow need a couple of crossword puzzles he thought that everyone who wrote a book or took a picture of painted something wrote a poem all they were doing is thinking about an audience because that's constructing something for someone else to read or even yourself at a later date which doesn't even exist if you're living in the here and now it was absurd damn to write something down brushing time I told Mike he didn't even really have a sense of self he just kind of was what he sensed forest sounds around him nature but at the same time it shocked Mike we finally found the site to realize how close it was as hard as it has been to find the nearest cabin was just a three-minute walk away you could easily here in a walk newest talking to each other you hear dogs bark is here cars crashing over gravel and you know night was very very close to civilization and never felt the need to return
00:23:54but why do you think that is exactly like why not occasionally going to town or or check in with his family are you think the reason is he just had that sort of mind when he decided what the rules were and
00:24:07like a sort of Buddhist monk
00:24:10just realized that she would sooner die
00:24:14then break these rules every single aspect of Chris Knight's life was built around the principle of non-intervention not having to see anyone or be seen and not leaving any evidence of the existence and if you think that this is just some kind of game he was playing with himself they can stop at any time so it's just a loaner having fun in the woods consider what he put himself through winter what Chris Knight told me he didn't winter is
00:24:43be a survival won the snow you leave tracks in the snow he made it a rule that he wouldn't leave tracks so he did not leave the confines of his space for 6 months second thing is smoke would give his campsite away so did not have a fire not once just to be clear I can have a fire when it was negative 20° which happened all the time it didn't matter how many blankets he had Chris if he tried to sleep would freeze to death but she realized that what you do in the depths of cold at the coldest of all cold and he acting calculated that to be about 2:30 in the morning you get up you get out of bed and walk in circles around your sight so I'm just picturing him doing this and I can't imagine the self-control that Chris Knight had like
00:25:41how could you live so close to someone and be so cold or hungry he nearly died of starvation of hypothermia and warm was right there right there 3 minutes away and he never never went I can see how anything could be worth that kind of suffering and I've said something to the effect who sounds like winter was just horrible and he said to me know
00:26:13is very favorite moments to place in the dead of winter and there was no bugs there are no birds no wind there's no leaves on the trees there is true silence and he said that it was that state that he felt
00:26:31Stillness and he said he crave that but he was very hungry and very cold but he needed to suffer like that in order to feel the joy
00:26:43the same time what year was the one thing that marred Chris's Hermitage because in order to survive the winter. Lee wanted to hold fast was rules and not leave the forest and its own food
00:26:57I said that he could not her fish he had to steal it was proud of a lot of things but when he was talking about stealing you could see him sort of shrink in front of you in some sort of way he was ashamed of himself so he never broke into a home that wasn't a second home he never broke a pane of glass he picked a lock on your front door and took your hamburger meat in your in your flashlight he was very careful to make sure that he locked your front door and closed it and make sure it was shut tight cuz he didn't want anybody to break into your house to tested the fact that he had to steal yeah but in that case why did they fill out the shopping list of people left for him I gotta fix the problem
00:27:43Chris saw these notes as you told me and you realize that writing down a shopping list is a form of communication you start writing something down and then you now have a relationship with this person you'd rather die than have a connection that's a connection but if you ever thought I was romanticizing his thing too much you would be like don't do that you know you have to take the good you take the bad he never thought that he didn't deserve to be in jail he knew what he was doing was wrong
00:28:11what system was surprisingly sympathetic when I came to Chris's crimes they decided that none of the usual penalties quite applied in this case that they should focus instead on reintroducing into society after 7 months in jail was about to be released suddenly had to get a job he had to do community service he was going to have to interact with the rest of the world but he could sort of see the absurdity of everything can see the absurdity of a man spending 27 years in the woods and you can also see the absurdity of not spending 27 years in the woods and said things like an oak from what I've seen from my position in jail if you would call me at your world
00:28:54it's been really disappointing to me just filled with colors and ridiculous aspirations and I couldn't disagree with most of it sound like was pleasantly surprised when after his release all the counselors in court officials said that Chris was doing really well showing up at court dates getting a part-time job at his brother's business attending to his family a model parolee Mike even went to visit him at his family's home in Central Maine he says that we got there like was greeted him he looks like a totally normal guy baseball cap work boots a member of society
00:29:29indicator this hand to come follow him it's like give me a very welcoming gesture which was
00:29:36extremely surprising and we stood under this tree
00:29:42pretty close to each other didn't touch each other
00:29:46and we had the most
00:29:49fact the only
00:29:51real emotional truly human conversation I ever had with Chris Knight
00:29:58I said how you doing and I thought that he would tell me that he was doing great
00:30:05Chris never one to beat around the bush and not one to lie to me said not well
00:30:13Chris explained that is good performance in front of the counselors and his family was just a shell game that in reality he was doing terribly sound every human interaction hopelessly awkward all the normal goals Milestones of human life totally meaningless you don't no one really understood him and the longer he spent in society the more the pressure was building and him to escape again to go back to the woods and now he turned to me with his very and Helen I contact for just a couple seconds which is startling for Kristen
00:30:44ask me a very personal question about himself which he had never done before you said am I crazy
00:30:55of course I thought a lot about that
00:30:59and I said to him know I don't think you're crazy and then he asked me a very odd question and he says what do you think I'm talking about
00:31:11when I say the lady of the Woods
00:31:15I told the lady of the woods so you talkin about Mother Nature he said no talking about death and
00:31:25he had expressed to me a few times during our jail meetings at in the depth of winter
00:31:31when he was low on fuel food and the cold is unrelenting
00:31:36he can't come pretty close to dying and he said during one of these moments he was so close to dying
00:31:45that woman came to the foot of his bed in his tent in the forest and sort of remove this shawl was draped over shoulders and said he coming with me
00:31:55and nights that I'm not a knight being a logical man interjected himself and said you know what I realize I'm one level of us a hallucination but I really can't shake it for my hair cuz it was so vivid and so real and maybe that's what happens right at the cusp of death
00:32:18and he said that he was not fit to live in the world
00:32:24and is freedom just proved that he was trapped and I could see him getting agitated he said like everyone's just pounding on me and pounding on me and pounding on me and he'll out to make everything great which was all you do is go to his spot in the woods but he do that if he he do that if he tried to go live in the woods he could be put in prison and he said to me you know something's got to give
00:32:50and like his voice caught
00:32:54I looked at him and they were just tears coming down his face and
00:33:02I started to cry
00:33:05and he said all I can think about doing
00:33:09it's on the next really cold day
00:33:12I'm just going to walk deep deep deep into the forest and I'm going to sit there and I'm going to get cold
00:33:19hey lady of the way she's going to come to me and this time he's going to let her
00:33:24take me away he's going to kill himself
00:33:29any efficient is a
00:33:31pocket watch out of his front pocket and he's like my mother is going to be home any minute
00:33:41and that's when he said Mike I anoint you my biographer right after winter ends you right about me anyway you want I'll be happy I'm going to go with the lady of the Woods
00:33:51and you said
00:33:58got in my car and left
00:34:03as he drove away Mike's Hard to process what he just heard so I pulled over on the side of the road I was like I remember rolling down the windows it was such a gorgeous day and I was like what the hell am I supposed to do I call the police do I call his mom. Call his counselor do I call if I just keep it a secret it was no legal thing I had to do
00:34:24he had specifically said I don't want to see you again but I actually didn't feel like I was a journalist in a subject I really and truly felt in that moment that he was talking to a friend where's the closest Chris and I can get to having a friend unless I got to I got to talk to Chris again
00:34:43Mike went back the very next day I'm driving by my way to Chris's house was all upset and worried and like wandering and the garage is open in the dude's taking apart an engine and others Chris can I pull over and the guy that's his head up that's not Chris that's Daniel Daniel was Kris his older brother Mike and never met him and he didn't know if you knew about what Chris said. Counter for second and I glanced through my
00:35:10windshield and up at his house there's Christian the road is motioning frantically come come come come come I need to have some eyeglass And the emotions can do that roll down the window motion
00:35:23and it said I opened the door and he moved back a few feet and he was Furious Chris began admonishing like that by coming back against his wishes it done what Chris described as terrible damage when I try to explain things concerned with what Christmas sad about the lady in the woods Chris come short and angry and we had possibly a 30-second, I was just exploring and I did get out of here get out of here I don't want to see you again
00:35:52Pete even let me make a decision you turned and walked away like so back to Montana and then of the next few weeks Road Chris multiple letters trying to make sure that he was okay that he hadn't followed through on his plans and the time of his threat
00:36:08went by
00:36:10and he kept showing up to his court appointment so I knew he was alive
00:36:15and I didn't expect to hear from him again but
00:36:19like a 5 spline letter one day appears in my mailbox it was a letter from Chris as was Chris's Custom it was unsigned. Ron a little flower in one corner and Mike well in certain terms said
00:36:38stay away forever
00:36:44Chris it turned out that there's no such thing as a perfect Hermitage there's always some point of contact he claimed that he'd only ever been seen by one other person during his time on the North Pond and Mike learned of another encounter one winter three generations of ice fisherman a grandfather father son and walking through the woods when they spotted a man in the distant far off the trail man wants spotted didn't speak to the Father and Son grow tents the grandfather no Frenchman State, he said that must be the hermit who lives in the woods all we need to do is leave them alone and they yelled to the tree so the Hermitage here don't worry we swear to tell no one we saw you will keep your secret
00:37:32can I get my Paws and looked at them bowed before disappearing back into the forest when Mike asked Chris why he never told him about this Crystal Mike but he hadn't been loud he said it was a packed
00:38:11thank you so much to Mike Finkel for sharing your story with us he tells us that as of 2015 Chris Knight was still living a very private life with his family and Central Maine if you want to learn more about Chris's life in the forest check out Mike's book The Stranger in the woods the extraordinary story of the last true hermit to find out where the books are sold of links on my website snapjudgment.org the North Pond hermit song with by stand thit leveling to his work at Snapchat. Org as well the original score for this story with mental gorio and Andrew Vickers it was produced by Joe Rosenberg

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