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Authorities: Maine hermit attracts marriage offer

Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

PORTLAND, Maine – High bail is appropriate to prevent the exploitation of a Maine man who has attracted a marriage proposal and a stranger’s offer to bail him out since his high-profile arrest for theft and burglary after living in the woods for nearly three decades, a prosecutor said Monday.

Bail for Christopher Knight was raised from $5,000 to $250,000 Sunday after Maine State Police filed two additional burglary and theft charges against him. He now faces four charges in all, but police say he’s admitted to hundreds of burglaries over the years to obtain supplies for his makeshift camp in the woods near North Pond in the central Maine town of Rome.

Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said that until the man known to locals as the North Pond Hermit is appointed an attorney, she and police feel it’s their job to keep him safe. He could have a lawyer appointed as early as today, when a bail hearing is scheduled, she said.

Knight has drawn international interest since his arrest, with an offer of marriage, an offer of bail and a ballad written in his honor. Attorneys in and outside Maine have expressed an interest in representing him, and one person wanted to provide him housing, officials said.

There’s even a book deal in the works.

“It’s clear his story has tremendous interest,” Maloney said. “Without an attorney, could that story be taken by someone who would then control it going forward? I think that’s possible.

“There are a number of things that are possible, but if he has an attorney looking out for his interests, his story will remain his and his story will be told in a way he wants to tell it.”

Police said Knight, 47, may have been responsible for as many as 1,000 burglaries during his 27 years in seclusion, raiding cottages for food, cooking gear, sleeping bags, tents and other goods to help him survive.

Knight was arrested after authorities said he tripped a surveillance sensor set up by a game warden while stealing food from a camp for children with special needs. Authorities later found the campsite where they said Knight lived, which included a tent covered by tarps suspended between trees, a bed, propane cooking stoves and a battery-powered radio.

After his arrest, the phone calls started coming.

One man wanted to write a poem about him and called asking for more background information on Knight, said state police spokesman Steve McCausland. Another caller offered housing. A carpenter from Georgia offered to travel to Maine and repair any damage Knight might have caused at the camps he allegedly broke into.

“Whether the callers are well-meaning or whether there’s another motive there, I don’t know,” McCausland said.

On Saturday, a man who said he was from New York and temporarily living in New Hampshire showed up at the Kennebec County Jail offering to bail Knight out, said Wayne Michaud, a bail commissioner.

The offer seemed odd from the start because the man couldn’t say what his plans were if Knight went with him, and kept calling another person on his phone before answering questions, Michaud said.

Knight turned down the bail offer after meeting with him and Michaud.

“Mr. Knight was certainly on top of things, asking him questions like: ‘Why are you here? What do you want? I don’t know you,’” Michaud said.

Knight isn’t seeking attention, said Trooper Diane Perkins-Vance, who has met with him several times. She described him as humble, pleasant and intelligent, with a sense of humor.

He told her he probably would have spent the rest of his life in the woods if he hadn’t been arrested.

“He doesn’t have a reason for it; it’s something he chose to do,” she said. “He told me yesterday he probably would’ve died in the woods.”

A Maine publishing company has now hired an author to write a book about Knight.

Northern House Media LLC was considering a book about Alexis Wright, the Kennebunk Zumba instructor who led a double life as a prostitute, when Knight walked out of the woods, owner Derrick Grant said.

“We thought Christopher Knight had Alexis Wright beaten hands down,” he said. “So we abandoned Alexis Wright in favor of Christopher Knight.”

People are captivated by Knight’s story and how he could stay hidden for 27 years, Grant said. People are thinking, “maybe I’d want to do that, if not for 27 years, then for seven days.”

“I think people are fascinated by is he a thief, or is he a hero, or is he both?” Grant said. “I think right now people have a lot of ‘Why?’”

Maloney said she’s heard some people compare Knight to Henry David Thoreau, the 19th-century author and philosopher from Massachusetts who made three journeys to Maine’s North Woods and is well known for his reflections on simple living in nature.

But people shouldn’t forget that Knight’s accused of breaking into people’s homes and stealing, she said: “His story is a mixture of Henry David Thoreau and the Phantom of the Opera.”

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