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What would lead a man to become a hermit?
by Larz F. Neilson, 2003
There are probably as many reasons as there are hermits. And today, there are none in Wilmington.
But 45 years ago, there were two hermits living in opposite ends of town.
At the northerly end of Ballardvale Street, the town line runs down the middle of the road. Wilmington is on the right, Andover is on the left. And it is along that section where the man known as the Old Hermit lived.
He had a stucco house in the woods, a very small house, two stories, with a stone fireplace. Not much is known about Christian Loeffler, other than the fact that he had a pack of dogs.
There was a path leading to Camp 40 Acres. Boy Scouts hiking to camp would hustle by the house, drawn by curiosity yet repulsed by fear, mostly of the dogs.
There is a story that a mailman once attempted to deliver a special delivery letter to him. He met the dogs, and departed without making the delivery.
At the other end of town, at the Woburn-Wilmington line, there is an old volcano. Nearby is Cook Hill, and on it is a road, Cook Avenue. Joseph Shebany lived there in a small cabin. He had a cat and a dog, and they were well cared for. And while Shebany was a recluse, he did have some contacts with people. He would go to Woburn a couple of times a week to buy food, and there were people who would occasionally go to see him.
On Dec. 29, 1957, Mrs. Gretchen Martel and her son Stewart went to visit him, and found him dead. The house was a shambles, littered with trash. The kitchen table was tipped over, and Shebany was dead on the floor, his head against the wall.
Police found two bank books, one with a balance of $5000, the other with $2700.
Additionally, Shebany had some stocks, and two apartments in Boston, which he rented out for $50 a month.
It is believed he had relatives in New York and a daughter in Syria.
Back in North Wilmington, Loeffler’s fate was not as clear. But it seems he came to a grisly end.
On Aug. 16, 1958, some Explorer Scouts from Troop 26 of Malden, who were camping at Camp 40 Acres, found a human skull in the woods.
A search ensued, and other bones were found, although it was determined they were not of human origin. But the skull was human. There was no jawbone, nor were there teeth, so identification was impossible.
But nobody ever saw Christian Loeffler again. He was last seen about two months before the skull was found.
Speculation was that the dogs had turned on him. Police received a number of complaints about the dogs, after they apparently turned wild and joined with other dogs in the area. Several of them were shot.
Seven years later, on July 4, 1965, the Old Hermit's house burned. Because of the remote location, firefighters had to use a tank truck to transport water.
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Page created 8-Mar-04.
Last updated 8-Mar-04.
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