George Konnight lived like a hermit when he could have lived like a millionaire.
Ramapo police Tuesday identified the 79-year-old man found dead outside his rural house as Konnight, who had lived alone since his sister’s recent death on what once was the family farm.
Despite having few possessions and a home with no indoor plumbing or heating, Konnight had banked $3 million from the sale of about 31.5 acres of his family’s property in northern Ramapo to a New Jersey company, JIEM Properties, in November. His sister, Alice, was listed as the seller.
Konnight’s skeletal remains were found at 11:52 a.m. Friday in the woods on his property off West Maple Avenue near Smolley Drive and Viola Park, Ramapo Detective Lt. Mark Emma said.
“He lived a very simple life, hermit-like,” Emma said. “He had his attorney and another man looking in on him now and again. He was alone.”
The Rockland Medical Examiner’s Office is doing an autopsy to determine Konnight’s cause of death, but it is not considered suspicious. Emma theorized he most likely died of a medical condition as he walked the property. He said Konnight often walked through the woods to the road, and sometimes traveled by taxi.
“He’d wander through the paths and woods,” Emma said. “It looks like he cut his own firewood. He had one light. The house was in disarray. People could have thought the house may have been abandoned.”
Thomas O’Connell, a Pearl River-based lawyer who worked with the family on and off for the last 15 years, said the family had owned as many as 200 acres of land in the area. He said Konnight and his sisters, Alice and Anna, lived in the home since childhood and had never held real jobs. They lived “off the grid,” periodically selling portions of the property to stay afloat — just as their parents had done, O’Connell said.
Though they had no true expenses, the most recent sale was made, in large part, to pay off more than $130,000 in taxes owed on the property, O’Connell said.
“They wanted to stay where they were because they enjoyed their bucolic lifestyle, being isolated and surrounded by trees with deer running through the yard,” O’Connell said, later adding, “Their only overhead was taxes. They didn’t have a lawyer helping them out. They didn’t want to get involved with the government. They just couldn’t keep up with the taxes.”
O’Connell said he had tried to get Konnight a reverse mortgage, but ran into trouble because the home lacked both plumbing and heating. He was, however, able to get Konnight a cellphone and health insurance, which had recently led the 79-year-old to his first doctor’s visit in decades.
“The guy had everything to live for. Under the Affordable Care Act, he was able to get insurance so I had just gotten him an insurance card,” O’Connell said. “He had just gotten a clean bill of health. I brought him to the doctor in May for the first time since he was 12 years old and had his tonsils taken out.”
O’Connell said Konnight had never been to a dentist and that authorities would have had trouble identifying him with dental records. He said police did not allow him to see Konnight’s remains, but showed him a picture of a cane found at the scene that he believes belonged to the man.
Eugene Erickson, 82, a neighbor since 1956 who had gone to school with Konnight and one of his two sisters, said he knew the family but they didn’t socialize or speak much. Konnight and his siblings attended the old Brick Church School.
“They lived like recluses,” Erickson said. “Nobody knew them. They lived by themselves. I’d say hello to George and maybe got a wave. You never got much in return as far as answers from him.”
Erickson, who is active with Rockland Detachment Marine Corps League, said Konnight’s brother served with the Marines but died in a car accident on Route 202 while home on leave in the early 1960s. O’Connell said Konnight’s sisters had both died in the last two years after suffering heart attacks.
Erickson said he also remembers Konnight’s parents — Sam and Anna — and how the father would drive a gas-guzzling tractor into Spring Valley.
Konnight and his sisters were tight-lipped when it came to family members, recalled Beverly Moore, 75, a Suffern resident who said she’s a distant cousin.
Moore said the families date to the American Revolution. She said she hadn’t seen Konnight or his siblings since a funeral of her grandfather in 1973; she did not know the two sisters had died or that George had died on Friday.
“They ran a farm,” Moore said. “They kept to themselves. They didn’t ask anyone for anything, as far as I know.”
Moore recalled visiting the Konnight farm as a girl. Her parents would drive up West Maple Avenue to the two pillars in front of the road leading to the house. The house was far off the road back in the woods and there always were props or tree limbs blocking the dirt road, she said.
“You’d scream for them to let them know you were there and they’d come out on the porch, sometimes,” she recalled. “We never made it to the house.”
“They didn’t have many friends or even a telephone,” Moore said. “I used to get calls asking about them. I told the caller they had to mail them a letter.”