Case closed, mystery lingers around the death of the Fort Fisher Hermit

Reported by Bob Townsend – bio |email

FORT FISHER, NC (WECT) - In September, 1955, Robert Harrill began his simple and peaceful life beside the ocean on an uninhabited parcel of marsh and trees in an old war bunker near the rocks at Fort Fisher.

He lived off the land, occasionally getting food from stores or from people bringing him supplies, but mostly he ate what he was able to trap or catch from the sea.   The basics of survival, especially in the cold winter months, kept Robert Harrill occupied, and so did writing a book while maintaining his independence.

He practiced what he preached, and over the years, became a legend far and wide. People would make a trip to the area, just to see the "Hermit", give him a little money, and hear some of his stories.

Unfortunately, he was the victim of many assaults as people harassed and stole money from him.

According to the coroner's report, Harill died June 3, 1972 from a heart attack, but there are some who believe the heart attack was caused by a violent ambush by three men.

Fred Pickler with the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office says the three men assaulted Harrill while he was about ten feet away from his bunker.  He says Harrill had a massive heart attack as a result of the violent struggle.

According to Pickler, the men threw Harrill inside the bunker and put the door back over it, before speeding away.  Pickler said a fisherman contacted with information when he saw a vehicle leave at a high rate of speed with no lights on.  The person remained anonymous, but had details about what he believes happened that night.

No autopsy was performed on Harrill, and the case closed as a natural cause of death.  The Hermit was gone, but still, almost four decades later, the mystery of Robert Harrill's death remains.

Pickler says he believes those who assaulted Harrill that night are still around, walking among us today as free men.  And while he doesn't believe the three could be charged with murder, he feels that they could be arrested on manslaughter charges.

While they may be caught, Pickler says he is convinced of one thing - the three men will one day be judged on what they did that night in 1972 to the Fort Fisher Hermit.

Harrill is buried in a graveyard off River Road, near Fort Fisher, but he is certainly alive in the minds of the thousands of people he came in contact with, many never knowing his real name, just as the Fort Fisher Hermit.

Pickler is hoping the FBI will consider conducting a civil rights investigation into the death of Harrill.

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