New hope for confirmation of identity; “Mostly Harmless” may finally be identified

SUMMARY

Missing NPF has learned that new information made available via credible tip has led authorities one step closer to confirming the identity of “Mostly Harmless,” who was found deceased at Big Cypress National Preserve.

“Mostly Harmless” has been formally identified as Vance Rodriguez.

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Update 1/12/2020 at 11:28a:

Today, Sheriff Kevin Rambosk is pleased to announce that after more than two years, thanks to the great work of our detectives, tips from the public and the use of DNA technology, we now know the identity of the deceased hiker who went by the trail name Mostly Harmless. Although an autopsy did not indicate foul play in his death, our detectives worked tirelessly to identify him.

On July 23, 2018, two hikers stumbled upon the body of a man at a small campsite deep within Big Cypress National Preserve. The man had no identification, phone or computer with him and our exhaustive efforts to identify him through traditional means were unsuccessful. Today we know that Mostly Harmless was a man by the name of Vance Rodriguez, an IT worker in New York with roots in Louisiana.

Through our investigation we learned that Mr. Rodriguez set out to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2017. He spent several months hiking south, toward Florida using only paper maps. He was friendly with other thru hikers, but also reserved. No one we interviewed knew his real name even after spending time with him on the trail, sharing stories and snapping photos of him.

Mr. Rodriguez had reached Southwest Florida by April of 2018, which was the last time a witness reported seeing him on the trail. A few months later, his body and his belongings were found in a tent at Noble’s Camp Ground in Ochopee, near mile marker 63 of Interstate 75.

We began our investigation with traditional means, combing missing persons databases for matching fingerprints or dental records. Later that summer, the agency posted a composite photo to Facebook. Within minutes, fellow thru hikers had sent dozens of photos of Mostly Harmless and reported meeting him along the trail.

We interviewed the hikers, pieced together a timeline and looked into dozens of tips submitted by members of the public.

This past year, our agency partnered with Othram, a DNA lab in Texas that works exclusively with law enforcement to solve cold cases through forensic genealogy.

But the case was ultimately solved this month when a former coworker of Mr. Rodriguez saw his photo online and reached out to us after seeing a 2019 bulletin our agency issued. The coworker provided us with Mr. Rodriguez’ name and photos. We enlisted the help of the Lafayette Parish County Sheriff’s Office, which made contact with his family. The family then agreed to provide a DNA sample for comparison. Othram has made a positive identification based on that DNA.

We are glad to have solved this case. And we want to thank the community for their interest and for circulating the information that eventually reached the right person.

Previously:

For over 2 years, a hiker – found deceased at Nobles Camp in Big Cypress National Preserve – has yet to be identified.

Records indicate that “Mostly Harmless,” the unidentified person’s trail name, stayed at hotels between the Appalachian and Florida Trails. While some were able to remember interactions with him, nobody could offer authorities a name or many other details beside a few suggestions: he supposedly lived in the Northeast and had worked in the field of technology. Wired referred to this case as “the case the internet can’t crack,” Facebook groups and Reddit Threads have discussed it in excruciating detail, analyzing nearly every conceivable possibility, and responsibly continue to keep the case alive alongside their thousands of captivated readers. Still, the mystery remains.

Now, thanks to developments in DNA analysis and a new technique used to build out a family tree using the assistance of a public database, we – the tireless internet community of private detectives, journalists, biologists, and psychologists – may finally be that much closer to the answer of a question that has been circulating since July 23, 2018, “who is Mostly Harmless?” From science and public information, the identity of a man somewhere between the ages of 35 and 50, weighing 83 pounds, who died from starvation next to $3,640 in cash, may finally be known.

Missing NPF will not publish the name and/or photographs of the possible match until that information has been cleared for public consumption and is published wide by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.

We have updated our database listing with the following information (no other information has been updated):

Missing NPF has learned that new information has been made available to authorities – stemming from a credible tip – which may finally lead to a positive confirmation of identity for “Mostly Harmless.” We understand that the family and friends of “Mostly Harmless” have been notified (in an effort to confirm); our hearts go out to them during this difficult time and, out of respect, Missing NPF will not update the “Mostly Harmless” listing until that information is first released to the public-at-large via law enforcement.

We are reminded – once again – that data and science are our ally; the exchange of information has powered the search for this man’s identity, and the passions of many have led us to where we are now.

We hope to finally put a confirmed name on this listing very soon.

Link to Detective’s statement.

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