Mystery,  Travel

Update: “Mostly Harmless” Hiker Identified

Vance Rodriguez, a.k.a. “Mostly Harmless”

Back in November, I shared a post about an unidentified hiker who passed away in the summer of 2018 in the Big Cypress Yellow Preserve in south Florida. His case was mysterious because many people had encountered him on The Appalachian Trail during his journey and described him as friendly, but reserved. He told people to call him “Denim” and “Mostly Harmless” and also used the alias “Bill Bilemy.” When discovered, he appeared to have died of starvation and had more than $3,000 cash on him. What he didn’t have in his possession was any identification, a cell phone or credit cards.

His story gained national media attention and internet sleuths were determined to find out who this man was and give him back his identity. A genomics company called Othram took the unidentified man’s DNA and used the results from the GEDmatch database to build a tree of potential relatives. This research led to the discovery that “Mostly Harmless” had Cajun roots from Louisiana. This past December, photographs of the man made their way to a group of friends in Baton Rouge, who called the Collier County Sheriff’s Office in Florida to report they thought “Mostly Harmless” was Vance John Rodriquez, an IT professional and coder who had moved from Louisiana to New York in 2013.

A WIRED writer named Nicholas Thompson invested a lot of time reporting on Vance Rodriguez and wrote a final footnote to this story a few weeks ago. It appears Rodriguez had wrestled with demons almost his entire life, even attempting suicide by shooting himself in the stomach at age 15, and battled bouts of depression and rocky relationships with girlfriends. It all actuality, if you accept the allegations from the women in his past, there were times when he was the farthest thing from “Mostly Harmless.” Did he simply throw up his hands one day and decide to give up the online video gaming and coding of his world and seek solace on The Appalachian Trail? When his landlord finally went into his apartment eight months after he left NYC he found unopened food, personal belongings and the man’s identification. No note or boxed up items.  Did those demons win a final confrontation when he starved to death in that yellow tent in a national state park in Florida? One of Rodriguez’s friends told reporters that the last thing he would have ever wanted was to become a national media story.

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Hopefully, this final bit of identification can lay the mystery to rest and help those who need to heal from his death begin to do so.

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