(Original post written by Kiersten H)
UPDATES- These have been added to the bottom of the blog.
We know his name. We know what he looks like. We know where he’s been. We just don’t know where he was from or who he really was.
On July 23, 2018, hikers found a deceased man in a tent at a campsite called Noble’s Camp in Big Cypress National Preserve located in Collier County, Florida. His death was not suspicious, and he likely died a few days before. However, there was nothing in his possession that would reveal who he was. No phone, no ID, no credit cards; there was his hiking gear, a notebook, and $3,640 in cash.
His body was kind of twisted. His eyes were wide open and he was looking right at me.Nichalaus Horton- the hiker who found the man’s body and called 911
First thing investigators did was look into matching his fingerprints to any through various databases, such as criminal or military, which all came back no match. They then looked through missing persons cases in the area, and when no one matching his description was found then they widened their search to surrounding areas. All attempts to identify this man failed.
In another attempt to identify the deceased hiker, investigators issued a bulletin seeking information from the public. The bulletin included a composite sketch and said that the man had been between 35 and 50 years old, he had salt and pepper hair and beard, and his teeth were in excellent condition. He was 5’8” and weighed just 83 pounds. They also included what he was wearing, a beige shirt with green shorts and black Salomon hiking boots, and the type of tent he was found in, a yellow Brooke-Range 2-person tent.
Investigators began to receive tips as soon as posting the bulletin.
April 2017 – New York
Mostly Harmless told people along the way that he started hiking in New York in April, and this is where his trail name “Denim” came from.
September 2017 – Daleville, VA
October 7-8, 2017 – Damascus, VA
While in Damascus, Mostly Harmless (known as Denim still around this time) went out to eat at Damascus Pizza Co Bar & Grill on the 7th with several other hikers.
He was staying at Woodchuck’s Hostel, and was stuck there for two days because a hurricane was making it’s way to the trail.
Both these pictures were taken by Kristin Ernst Vanpelt and posted in the comments section of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office post.
November 22-26, 2017 – Hiawassee, GA
Mostly Harmless checked into Top of Georgia Hostel & Hiking Center under the name “Ben Bilemy”, which was more than likely an alias since hikers were not allowed to check in under their trail names. He checked out the next days since the hostel was closed for Thanksgiving on the 23rd. He came back the next day and stayed from the 24th until the 26th.
Right before he left, Mostly Harmless bought that 2-person tent he was found in.
December 2, 2017 – Blairsville, GA
A picture is taken of Mostly Harmless, known at this time as Denim, at Mountain Crossings which they post to their Facebook page.
According to the worker who sold him the maps, he paid in cash so there was no way to track down any information on the man who bought them.
December 4, 2017 – Blue Ridge, GA
A comment on the Mountain Crossings post has a comment made that Mostly Harmless had made it to Springer.
Another hiker met Mostly Harmless, who he knew as Denim, at a shelter at Springer Mountain. Denim was his trail name because for his first two weeks of hiking he wore denim jeans.
He said that they were the only two there so they talked pretty late into the evening, and the conversation got pretty deep. Denim said that his dad was abusive and he didn’t speak to his parents but talked about a sister, and he mentioned that he had an ex-girlfriend. They also talked about Sci-Fi, specifically Doctor Who.
December 29, 2017 – Salem Church Road
Janurary 24, 2018 – Crestview, Florida
Kelly Fairbanks was the first person to match the composite sketch to a hiker she had met in Florida on January 24, 2018. She is a trail angel- someone who helps thru-hikers by offering them showers and meals, or anything else they can for hikers. She knew him as “Mostly Harmless”, his trail name.
As soon as I seen it, I knew who it was. I immediately messaged Collier County Sheriff with a picture.
He told Kelly that he had started in New York and was heading down to Key West. When she asked him if he was using the Florida Trail Guide app, he said no because he didn’t have a phone since he was wanting to disconnect. He pulled out a piece of paper with a map of Florida on it and a line drawn where the trail should be.
Kelly said she was worried about Mostly Harmless because he seemed new to hiking, not having a phone and carrying an unnecessarily enormous tent were “rookie mistakes”. He also declined her offer to a shower and a place to stay.
February 22, 2018 – Monticello, FL
Two women who were hiking the FT encountered Mostly Harmless. Snapper and Sugar Rush were walking down 98 and entered into Aucilla Wildlife Management Area. They were walking a flooded trail when they came up on Mostly Harmless who was walking southbound. They said he was doing the trails without the GPS or even a detailed map so they exchanged trail information- making sure to go into greater detail than usual to help him out the best they could.
February 24, 2018 – Pine Log State Forest, FL
A camper at Pine Log State Forest said she met Mostly Harmless at the Sand Pond Campground. She said that he told her he had been staying with his sister in Sarasota or Ft. Meyers FL area before starting the FT. She said he told her about working in the tech field. He also told her that he had some health issues and needed/wanted to do the trip while he still could.
*I’m not sure if the part about staying with his sister to be true. We know that he started out in NY, hiked the AT all the way to the FT. Sarasota and Ft. Meyers are not part of the FT and completely out of the way.
March 17, 2018 – Near Paisly, FL
Someone else met Mostly Harmless on the FT, near Paisley, Florida. It was only 4 months before he would be discovered deceased. The hiker said that he was looking thin, but nowhere near 83 pounds. Mostly Harmless was in good spirits at this time, and he seemed to be enjoying his hike. He again mentioned that he was from, or at least started in, New York. The hiker took a picture of him also.
When this man asked someone else “Who’s that guy?”, the reply was “He’s mostly harmless” or along those lines, so Mostly Harmless kept the trail name.
It’s also been said that he introduce himself as Mostly Harmless because of his love of Sci-Fi. “Mostly Harmless” is the 5th book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.
July 23, 2018 – Ochopee, FL
Mostly Harmless was found deceased in his tent by two hikers, Nichalaus Horton and Logan Buehl, at Noble’s Camp in Big Cypress National Preserve.
Mostly Harmless had told other trail angels that he was coming from Brooklyn. He also told others that he spent a decade in the tech industry and was working on a hikers’ app.
Police were able to confirm that the unidentified man had used the alias “Ben Bilemy” to register at several hostels while hiking. They believe he started out in New York and hiked the Appalachian Trail to Florida, and he may have stopped in Virginia and Georgia on his way.
So here’s what we know:
- Checked into hostels under the name Ben Bilemy
- Used trail names Denim (along the AT) and Mostly Harmless (along the FT)
- Could be from New York, maybe Brooklyn
- Might have been born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
- No one mentioned an accent, except one person did mention that he had no accent (northern or southern)
- Spoke about a sister and ex-girlfriend
- Worked in the tech industry, might have quit his job right before he began his journey
- Had a notebook of code in his possession
- He told other hikers he was working on a hiking app
- Had no ID or phone, traveled without GPS
- He wasn’t an experienced hiker (wore jeans the first couple weeks, didn’t carry maps/gps/phone, had a tent that was too big, carried a backpack that was over 50 lbs)
Rule out list
Appalachian Trail (AT)
Florida Trail (FT)
Collier County Sheriff’s Office Facebook
Video of Mostly Harmless
Who is “Mostly Harmless”?
Help Identify This AT Hiker Found Deceased On Florida Trail!
Officials are still trying to identify hiker known as ‘Mostly Harmless’
Sworn Statement Podcast
Mysterious Hiker Found Dead On Florida Trail May Be From Brooklyn
Naple News – search with keywords
Update added 15th June 2020
Can anyone work this out? Is it to do with the game No Man’s Sky, I know that sounds random but it has been suggested to us. If you wish to see them in a larger size-
7-16-20: Photos have been released of the scene:
In July 2020, it was announced that detectives have partnered with a private DNA laboratory in Texas to identify Mostly Harmless using a new technique in forensic genealogy and handles the process in-house. The partnership comes after detectives determined that they had exhausted DNA searches through national missing person’s databases in March of this year and following national developments in DNA privacy.
You can read more about the DNA update here – CCSO and DNA Lab Partner In Attempt To ID Hiker ‘Mostly Harmless’
On December 23, 2020, journalist Jason Nark released an updated article about MH’s former life as Vance Rodriguez. He also included some new photos. You can read the article here:
The Mystery of Deceased Hiker ‘Mostly Harmless’ Is At Long Last Solved – https://www.adventure-journal.com/2020/12/the-mystery-of-deceased-hiker-mostly-harmless-is-at-long-last-solved/
January 12, 2021- the Collier County Sheriff announced that Mostly Harmless has been identified via DNA as Vance Rodriguez.
In the podcast, we discussed possibly releasing more post-mortem photos of Mostly Harmless. We have decided to not release anything further.
57 thoughts on “Unidentified and Mostly Harmless has been identified as Vance Rodriguez”
Please look into a game called Don’t Starve, developed by a company called Klei Entertainment. Maybe he worked for them
Megan – do you know why he would have connections there? Did he mention Don’t Starve? I’m trying to look at them, but it seems as though they’re based out of Vancouver – which isn’t close to New York, where it’s rumored he was from – and they don’t appear to have any US offices.
This guy is missing out of Vancouver..Terence Atherton Case number 2018052811..Could this be him
Why do you think that? Interested to know
I met him on a trail somewhere. I remember faces exceptionally well. I don’t immediately recall anything strikingly unique.
> Had a notebook of code in his possession
Are the contents of the code notebook public? It might have some clues of technologies he worked with or something like that which could be helpful.
They’re not public right now, but a journalist has said that he was given copies of the journal and they will be released soon. I’m not sure when. I can’t wait to see what they could be.
his notebook has been transcribed and is public. I found it through a FB group dedicated to finding his identity a few days ago.
They are here on TCS. Scroll down past handwritten notes and you’ll find the transcribed pages. They are related to the game Screeps. Those I asked said his Screeps knowledge was okay but the notes indicated he was a highly skilled Programmer
Yes, his notes are posted above. Typed out and pictures of each page in his notebook
I did just a bit of searching after seeing the transcriptions of the notebooks. I found this forum where a journalist asked a community of gamers if they had any ideas. I don’t really understand any of it, but maybe someone else will be able to understand more: https://screeps.com/forum/topic/2937/a-strange-request-for-help
His picture looks like the man on The bridge seen walking towards abby and libby who were murdered
He definitely does not.
No he dosen’t. Smh!
Ii was coming here to say the same thing!!! Could he be BG?!?!?!?🤔😳
Highly doubt it
This is by far the dumbest comment I have read on his case thus far. Get a grip.
Thank you for compiling all this info!
What kind of surgery would leave that long linear abdominal scar?
And did the coroner ever update the case of death? Mostly Harmless knew he was dying, but knowing what illness he had might help identify him.
I have a similar scar from gastric bypass surgery
Doubtful. almost all gastric bypasses are done laparoscopically.
That was my thought – he new he was ill but just wanted to go off the grid and explore nature
Had he been terminally ill, the pathologist would surely have found out. But the autopsy report doesn’t indicate that he was ill. I read it through – to me, he even seemed quite healthy (except for the kachexy). To me, it seems he starved himself to death.
That scar is consistent with an exploratory laparotomy, usually for trauma (see self-inflicted gunshot wound comment below)
Has anyone tried to do a reverse DNA? I saw a show on ID channel where a lady did this to solve a crime.
They are currently trying to raise funds to do a reverse DNA search for him – https://dnasolves.com/articles/big_cypress_remains
I’ve came across some info on fb. I see he has a fb profile with the name Scott Shafer is this info already known?
Tyler Lewis can you send me facebook link to this page for MH ? I can’t find it.
There is a Scott Shafer that was missing but hes been found… is that the one you’re referring to? It’s not the same person.
Looks nothing like him.
Love your pod casts. Thought of a line
“Hey people get involved we have crimes to solve “
Just a thought keep up the great work. Karen 👍
One of y’all commented on an old blog saying it may have been connected to this guy. Drop me an email so we can dialogue.
Does anyone know if the notes about food – towards the top of the notes list – have to do with the game he’s describing? Or was he working on some type of trail bar for hikers?
The scar resembles the scar from MOAS surgery, used to treat appendix cancer. Was his appendix missing? Autopsy says bowels were unremarkable. Only a handful of doctors perform that type of surgery in the US. But it typically involves removing parts of the large or small intestine as well. Just a thought. That scar is from a very serious surgery, obviously.
There are dozens of surgeries that could have resulted in that scar. Seems like his intestines were all there, I’d have to look and see if the appendix was intact. It’s not an appy scar for sure.
True. Appendix cancer surgery would have that big vertical scar, though, as it spreads through the abdomen and isn’t just dealt with through a typically appendectomy cut on the side. And it can cause intestinal blockage as it spreads a thick, jelly like mucin around the gut that hardens. But a lot of other medical conditions can result in surgery like that… It’s just a thought! It’s just so strange with so many pictures of his face no one can ID him…..
Honestly, he could have had cancer, no? Even if he was in remission, perhaps he didn’t want to ever go through that again and figured he’d go out, living his best life!
If he Truly starved to death and the cachexia was caused by an underlying condition? Why were his bowels full? Can anyone explain this to me?
No cancer or evidence in the autopsy.
You can eat and still starve to death, especially if you’re not eating the right stuff. Look up “rabbit starvation”
I can’t help but agree with the theory he had a bowel obstruction… In the late stages it would explain the empty stomach as eating would have caused nausea and faecal vomiting.. His disease progression likely led to multi organ failure including the kidneys and potential urinary retention which would explain the full bladder..
Poor soul RIP.
The autopsy would have found out. His bowels were unremarkable, as were his kidneys.
Honestly that looks like a tummy tuck scar, especially around the belly button, maybe he used to be over weight and had excess skin removed.
What about william faries
My husband is a software engineer and says the notes are legit code but dated.
I knew him, lived with him for years. I’m in contact with the detective on the case. Notebook was pseudocode for a MUD, multi user dungeon, we both played on them a lot. Looks like he was creating a procedurally generated one where the mobs in the game actually built the new areas, which is neat.
Scar was from a self-inflicted gunshot wound when he was young. He always donated blood afterwards, due to the large amount that he went through to stay alive afterwards.
Do you have any other info? Like a name? You can email email@example.com if you would prefer
You’re about to get bombarded so prepare. I do want to thank you for coming forward. I hope he has his name back soon.
Sadly looks like his name is out all over the web on sites regarding MH. His poor family just finds out and now everyone has his name. I didn’t so much care about his name as his story. I’d love to know what kind of person he was, what was his life like. Sounds like maybe he wasn’t too happy for some of it. Self inflicted gunshot doesn’t sound happy. 🙁
Yeah, I’m just not sure how much I’m allowed to say. I’ll talk to the detective again tomorrow and ask.
How sure are you that it’s the same guy? What city did you guys live it at the time? And about how long ago? Can you say that much?
Because he, like myself recognize his picture. He was a long time friend, roommate ans travel companion who we had lost contact with.
I’m sorry you lost your friend. Especially, that you had to learn about it this way. I hope you have many good memories.
I’m sorry for your loss. Thank you so much for coming forward. I know it can’t be easy to process all of this.
If you don’t mind sharing I’m just wondering if the recent DNA analysis and the news about that was what led to you finding his picture/case, or if it was pure happenstance via fb, etc.
I know a lot of us are always trying to figure out how to best get info about unidentified people out to the public and hopefully to someone who will recognize them. It might be helpful to know what worked in this case.
Again, my condolences to you and those who loved him.
It the name is what I read on Facebook , I found the obituary of his grandfather who recently passed away. Search for Albert Rodriguez in Pellerinfh
There’s a sweet video on the grandfather’s obit page referenced above. I do believe Mostly Harmless is Vance. Vance and this grandfather have the same eyes! Eerie and beautiful at the same time. There is at least one photo of the family at a table that I believe Vance is in (back, right). In the obit they listed him as being alive as of July, so now the family will know what happened to him and I’m thinking they will be glad to get some answers finally. I hope they understand how much we grew to love Mostly Harmless.
Just want to say, for everyone who has not followed CCSO’s requests for his name and that of his family to not be released until they confirm through DNA and announce it officially, it is EXTREMELY inappropriate and harmful for anyone to reach out to this man’s family. CCSO knows the proper steps to take and will do so. Absolutely no one needs to feel the need to take this into their hands when the whole reason we are even aware is because CCSO has been informed and is doing their job. Please, for the love of god, do not contact, hassle, or share information about/and or to his poor family. His name shouldn’t even be on this page. I know the author has no ill will intent – that’s not my concern. My concern is all of the people who will see this and rush to stalk family members.
On July 23, 2018, hikers found a deceased man in a tent at a campsite called Noble’s Camp in Big Cypress National Preserve located in Collier County, Florida. His death was not suspicious, and he likely died a few days before. However, there was nothing in his possession that would reveal who he was. No phone, no ID, no credit cards; there was his hiking gear, a notebook, and $3,640 in cash. If this is the case, why does a photo show only $66.00 in evidence? Did someone help themselve’s to some cash?