January 14, 2021:
The Collier County Sheriff’s Office has announced that they’ve uncovered the identity of the unidentified hiker known as “Mostly Harmless“. He had been found by deceased in Big Cypress National Preserve by two hikers on July 28, 2018. His cause of death was starvation and foul play is not suspected.
John Doe has been identified as Vance Rodriguez of Lafayette, Louisiana. According to reports, Rodriguez, who was born in February 1976 and had emancipated himself from his parents at the age of 17. After college, he would move to Baton Rouge, before relocating to New York in 2013, where he found work in IT. In the months before his death, he had decided to hike the Appalachian Trail from New York to Florida. According to witnesses, he’d also used the aliases of “Denim” and “Ben Bilemy”.
Despite numerous hikers coming forward to say they’d interacted with Rodriguez during his travels and had photos of him, investigators were unable to uncover his true identity until the end of 2020. When traditional methods of identification, such as fingerprint analysis and dental records, failed to ID him, the Sheriff’s Office decided to team up with Othram Inc. to help identify him through the use of forensic genealogy. Othram Inc. is the world’s first private DNA laboratory built to apply modern parallel sequencing with forensic evidence. However, the break in the case came when a former co-worker of Rodriguez came forward after seeing a photo of him online. After receiving this information, the Sheriff’s Office worked with Othram Inc. and the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office to test familial DNA to get a positive identification.
According to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, the case is now officially solved.
Stories of the Unsolved will update this post as more details emerge.
Image Credit: Collier County Sheriff’s Office