They Called Him Mostly Harmless: How Was Vance John Rodriguez Identified?

Vance John Rodriguez
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Disclaimer: The article contains mentions of death. Reader discretion is advised.

Max’s latest documentaryThey Called Him Mostly Harmless, was released on February 8, 2024. It revolves around the investigation of the mysterious death of an Appalachian Trail hiker who was found dead inside a tent in a swamp in 2018. It took consistent efforts from followers of the case on Facebook, who ultimately helped authorities identify the man as Vance John Rodriguez. 

As per The Guardian, hikers found a dead body, who later came to be identified as Vance John Rodriguez, at the Big Cypress Natural Preserve on July 23, 2018. The man weighed 83 pounds and was 5 feet 8 inches tall. He was described as unnaturally lean by those who found him and called 911 immediately. He reportedly died in his tent in a Florida swamp. Some expensive camping equipment, a lot of cash, and food were found in his tent.

Other than a notebook that was full of scribblings, authorities did not find any IDs or wallets that would effectively help determine the hiker’s identity. Moreover, none of the missing cases in Collier County, Florida, seemed to match his identity then. As such, tracking Vance John Rodriguez’s identity became difficult. The case became popular after authorities photoshopped images of his corpse to make him look alive and circulated them to trace his identity.

Soon, the man came to be known as Mostly Harmless among the followers of the case and authorities alike. In 2020, enthusiasts of the case formed a Facebook group. They also spent some free time trying to spread the word about Mostly Harmless and help identify him. As per TIME, when the case almost turned cold from the local authorities’ end, the internet community reportedly kept the investigation going passively.

They Called Him Mostly Harmless: Who was Vance John Rodriguez?

The outlet reported that a DNA test was conducted on Vance John Rodriguez by the company Othram, which helps conduct genetic tests that might help crack cold cases. Interestingly, the funding was provided by users of the Facebook group through crowdfunding, raising $5000 to run a DNA test on the hiker’s bone. This test was a crucial step towards finding out that Mostly Harmless was Vance John Rodriguez.

The outcome of DNA tests revealed that Rodriguez belonged to southern Louisiana. This revelation was followed by close followers of the case spreading the word. Moreover, Rodriguez’s pictures on local Facebook groups helped track down people in Baton Rouge who claimed to know the man. His acquaintances contacted the Collier County Sheriff’s Office after seeing the photos on social media.

Authorities then established contact with a family that was connected to him, and the DNA was successfully matched. According to TIME, those who were close to Vance John Rodriguez claimed he was a man dealing with deep-seated issues. The women he dated back then reportedly said that he was abusive. He reportedly had a major scar on his stomach, which he bore from a prior suicide attempt that he survived.

According to The Guardian, Vance John Rodriguez died only a few miles away from the highway. So, he could have also reached out for help if he was trying to. However, the cause of death remained inconclusive. This made not only the victim but also the reason behind the death a mystery.

They Called Him Mostly Harmless is currently streaming on Max.

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