‘Mostly Harmless’: Hiker identified as Vance Rodriguez, Collier sheriff says
“Mostly Harmless,” a hiker found in the Big Cypress National Preserve has been identified after two years of speculation about who the man could be.
Vance Rodriguez was an IT worker in New York with roots in Louisiana, according to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s office made the identification after teaming up with Othram, a DNA lab in Texas that solves cold cases through forensic genealogy.
The sheriff’s office received “hundreds of tips” from the public about the case, said CCSO Detective David Hurm.
The sheriff’s office determined Rodriguez’s death was not suspicious.
The break in the case came when a former co-worker of Rodriguez called the sheriff’s office to identify Rodriguez after seeing photos of Rodriguez posted on Facebook.
Rodriguez’s family in Louisiana was notified of his death by the Lafayette Parish County Sheriff’s Office. They agreed to provide a DNA sample for comparison, which ultimately matched Rodriguez.
“We are glad to have solved this case,” CCSO said in a Facebook post. “We want to thank the community for their interest and for circulating the information that eventually reached the right person.”
Rodriguez set out to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2017. He spent several months hiking south, toward Florida, without any technology and only using paper maps. He was friendly with others, but reserved, the sheriff’s office said.
Many hikers spoke to Rodriguez while on his way and took photos with the man but did not know his real name.
In April of 2018, he reached Southwest Florida. That was the last time a witness reported meeting Rodriguez.
In July 2018, Rodriguez’s remains and belongings were found in a tent at Noble’s Camp Ground in Ochopee by two hikers. The tent was near mile marker 63 on I-75.
The sheriff’s office was unable to identify Rodriguez at the time and posted a composite photo of him on Facebook. They began to get responses from hikers who had met Rodriguez on his journey.