Dark Story of Hiker Who Died in Tent Full of Cash Emerges

'Mostly Harmless' turns out to be Vance John Rodriguez
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 14, 2021 12:53 PM CST
Updated Jan 17, 2021 6:15 AM CST
Mystery of Hiker Who Died in Tent Full of Cash Is Solved
An image of Big Cypress National Preserve.   (Getty Images)

It was a mystery that caught the internet's attention, so much so that a Facebook group engaged a company that conducts forensic genealogy to help solve the case. As Nicholas Thompson writes in a dark coda to the story for Wired, the mystery has now been solved. The big question was this: Just who was the mysterious Appalachian Trail hiker who went by the trail name "Mostly Harmless" and was found dead in his tent on July 23, 2018, in Florida's Big Cypress National Preserve? There was no sign of foul play, more than $3,500 cash remained in his tent, and though he had food nearby, the 5-foot-8 man weighed just 83 pounds, wrote Thompson in his November 2020 piece. In its wake, tips poured in, writes Thompson, and the internet sleuths kept at it, to an "ingenious" extreme.

Noting Thompson's detail that the hiker had on him a notebook of ideas for Screeps, an online strategy game used by programmers, a group with digital forensics expertise reviewed every Screeps user through April 2017, when Mostly Harmless told other hikers he got on the trail. They zeroed in on a user called Vaejor. Genetic analysis traced his roots to Assumption Parish, Louisiana. Then came a tip from "Marie" in Baton Rouge: He was Vance John Rodriguez. DNA confirmed it. But the truth about Rodriguez was "unsettling." In his lengthy article, Thompson reports he was an exceptional coder who had severed ties with his family, was allegedly emotionally and physically abusive to girlfriends, and was apparently suffering from mental health issues. "It’s hard not to look at this story with anything but sadness." (Read the full piece here.)

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