(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 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
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.