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Years later, investigators identify body of mystery hiker with ties to Louisiana

9 months 1 week 1 day ago Thursday, January 14 2021 Jan 14, 2021 January 14, 2021 11:30 AM January 14, 2021 in News
Source: WBRZ
Composite photo released by Collier County Sheriff's Office

OCHOPEE, Fla. - An investigation into an unidentified hiker who was found dead in south Florida more than two years ago officially came to an end this week.

The Collier County Sheriff's Office identified the man as Vance Rodriguez, a Lafayette native. Investigators described Rodriguez as being an IT worker in New York with "roots in Louisiana."

The path to finally identifying Rodriguez has been a long one. His body was first discovered in July 2018 in Florida's Big Cypress National Reserve.

Rodriguez had no identification on him, and deputies at the time asked for the public's assistance in naming him. Though the sheriff's office was able to piece together a composite photo of the deceased man and received several photos from fellow hikers who met him on the trail, no one was able to identify him by anything other than his trail name: Mostly Harmless.

Though early evidence led investigators to tie the hiker to New York and Louisiana back in 2018, his identity eluded them for years. It wasn't until January 2021 that a former coworker of Rodriguez saw a bulletin and provided a name and pictures to Collier County authorities. A sample sent to a DNA lab recently confirmed his identity.

With the new information, the sheriff's office was able to piece together that Rodriguez set out to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2017 and made his way to southwest Florida in April 2018, which was the last time that anyone saw him alive. His body was eventually discovered in a tent at Noble's Camp Ground in Ochopee. 

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