Who Was the “Mostly Harmless” Hiker, Vance Rodriguez? How Did He Die?

HBO Max's ‘They Called Him Mostly Harmless' is a puzzling and intriguing documentary directed by Patricia Gillespie that lives up to its title in every way possible. That's because it dives deeply into the 2018 case in which a hiker discovered dead in the Florida woods went unidentified for nearly two years, despite the best efforts of officials and sleuths alike.

The truth is that many fellow outdoor enthusiasts who had recently completed the Appalachian Trail remembered encountering this single traveler, but no one could help because he only used his trail name.

Who was Vance Rodriguez?

On July 23, 2018, Vance John Rodriguez's starved but otherwise undamaged body was discovered in his tent in Big Cypress National Preserve, just a few miles from a highway. He had no identifying card, phone, or wallet with him, so officials assumed he was a local who had died accidentally after a short journey and would be identified soon.

Vance had met various people along the way, with whom he took pictures, opened up about little facts, and had in-depth chats, but he never revealed his real name. According to these fellow hikers' tip calls to the police, his pack was heavy, he liked ketchup over sticky buns, claimed to be from Baton Rouge, had an abusive father, and was single.

In this case, it was initially considered to be the former—many felt he obtained it after coming into a campsite one evening and being welcomed to join a group by the fire “as long as he didn't bite,” only for him to respond that he is “mostly harmless.”

Vance Rodriguez Mostly Harmless

Yet he picked it himself, along with several of his other aliases—from what we can learn, he was also known as Ben Bilemy, Denim, and Vaejor.

According to sources, Vance allegedly handpicked Ben Bilemy at random because hiker motels near major routes require guests to sign in with full identities, and he still wanted to stay completely incognito.

Then there's denim, a term he supposedly got for beginning his excursion in jeans like a real newbie – he'd made it plain to people he encountered in spring 2017 that he was new to hiking by wearing denim jeans, which are uncomfortable and impractical in such circumstances.

How did Vance Rodriguez die?

Vance Rodriguez's cause of death is yet unknown. Vance was last seen alive in southwest Florida in April 2018. By July 23rd, 2018, he would be dead, discovered in his tent by two other hikers in the Big Cypress National Preserve, but with no identification.

He appeared thin at the time of discovery, but the autopsy was unable to pinpoint a cause of death. However, there was no reason to assume foul play. His DNA and fingerprints did not match any missing-person records.

Why Was Vance Rodriguez Called “Mostly Harmless”?

When queried by other hikers, Vance would say his name was either Ben Bilemy, Denim, or Mostly Harmless, the alias used in the documentary's title. The name could be derived from a word used in Douglas Adams' sci-fi comedy classic The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

In the story, the guide describes the Earth as “mostly harmless”. Vance may have been an admirer of the work and used the word for himself.

Last but not least, there's this hiker's nickname Vaejor on the programming video game Screeps, which is simply a combination of his entire name, Vance John Rodriguez. This handle was discovered when the former IT technician was identified by former coworkers in December 2020, and it was later revealed that he had chosen Mostly Harmless for himself.

Read MoreWho is Marissa Lawrence? Meet Trevor Lawrence’s Wife!

Vance wrote “I'm mostly harmless (for now)” on Screeps' Slack in January 2017, months before he headed out for the Appalachian Trail. There's also a book named ‘Mostly Harmless' in the novel series ‘The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'.

So, according to the documentary, it's probable he simply read the book, enjoyed it, and realized this title is a fantastic phrase given his situation – it's believed he was severely abusive to at least three people in his life before deciding to retreat into nature.

Leave a Comment