In Patricia E. Gillespie’s documentary “They Called Him Mostly Harmless,” the paradoxes of the internet come to light as online sleuths delve into the mystery surrounding a male hiker discovered deceased in Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve.
The enigmatic case, rife with perplexing details, captivated the attention of cyber detectives whose zealous pursuit of leads was tainted by toxic behavior toward each other and potential suspects. Gillespie’s HBO documentary, airing on February 8th, unravels a saga that defies fiction-inspired expectations, unfolding over years of investigation.
On July 23, 2018, a hiker stumbled upon a corpse in a tent within the preserve, setting off a cascade of mysteries for lead detective David Hurm. Despite the discovery of the emaciated body, surrounded by provisions and devoid of visible injuries, the victim’s identity remained elusive, save for a journal filled with inscrutable computer code.
The breakthrough came with the aid of a composite image circulated by authorities, catching the attention of Kelly Fairbanks, a “Trail Angel” who recognized the deceased as “Mostly Harmless,” a figure encountered on the Appalachian Trail. Prompted by Fairbanks’ revelation, a network of online communities joined the search, sharing encounters and speculation about the mysterious hiker.
While cyber sleuths combed through clues, tensions flared within the online groups, marked by unfounded theories and personal animosities. Despite the distractions, their collective effort eventually led to a breakthrough, unveiling the true identity of “Mostly Harmless” as Vance Rodriguez.
However, the revelation painted a grim picture of Rodriguez, revealing a troubled individual with a history of mental health struggles and abusive behavior towards women. The stark contrast between the romanticized narrative of the mysterious hiker and the harsh realities of Rodriguez’s life underscores the complexities of true-crime stories and the darker truths they may conceal.
“They Called Him Mostly Harmless” serves as a dual portrait, shedding light on both the enigmatic nomad and the troubled individual behind the facade, challenging the idealized notions often associated with such mysteries.