He was known on the trail as “Mostly Harmless.” He started his journey in a state park north of New York City and simply went south — down to Virginia, then to northern Georgia, and finally to Florida — his route pieced together through accounts from fellow hikers and others he encountered. At Wired, Nicholas Thompson recounts the story of this friendly nameless hiker, eventually found dead in a tent at Nobles Camp in Big Cypress National Preserve on July 2018, 600 miles south of where he started.
Since the discovery of this man’s body, no one has been able to figure out who he is. But now, with advanced DNA testing technology and cutting-edge genomics from a company called Othram, the mystery may soon be solved.
She told him everything she knew. And she shared the original post, and her photo, all over Facebook. Soon there were dozens of people jumping in. They had seen the hiker too. They had journeyed with him for a few hours or a few days. They had sat at a campfire with him. There was a GoPro video in which he appeared. People remembered him talking about a sister in either Sarasota or Saratoga. They thought he had said he was from near Baton Rouge. One person remembered that he ate a lot of sticky buns; another said that he loved ketchup. But no one knew his name. When the body of Chris McCandless was found in the wilds of Alaska in the summer of 1992 without any identification, it took authorities only two weeks to figure out his identity. A friend in South Dakota, who’d known McCandless as “Alex,” heard a discussion of the story on AM radio and called the authorities. Clues followed quickly, and McCandless’ family was soon found.
Now it’s 2020, and we have the internet. Facebook knows you’re pregnant almost before you do. Amazon knows your light bulb is going to go out right before it does. Put details on Twitter about a stolen laptop and people will track down the thief in a Manhattan bar. The internet can decode family mysteries, identify long-forgotten songs, solve murders, and, as this magazine showed a decade ago, track down almost anyone who tries to shed their digital skin. This case seemed easy.