John McAfee was climbing into a unique group of eccentric, adventurous and filthy rich legends like William Randolph Hearst, Howard Hughes and Richard Branson. But unlike them, and more like Icarus, he stopped paying attention and flew too close to the sun.
Thanks to a hacker who traced his smartphone tracks, McAfee was found earlier this week in Guatemala, where he was arrested Wednesday for entering the country illegally. Although he sought asylum on Thursday, his request was denied. Later that evening, he complained of chest pains and was taken to a local hospital. His return to Belize is now pending.
If you’ve looked at pretty much any media site in the past two weeks, you already know some of the details. McAfee, 67, is a pioneer in the anti-virus industry and founder of the company that still bears his name. For the past few years, he’s been living in Belize, allegedly experimenting with MDPV, aka Bath Salts. He’s also been blogging about their many supposed benefits.
His neighbor in the waterfront town of San Pedro, another American named Gregory Faull, recently complained to the town council about the noise and 24-hour foot and car traffic that surrounded McAfee’s home. His also touched on the heavily armed security guards McAfee hired to prowl the area, his random firing of guns, and his pack of dogs, which defends a wide-ranging territory by biting passersby. As if that weren’t enough, Faull protested McAfee’s generally “roguish behavior.”
Nothing was done about the complaint after it was filed. Not long afterwards on Nov. 9, McAfee claimed that some of his dogs had been poisoned. He found them writhing in pain, he said, and had to shoot them. On November 11, Faull was lying in a pool of blood in his home, shot through the head.
McAfee was named as a “person of interest” and immediately disappeared with his current 20-year-old girlfriend. He began a blog, “Who is John McAfee,” which he’s updated from the lam. I’ll summarize so you won’t have to slog through it.
- There’s an awful lot of, “Oh poor me. Here I am much abused and thriving at the center of everyone’s attention” posts.
- He’s alternately self-aggrandizing, oddly humorous, patronizing and crazy as cat turds.
- He asserts that if captured, the police are going to kill him.
- He intimates that he’s a thorn in the side of the Belizean authorities because he knows too much.
- He’s also a champion of the downtrodden, particularly very young, Belizean, female downtrodden.
McAfee blogs that he’s a master of disguises and has a “double” who was detained while traveling through Mexico with a North Korean passport. He states his earlier, extensive blogging about MDPV was a hoax and that he’s never used the drug. Much like O.J. Simpson did for Nicole, he’s offered a reward on the site of $25,000, for any information leading to the capture of Gregory Faull’s murderer/s.
While terrified for his life and on the run from the law, McAfee still appears to be enjoying himself. He’s conveniently found time to be interviewed by CNN, The Joe Rogan Experience (WTF!) and The New York Times to name a few. Most recently, Vice Magazine sent a journalist to talk to him. The writer took an iPhone snap, revealing his current location to be somewhere in Guatemala. McAfee’s denied this on the blog and claims he manipulated the GPS to make it appear as if he’s in Guatemala. As for the photo, it seems that he’s dyed his hair. Otherwise, the man looks much the same as he’s looked for the past 20 years, save a few more wrinkles and some probable weight loss.
The whole John McAfee enterprise would be amusing with its circus-like air and clamoring media but in reality, it’s a lot less a grown-up “Where’s Waldo,” or contemporary D.B. Sweeney tale than a convoluted journey into one of Malebolge’s rings of hell.
While David Segal’s excellent piece in the Dec. 2 New York Times covers the scandal from a current perspective, it’s Jeff Wise’s comprehensive reporting, most recently for Gizmodo, that thoroughly reveals McAfee’s descent. It’s no surprise that it began long before the events of November.
When Wise first encountered McAfee in 2007, the entrepreneur had created a new sport called “aerotrekking,” where tiny custom-made planes are flown very low across stretches of remote desert. Wise describes it as dangerous and exhilarating. In short, it would be a perfect pastime for a handful of wealthy thrill seekers. McAfee had moved to New Mexico and pumped millions into a facility that included an airstrip, a palatial home, a cinema, a fleet of vintage cars and a general store. Wise was there to write about it.
The flying venture came about after McAfee’s development of a 280-acre Colorado yoga retreat, in which he’d lost interest; years spent playing with expensive grown-up toys like open water jet skis and, most importantly, leaving the company he founded, though not before his wild 1992 public claim that 5 million computers were soon to be hacked by a virus called Michaelangelo. McAfee Security sales boomed, the virus never happened and McAfee, the man, was forced out with a cool $100 million.
So here he was in New Mexico, promoting a “sport” which he’d created by setting up fake websites that imagined enthusiasts across the country. In the wake of organized, local disapproval of his endeavors, he created cruel, albeit clever, diversions to throw the angry neighbors off his scent. Then of course there was the lawsuit. A year before, McAfee’s nephew had been flying a passenger across the desert. The plane crashed and both were killed. The passenger’s family sued McAfee for $5 million dollars, and those chickens were beginning to come home to roost.
Fortunately (for McAfee) the economy crashed. In 2009, the Times reported that McAfee claimed he hadn’t been paying attention to economic signifiers and had lost $96 million overnight. Supposedly, his net worth dropped to $4 million dollars. He unloaded his U.S. properties for less than pennies on the dollar and made for Belize, where he asserted that he’d be beyond judgment in the wrongful death suit.
Per Wise, that’s when things began to get really weird. While visiting Belize, the journalist was confronted and alarmed by McAfee’s increasingly paranoid behavior. The stories he told were ever more complicated and easily debunked. McAfee told Wise that the financial loss didn’t happen as reported.
Wise and Segal both wrote that in 2010, McAfee befriended a 31-year-old Harvard biologist named Allison Adonizio and funded a lab for her in the Belizean jungle. The goal was to find rain forest plant compounds that had the potential to cure the growing problem of human resistance to antibiotics. Alas, the plant that actually had the potential was already patented. So McAfee reportedly bullied Adonizio into making other scientific claims. In the eyes of potential investors the stories no longer held up. Adonizio maintains that the entrepreneur began to encourage her to engage in sexual activity she found repellent (she was not involved with him). He intimated that he could have her ex-boyfriend killed. At one point, she found a garbage bag filled with Viagra. When Adonizio told him she was leaving and asked for her investment back, McAfee threatened her. She fled in terror.
As an interesting note on timing: Not long before Adonizio left, McAfee began posting his thoughts on MDPV and the development of other psychoactive drugs on the blog Bluelight.
McAfee remained in the jungle, continuing his crackpot embodiment of the white man’s burden. Per Wise and Segal, he built a compound and dated a local prostitute. When she told him the place was dangerous and needed to be cleaned up, he organized his own security force, later revealed by Belizean police to be rife with the worst kind of criminals. The locals, who didn’t see that their town was dangerous, seemed to resent his “assistance.” Though he built a new police station as well, the police, wary of McAfee’s shenanigans, never moved into the building.
Eventually Adonizio’s old lab got raided and McAfee was detained because, really, what’s law enforcement to do when an outsider arrives in a city on the edge of a river known for drug trafficking, builds a lab that no one appears to be doing actual research in, befriends and negotiates with gangsters, and attempts to bribe the police with gifts? While they didn’t find anything of note, McAfee was rattled and in May 2012 claimed, on a private chat board and reported by Gizmodo, that he was hiding from the authorities.
His self-exile didn’t last long. Shortly after the jungle debacle he returned to San Pedro in what’s been described as a good mood, with a new teenage girlfriend by his side. He often walked around town with a pistol in a holster, violating Belizean law.
By July 2012, he was already discussing a new, possibly hoax business venture with Westword, Denver’s alt weekly. It appears that he continued to beef up security around his home. He behaved irrationally with neighbors. Complaints to the city about him went unanswered right up to Nov. 11. Most recently, Belizean police dug up the buried dogs, most likely to retrieve ballistics information from the gun that shot them.
In the side show that has become John McAfee, the cold-blooded murder of Gregory Faull has nearly been forgotten. By all accounts he was well-liked and a good neighbor. He had just completed a major renovation on a distressed property—that happened to be next to John McAfee’s home.