For millions worldwide, the name McAfee signifies a “reassuring”, if boring, piece of antivirus software, says The Guardian. The man behind it “is rather less reassuring and certainly not dull”. Tech entrepreneur John McAfee has now been on the run from police in Belize for more than a week.
They want to question him about the murder of his neighbour, Gregory Faull. McAfee insists he’s innocent. He also maintains the Belize authorities are out to kill him – and that they shot Faull by mistake. “I don’t want to be unkind to the gentleman,” said Belize’s PM Dean Barrow last week. “But I believe he is extremely paranoid, even bonkers.”
So is McAfee bad, or mad? One thing we know is that he certainly hasn’t been shy about talking to the press since police began looking for him, says New York Magazine. McAfee, 67, claims he’s living in “constant fear” (see below). But if his account of “life on the lam is to be believed, he’s been having a pretty good time dressing up in disguises and watching the cops search his residence”.
Having initially evaded his would-be captors by burying himself on a sandy beach with a cardboard box over his head, he has since adopted a range of disguises: from a drunken German tourist wearing Speedos, to a taco and burrito vendor. The BBC reports that further ruses include sticking “chewed bubble gum to his upper gums to fatten his face”, and staining his teeth.
Even before this extraordinary episode, “there was always something unusual about John McAfee”, says Wired. But there’s no doubting his business smarts. Having made his first fortune from the antivirus software that bears his name (he pocketed $100m when he sold the last of his shares in 1994), he went on to make a second with Tribal Voice, an early instant-messaging company which he sold for $17m in 1999.
McAfee loves the buzz of starting up businesses, noted Outside Online in 2007, but work per se bores him. “Ever since I was 22, I’d work for a year, and then take off.”
Born in Britain, McAfee moved as a child to Virginia, eventually picking up a maths degree and taking a series of jobs in the computer industry, says the Financial Times. His “restless spirit” saw him “rip through a dozen or more jobs”, including a stint at Nasa, before he joined aerospace group Lockheed as a systems architect in the mid-’80s. It was there that he came across a copy of the “Pakistani brain” virus, which gave him the idea of starting an antivirus firm.
In the first year, he grossed $10m. Having given it all up to travel around India and Nepal, McAfee retired to New Mexico to pioneer a new sport, “aerotrekking” (low level flying), and write books about yoga, before moving to Belize in 2009. Asked in 2007 what he thought he might be doing in five years, he replied: “I don’t have clue. That’s how I like to live.” But even he might have struggled to imagine his current predicament.
“I intend to stay because this is my home”
“To describe McAfee’s life as a rollercoaster ride would be a gross understatement,” says Adam Thomson in the Financial Times. But it certainly took a turn for the worse when he moved to the island of Ambergris Caye in Belize.
No one knows exactly why he sold his US properties at firesale prices to make the move. McAfee claims he lost a fortune in the 2008 crash. Others maintain he fled to avoid a ruinous lawsuit after one of his “aerotrekking” customers died in an accident alongside his nephew.
But, whatever the motive, McAfee retreated more into seclusion on the island, “surrounding himself with armed bodyguards, young women and a pack of dogs” – four of which were mysteriously poisoned just before his neighbour, US businessman Gregory Faull, was found with a bullet wound in his head.
McAfee is “known to have argued with Faull”, who was irritated by the barking of his dogs, says Adam Martin in New York Magazine. But he insists he got on well enough with his neighbour. His real problem was the Belizean authorities. Matters came to a head when word got round that he’d been doing some “DIY pharmaceutical research” with MDPV, a psychoactive stimulant found in bath salts.
In April, his house was raided by Belize’s feared Gang Suppression Unit (GSU). McAfee – a former cocaine addict who claims to have given up drugs in 1983 – maintains he was held “in the blazing sunshine for 14 hours without food or water”. He further alleges that those unfortunate enough to be taken into GSU custody often never emerge.
McAfee says his mission now is “to draw attention to the injustices in Belize, the abuse of ‘hundreds’ of local people by the GSU and the country’s retreat from democracy”, says Patrick Barkham in The Guardian. He has no intention of handing himself in, but equally no intention of leaving Belize. “I intend to stay”, says the multimillionaire embroiled in this ongoing heart of darkness saga, “because this is my home”.