Girls, guns and the fall of a truly manic millionaire: He ran for US president, married a prostitute and hired a drug baron to write story. As software mogul John McAfee is found hanged in a prison cell, TOM LEONARD describes a life of gilded depravity
He was dubbed ‘the craziest man in tech’, which is saying something. The prime minister of Belize, where John McAfee became an international fugitive and built a fortress home, put it more bluntly, branding him ‘bonkers’.
Nobody who encountered British-born McAfee came away with a mild impression of him.
Whatever the exact nature of the computer software tycoon’s death, he would at least have relished the fact that it caused a stir.
As he awaited extradition to the U.S. to face tax evasion and cryptocurrency fraud charges, he had repeatedly tweeted from his Barcelona jail that, if he died there, people should be suspicious.
On Wednesday, eight months after his arrest, 75-year-old McAfee was found dead in his cell.
Officials have indicated he hanged himself just hours after a Spanish court authorised the extradition.
He was dubbed ‘the craziest man in tech’, which is saying something. The prime minister of Belize, where John McAfee became an international fugitive and built a fortress home, put it more bluntly, branding him ‘bonkers’
The charges, including allegations he evaded paying millions of dollars, could have landed him in prison for decades and McAfee — who put his name to the world’s most famous anti-virus software — may well have considered suicide preferable.
However, it’s also true that the notoriously combative and paranoid McAfee — someone, say friends, who people crossed at their peril — enjoyed making enemies almost as much as he loved his other passions of drugs, guns and girls.
Technology barons love to shake off their super-nerd image and cut a bit of a buccaneering dash, no matter how tame the reality.
The heavily tattooed McAfee, however, was the real McCoy — colourful, engaging and eccentric, but also an unhinged and unnerving figure whose outlaw image created an aura of danger that was much more than just for show.
An attention-hungry master manipulator, he estimated that he had been arrested 21 times in 11 countries for offences including drug trafficking, illegal arms ownership, tax evasion and stock market fraud.
The troubled technology genius, who married a prostitute he once hired and tried not to go anywhere without being armed to the teeth, admitted himself that he was hardly perfect. ‘Boy, I do live an exciting life,’ he said in one interview.
‘It’s too exciting sometimes. But that happens if you live on the edge, which I like to do because that’s where most discoveries are made. I’m a curious person but sometimes I fall off.’
To begin with, at least, he managed to keep his balance, despite a calamitous upbringing in Virginia after being born on a U.S. Army base in Gloucestershire in 1945 to an English mother and American serviceman.
Nobody who encountered McAfee came away with a mild impression of him. Whatever the exact nature of the computer software tycoon’s death, he would at least have relished the fact that it caused a stir. Pictured: McAfee in prison
His father was an abusive alcoholic who fatally shot himself when John was 15.
McAfee said it deeply affected him, driving him to drugs and alcohol from an early age.
His academic career looked promising until his other vice, young women, ended it in the late 1960s when he was thrown out of a Louisiana university for sleeping with an undergraduate he was supposedly mentoring.
He focused his career instead on computer programming, working for Nasa, Lockheed and Xerox.
By the 1980s he was a successful engineer in Silicon Valley, albeit one who admitted he drank a bottle of whisky a day and not only snorted cocaine at his desk but sold it to colleagues.
He experimented with hallucinogenic drugs that sent him ‘stark, raving mad’.
Meanwhile, as personal computers became ubiquitous, so did viruses. The first, called the Pakistani Brain, was able to wipe clean a PC’s hard drive.
McAfee infected his own computer with the virus and then devised a program that would disable it.
He launched his anti-virus software business in 1987, and within five years it controlled almost 70 per cent of the market.
In 1994, he made at least $100 million when he sold his company.
Now he could freely indulge his real passions as a ‘lover of women, adventure and mystery’.
He bought nine luxurious homes across the U.S., filling them with expensive art and furniture.
He turned his 400-acre Colorado estate into a yoga retreat where he went out with a string of teenage girls.
The home of anti-virus software pioneer John McAfee is seen in San Pedro November 14, 2012
He also bought a landing strip from where he set up a new extreme sport he called ‘aero-trekking’ which involved flying ultra-light aircraft dangerously close to the ground.
He closed the business after a passenger died in a crash.
The victim’s family sued him but, claiming he had been all but wiped out financially in the recession, McAfee left the U.S. in 2008 and moved to the tax haven Belize.
But here his problems only got worse as he was able to give even freer rein to his vices. He effectively bought up an entire village, including a former brothel called Crazy 8’s which he turned into a ‘family swimming resort’ called Studio 54 (after the notorious New York nightclub), but critics said it was essentially the same business.
McAfee earned comparisons to Kurtz, Joseph Conrad’s deranged jungle lord from his novel Heart Of Darkness, as he surrounded himself with muscled bodyguards and liked to pose for photos clutching guns and girls in bikinis.
Local women later described how the twisted McAfee would pay them to perform depraved sex acts with him.
His American girlfriend left him after he took a 16-year-old prostitute as his lover — even though she’d previously tried to shoot him and steal his money. ‘I gravitate to the world’s outcasts,’ he boasted.
Conventional family life held little appeal — he was married three times and reportedly abandoned his only child, a daughter, from the first marriage.
Intent on staying young forever, McAfee — by then in his mid-60s and sporting dyed blond hair and a goatee beard — started injecting himself daily with testosterone.
He built a jungle lab next to a Mayan temple and announced he was developing plant-based medicines that included a herbal version of Viagra for men and women.
On Wednesday, eight months after his arrest, 75-year-old McAfee was found dead in his cell
McAfee admitted the latter, called ‘tan’, enhanced desire but also often left users rubbing their genitals ‘past the point of bleeding and still couldn’t stop’.
Police became suspicious when he began combining tan with ‘bath salts’, an amphetamine-like drug blamed for producing psychotic rages in users.
Convinced he was now cooking up the banned drug methamphetamine, police raided his jungle compound in 2012 and found McAfee in bed with a 17-year-old girl.
Seizing an arsenal of pump-action shotguns and pistols, they accused him of assembling a private army of heavily armed ex-convicts but found no drugs.
The raid fuelled the intense paranoia of a man who already went everywhere in Belize with a handgun strapped to his hip.
Associates fled in fear for their safety and a visiting journalist was invited to play Russian roulette with one of McAfee’s revolvers.
When he declined, McAfee played alone, putting the gun down on a table littered with fake IDs after he had pulled the trigger five times.
Six months after the raid, Greg Faull, an American neighbour of McAfee’s beachfront home in the resort town of San Pedro, complained to police that the ‘rogueish’ McAfee was scaring people by firing off his guns and allowing his pack of nine aggressive guard dogs to run free on the beach.
Shortly afterwards, the dogs were poisoned with spiked meat.
The following night, an intruder got into Mr Faull’s home, tasered him repeatedly and then shot him in the head.
McAfee immediately fled, first hiding by burying himself in sand and putting a cardboard box over his head.
He later escaped over the border into Guatemala with a 20-year-old girlfriend.
McAfee insisted he didn’t kill his neighbour and had only gone on the run because police and politicians were trying to frame him.
However, McAfee’s caretaker later alleged his boss paid $5,000 to have the American killed.
In Guatemala, McAfee faked a heart attack to prevent him being sent back to Belize.
He was instead deported to Miami where, on his first night, he picked up a prostitute, Janice Dyson, who would become his third wife, although 40 years younger than him.
‘I instantly saw in Janice what I’ve been looking for my entire life,’ he claimed.
Back in the U.S., McAfee still showed flashes of lunacy. In 2013, he produced a spoof video entitled How To Uninstall McAfee Anti-Virus in which he blasted a computer with a gun, swore profusely, snorted white powder off his desk and was undressed by a bevy of nubile young women.
In 2015, he was arrested in Tennessee for drink-driving and possession of a firearm. A year later, a documentary claimed he had drugged and raped a biologist business partner in Belize.
‘He talked about taking over the Belize government,’ she said. ‘He would talk about how he could have people hurt or killed, and honestly I was scared.’
The documentary also claimed McAfee ordered his goons to beat up a local man who had crossed him, tasering him in the face and genitals.
McAfee — who chose a convicted drug trafficker to write his biography — once even vowed to be the first to be both U.S. president and UK prime minister, based on the fact that while he was British-born, the military base where his mother gave birth was technically American soil.
Yet he unsuccessfully ran for the nomination of the Libertarian Party in the 2016 presidential election, on a ticket that included legalising cannabis and championing cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.
He inaccurately predicted that the latter would be worth $500,000 each by 2020.
In 2019 he fled the U.S. after being ordered to pay $25 million in a wrongful death lawsuit over the murder of his Belize neighbour Mr Faull and facing arrest for tax evasion (he’d boasted for years that paying taxes was morally wrong).
He and Janice toured the Caribbean on his yacht, Great Mystery.
After being detained in the Dominican Republic for having high-calibre weapons on board, he headed to the UK and later to Spain, where he was arrested last October as he was about to board a plane to Istanbul.
‘The drummer that leads me is an odd drummer but I follow the sound,’ said McAfee.
For him, it was a moment of rare clarity.
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