Girls, guns and yoga – John McAfee’s odd life in ‘pirate haven’
The anti-virus software guru, who started McAfee Associates in 1989, has been in hiding since police said they wanted to question him about the weekend murder of his neighbor, fellow American Gregory Faull, with whom McAfee had quarreled.
Despite his disappearance, McAfee, 67, has remained in contact with the media, providing a stream of colorful bulletins over his predicament, state of mind and his claim that Belize’s authorities want to kill him.
Residents of the Caribbean island of Ambergris Caye and others who know him paint the picture of an eccentric, impulsive man who gave up a career as a successful entrepreneur in the United States for a life of semi-seclusion in the former pirate haven of Belize, surrounded by bodyguards and young women.
McAfee, a yoga fan who has lived on the island for about four years, often moves around with bodyguards and sticks pistols in his belt.
“Never mind the dog, beware of owner,” counsels a small sign, embellished with a sketched hand gripping a large pistol, tacked to the fence separating McAfee’s beachfront swimming pool from the pier that cuts into the azure sea.
Officials suspect he used designer drugs, and neighbors say McAfee tried to chase them off the public beach in front of his house. Inside his home, a blue-roofed cottage complex, he kept a small arsenal of shotguns and scope-fitted rifles.
There were also complaints about the millionaire’s numerous and noisy dogs. Officials say the poisoning of four of the dogs may be linked to the murder of Faull, a 52-year-old Florida building contractor who was shot dead at his salmon-hued two-story villa about 100 yards (meters) down the beach from McAfee.
Faull was one of the locals who had complained about McAfee’s attitude and his dogs.
Now on the run, McAfee told Wired magazine, with whom he has kept an ongoing conversation, that he was disguised and holed up in what he describes as a lice-infested refuge.
In comments to the magazine, McAfee denied he shot Faull and said he fears that the police will kill or torture him. Police say they just want to talk to him about the killing.
McAfee, who has not responded to requests for comment by Reuters, blamed Belize’s “pirate culture” for his troubles in an essay Wired said he had sent to the magazine.
“Belize is still a pirate haven and is run more or less along the lines established centuries ago by the likes of Captain Morgan, Blackbeard and Captain Barrow,” McAfee said.
Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow has urged McAfee to help police with their inquiries, calling him “bonkers.”
Many locals in San Pedro describe the tattooed McAfee, who made a fortune developing the Internet anti-virus software that bears his name, as a generous but unstable man.
“He’s a good guy, he helped a lot of people. The problem was when he wanted something he wanted it right now. And when he didn’t get it, he’d get paranoid,” said one islander, a former McAfee employee, who like many people here spoke on condition their name not be used for fear of retribution.
“He’s a complex man, very impulsive,” the islander added.
Doug Singh, Belize’s former police minister, told Reuters he was at a loss to explain McAfee’s recent comments.
“Mr. McAfee seems to have a bit of a divorce from reality and it seems to be consistent in his behavior and some of the things he has said recently. He’s way out of line and out of proportion,” he said. “Nobody has anything against Mr. McAfee.”
After making millions with his anti-virus product, McAfee decided to abandon the United States for Belize, a languid coastal paradise. It is a path that has been taken by a number of rich Americans over the years.
He took a beachfront compound on the island’s isolated and exclusive north side, 6 miles (10 kilometers) from the town of San Pedro by boat or by driving over badly cratered asphalt and dirt track. It is a world away from California’s Silicon Valley, which he once called home.
He took the company public in 1992 and left two years later following accusations that he had hyped the arrival of a virus known as Michelangelo, which turned out to be a dud, to scare computer users into buying his company’s products.
Officials at the company he created and its parent, Intel, have declined to comment on the controversy.
But one long-time McAfee manager who recently left said company executives were likely monitoring the news closely. He said they have tracked reports of John McAfee’s activities over the years out of concern they might need to do damage control.
A case is already pending in Belize against McAfee for possession of illegal firearms, and police previously suspected him of running a lab to make illicit synthetic drugs.
But McAfee said this week he was opposed to drugs.