The ‘bonkers’ life of John McAfee: Russian roulette, poisoned dogs and life on the run from a ‘hit squad’

The voice on the end of the line was somewhere in Belize and sounded more than a little paranoid.

"I cannot talk on this phone for long," John McAfee told the Telegraph, while on the run after his next-door neighbour was found dead with a bullet in his head.

McAfee said he was being tracked by a paramilitary hit squad and he was in disguise, staying on the move. He said it would be "foolish" to say more.

"They nationalised the phone company so they can trace calls and triangulate," he said. "My plan is a day-to-day plan, simply to avoid detection."

While maintaining his innocence he vowed to never turn himself in, adding: "I think I will be summarily executed. They can make up some excuse for removing me. This is the way it is in this country.

"I would describe myself as quite sane and lucid, which is why I’m still alive. The world chooses to think what the world thinks."

In passing, he denied suggestions he had been running a meth lab.

"There was no meth lab, what on Earth would I be doing running a meth lab?" he said.

It was November 2012 and McAfee had been declared a "person of interest" in the killing of his neighbour Gregory Viant Faull, a retired American builder from Florida.

The two men lived 300 yards from each other on Ambergris Caye, an island off Belize.

Faull was discovered by his housekeeper lying face up in a pool of blood inside his house. A single Luger 9mm shell was found nearby. There was no sign of a break in but a laptop computer and phone were missing.

Faull had previously made a complaint to local authorities about McAfee’s dogs, claiming they were "vicious" and attacked people.

Four of the dogs, named Mellow, Lucky, Dipsy, and Guerrero, had been found poisoned the day before Faull was shot dead.

However, McAfee told the Telegraph he did not blame Faull for the demise of his dogs. Instead, he accused the Belize authorities of killing them.

McAfee said: "He (Faull) did not like my dogs. All neighbours can be minor annoyances from time to time but without them the world would be empty. I know he didn’t kill my dogs."

On the night of Faull’s death he had been "at home", McAfee said, adding: "I heard nothing. I knew nothing until the following day."

About a month later McAfee was arrested in Guatemala for crossing the border illegally.  He was deported to the US and was never charged or questioned over the incident in Belize.

It was just one episode in an extraordinary life that brought him vast wealth, and infamy.

Software pioneer John McAfee is escorted by immigration officers to the Guatemalan Airport

Credit: Reuters

McAfee was born on a US military base in Gloucestershire in 1945, to a British mother and American father, and moved to Virginia in the US as a child.

He later described how his alcoholic father would beat him "mercilessly".

When McAfee was 15 his father used the teenager’s shotgun to kill himself.

McAfee went on to graduate university in mathematics and worked for Nasa and various private companies.

When the first major computer virus, called "Brain", hit in 1986, he started looking at how to combat it, creating the first all-in-one virus scanner.

In 1994 he left his McAfee company and, in 2011, Intel bought it for $7.68billion. The anti-virus software that bears his name still has 500million users around the world.

McAfee had been described by peers as a "true pioneer" in computer security.

His personal wealth was estimated at around $100million in 2007, including properties in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Hawaii, but he said he lost most of it in the financial crash.

Soon after the crash he moved to Belize, where he described setting up a harem, and became an increasingly vocal critic of the government, which he accused of victimising him.

Dean Barrow, the prime minister at the time, said of McAfee: "I don’t want to be unkind to the gentleman, but I believe he is extremely paranoid, even bonkers."

While on the run after the death of his neighbour McAfee reportedly played Russian roulette.

Joshua Davis, a Wired magazine reporter who spent six months investigating McAfee’s bizarre life, described watching.

"’Let’s do this one more time,’ he says, and puts it [a gun] to his head," Davies wrote. "Another round of Russian roulette. Just as before, he pulls the trigger repeatedly, the cylinder rotates, the hammer comes down, and nothing happens. ‘It is a real gun. It has a real bullet in one chamber,’ he says."

After fleeing Belize in 2012 McAfee ultimately ended up in Oregon.

The following year he released a YouTube video lambasting what McAfee anti-virus software had become without him, and reading complaint letters from customers.

He did so while snorting a powder, firing a gun into a computer, and being undressed by a group of young women.
The video was watched over 10million times.

A spokesman for the McAfee software company responded at the time: "These ludicrous statements have no basis in reality."

In May 2013 McAfee’s former compound in Belize burned down, which he said was proof he wasn’t paranoid after all, and that his concerns about the government being out to get him were "based in reality". He said: "This fire was not just a strange coincidence."

He then became a high-profile promoter of cryptocurrencies, and vocal opponent of taxes, and a US presidential candidate.
McAfee ran, unsuccessfully, for the Libertarian Party nomination in 2016 and 2020.

In 2019 a court in Florida ordered him to pay $25million to Faull’s estate in a wrongful death claim. He refused to pay it.

The same year he was detained in the Dominican Republic when he and five other people were suspected of travelling on a yacht carrying high-calibre weapons, ammunition and military-style gear. He then left the US and lived on a megayacht with four dogs and a security team.

John McAfee gestures during an interview with AFP on his yacht anchored at the Marina Hemingway in Havana

Credit: AFP

Last October he was charged in the US with evading over $4million in taxes, and in a cryptocurrency fraud case. McAfee claimed he had not paid taxes for ideological reasons.

The charges carried a prison sentence of up to 30 years.

The same month he was arrested at Barcelona airport boarding a flight to Istanbul with a British passport.

On Monday, after he had been held for eight months, Spain’s National Court ruled in favour of extraditing him to the US.

Entrance of Brians 2 penitentiary center in Sant Esteve Sesrovires, near Barcelona

Credit: AP

McAfee was found dead in his cell in Barcelona on Wednesday. His lawyer said he had taken his own life.

Javier Villalba, the lawyer, said: "This is the result of a cruel system that had no reason to keep this man in jail for so long."

Steve Morgan, who worked with McAfee on a biography, said he would have wanted to be remembered as a computer security pioneer, rather than for his tumultuous personal life.

He said: "I think a lot of people will remember him as a very troubled soul. Some people will remember him as a criminal. It depends on your age and your exposure to him."

A McAfee company spokesman said in a statement: "Although John McAfee founded the company, he has not been associated with our company in any capacity for over 25 years.

"That said, our thoughts go to his family and those close to him."

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