Almost everyone recognizes the name McAfee. Whether you grew up with the antivirus software on your computers or you started using it as an adult, almost everyone has interacted with the McAfee software at some point. But the man behind the software, John McAfee, is a man with a complicated and dark past that includes murder, drug abuse, fetishes, and predatory behavior. When news of his death in a foreign prison hit the internet this week, people began talking again about McAfee, and his dark secrets. So how does one of the world’s most successful software pioneers end up dead in a foreign prison, and what did he do along the way? CELEB takes a look at the life of John McAfee; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Much of what the public knows about McAfee’s life and his dark secrets is due to the work of Nannette Burstein and her documentary, Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee.
Creating a Software Empire
John McAfee was born in Gloucestershire, England. His parents were an American soldier and an Englishwoman, and they moved to Virginia when McAfee was young, so most of his formative years were spent in the southern state. McAfee’s father was troubled, struggling with alcohol addiction and often abusing his wife and child, and when John was only 15 years old, the elder McAfee committed suicide, forever rocking the stability of the young boy’s life. After graduating from high school, McAfee attended Roanoke College, and he graduated with a degree in mathematics in 1967. Right out of college, McAfee was hired by NASA, and went on to work for a number of tech consulting firms, his eyes on Silicon Valley.
McAfee started his professional career in the cradle of modern day internet technology, giving him the inspiration to start his own computer security software company in 1987: McAfee Associates. Most of the employees at McAfee Associates were friends of McAfee, and the workplace environment was notoriously debaucherous. Gringo details how sex contests were encouraged, witchcraft happened in the boardroom, and the overall hedonistic office was a place of wild abandon – but also, wild success. McAfee cornered nearly 70% of the antivirus market in the ’80’s, a time when many computer gurus didn’t even know viruses existed and now suddenly they had this great looming threat to fear; but McAfee Associates was there to protect them. McAfee Associates launched its IPO in 1992, and two years later its founder sold his shares and left the company behind, but the name remained and grew over the years.
Ironically, McAfee was not a fan of the software he created and was often its most vocal critic once he cut ties with the company in the mid ’90’s. McAfee’s wealth grew until 2007, where it peaked at around $100 million – and from there, things all went sideways. In ’07 and ’08, the economic downturn hit McAfee’s fortune hard, and he never fully recovered. McAfee Associates wasn’t his only company venture; per Wikipedia, “After leaving McAfee Associates, he founded the companies Tribal Voice (makers of the PowWow chat program), QuorumEx, and Future Tense Central, among others, and was involved in leadership positions in the companies Everykey, MGT Capital Investments, and Luxcore, among others. His personal and business interests included smartphone apps, cryptocurrency, yoga, and recreational drug use.”
McAfee’s other ventures didn’t rocket to stardom like McAfee Associates, and in around 2000, McAfee decided to leave California and bought nearly 300 acres in Colorado. On this vast stretch of land, McAfee set up a yoga and meditation retreat. McAfee was a lifelong practitioner of yoga, even writing 5 books on the subject. In the documentary Gringo, McAfee says that he closed the retreat because people took advantage of his generosity.
The Wheels Come Off the Wagon in Belize
Once his fortune dried to a trickle, McAfee moved to Belize in hope of maintaining his lifestyle in the much cheaper cost-of-living country. Central America is a popular retirement locale for Americans looking to maintain a certain way of life on a smaller monthly stipend. McAfee almost set himself up like a king in the lush coastal country. Upon moving to the country, McAfee immediately began donating massive amounts of money and supplies to local police. When he became a permanent resident of the country, McAfee donated a $1 million boat to the Belize government. But the software pioneer was gregarious and friendly, so while his behavior was odd and occasionally raised eyebrows, many assumed he was just eccentric.
By 2010, McAfee was indeed living a lavish life in Belize, in San Pedro. The eccentric American bought more land father into the jungle, hiring locals and showering them with gifts; their impression of him was a man who was kind, a man who cared. When being interviewed for Gringo, many hesitated to say things that could be construed as unfavorable about McAfee because they didn’t want him to feel betrayed.
At the new Belize property in the Orange Walk district, Allison Adonizio – a microbiologist in McAfee’s employ – was given proper a labratory setup and encouraged to research a number of projects. But McAfee was frequently concerned with image, setting up fake photo ops with Adonizio’s research. And while all of this was going on, McAfee’s mindset was slowly changing; he was becoming paranoid. Belize is a developing country, and dangerous for the openly wealthy. McAfee’s property was built near a toll bridge, so all passersby had to stop, and see the lavish building right on the river. McAfee began regretting his ostentatious lifestyle as the paranoia grew.
McAfee pulled from Belize’s most dangerous for his security detail, including felons and gang members; thinking that their reputation would scare others away. As the time passed, McAfee’s sense of importance grew, and he began terrorizing villagers at nearby town Carmelita. McAfee instituted a curfew, using his security thugs to enforce it under threat of death. The man who would be king even opened a police station in the small town, and populated it with his own security guards, even openly calling them hit men. McAfee began working with Eddie McKoy, known by locals as MAC-10 for his favored gun. MAC-10 was not someone to mess with; his reputation was bloody, and dark.
Murder? Fetish? Rich and Eccentric or Sick and Powerful?
McAfee’s employee, Adonizio, says that it was during this heightened paranoia when McAfee drugged and raped her. When Adonizio confronted him about it gently, he acted as if nothing happened. So later, the microbiologist came back with the suggestion that he buy her out of the company and they part ways. McAfee lost his mind, assaulting her and threatening her. With the help of local friends, Adonizio escaped back to the US with her life – under the nose of the furious McAfee who was armed and acting like a caged beast.
McAfee’s behavior got even worse from there; at one point, a local named David Middleton broke into and robbed McAfee’s Orange Walk residence. McAfee wanted to make an example out of Middleton, and had his goons kidnap and torture him with tasers, a point that would later become relevant to another brutal case. Then, when Middleton was barely clinging to life, McAfee drove him to the center of town and dumped him in front of witnesses, as a message. Middleton slipped into a coma at the hospital, and died. But before he died, he wouldn’t tell who was responsible.
While McAfee was escalating his violence and erratic behavior, he was also indulging in more carnal pursuits. McAfee would hang out downtown at the local bar, collecting girlfriends. McAfee would pay local women, sometimes dozens at a time, to spend time with him and sleep with him. McAfee seemed to prefer troubled women on the edge of legal, who needed his patronage. But McAfee’s relationship with some of the women was certainly, unusual; one of his fetishes involved misadventures with a hammock. Many of the women considered the act humiliating, but a small price to pay because he otherwise treated them well and lavished them with luxury.
Things Get Dicey in Paradise
According to McAfee, from here, he was the target of a political subversive campaign after refusing to donate to a local politician. The compound was raided by 42 anti-gang soldiers; but McAfee didn’t believe it had anything to do with his gang-lord like behavior. It was all a conspiracy because he refused to play along. After that, McAfee left his little empire in Orange Walk behind and returned to his original San Pedro property, paranoia rising.
Just down the beach from McAfee was another American; Greg Faull. Faull was popular, working as a contractor and enjoying the peace of San Pedro; until McAfee returned. There was a dispute between Faull and McAfee over the latter’s dogs, who were ferocious and ran free on the beach, terrorizing locals and vacationers. Faull tried the police, but remember they were prepped for amiability by McAfee when he first touched down in Belize. One day, McAfee’s dogs are poisoned. McAfee immediately believed it was Faull, and he grabbed his shotgun to put down the dogs he says are suffering. In Gringo, McAfee’s girlfriends recount his unhinged behavior after the dogs were poisoned.
On November 10, 2012, Faull called a friend to let him know he believed someone was on his property, and he was nervous about it. The next morning, Faull was found dead in his home, killed by a shotgun blast to the head at close range. Taser marks covered the body. The next day, McAfee was named a person of interest in the murder.
McAfee fled the country, holing up in Guatemala. A reporter for VICE accidentally gave his location away when an image of the fleeing felon was uploaded with metadata attached, and he was arrested in December for entering Guatemala illegally. Belize immediately began seeking his extradition. After a series of heart attack like symptoms, McAfee was able to delay his extradition to Belize long enough for his lawyer to secure a series of appeals, which worked. On December 12, 2012, McAfee as released from Guatemalan custody and deported to the US.
Later, someone who worked closely with McAfee would implicate him in Faull’s murder, and suggest that it was MAC-10 who actually carried out the execution-style killing. One of McAfee’s girlfriends would also later tap MAC-10, but Belize’s poorly developed forensics abilities made it impossible to nail down the killer, even as the investigation remained ongoing for years. Although they called in help from the FBI, the most McAfee received in the way of punishment for what happened with Faull was a South Florida lawsuit that required McAfee to pay Faull’s estate $25 million for wrongful death. McKoy later fled the country, suggesting McAfee was trying to have him killed or threaten him into silence.
A Bid for Presidency
Somehow, between 2012 and 2015, the public forgot about McAfee’s Central American troubles. Somehow, the fact that he was a potential murderer just fell by the wayside.
McAfee threw his hat in the ring for President of the US, under a Libertarian ticket. The presidential campaign was wild; he would say bizarre, off-the-wall things to garner attention and create buzz. Of course, McAfee lost to Gary Johnson. But he was back. After McAfee was named CEO of MGT Capital Investments, he regained his standing in the tech world. Masterfully controlling his public image and continuing to repel questions about his actions in Belize, McAfee threw his hat in the ring again in 2018 for the 2020 election, but he wouldn’t make it to the finish line.
American Millionaire Dies in Prison
In 2019, McAfee fled to Spain. The millionaire claims he was fleeing tax evasion charges, and was arrested by the Catalon government in October of 2020. Variety reports, “McAfee was wanted in the U.S. for evading taxes, which could have resulted in a 30-year prison sentence. Tennessee prosecutors charged the computer software entrepreneur after he failed to report income he made from speaking engagements, selling the rights to his life story for a documentary and promoting cryptocurrencies. He was arrested in October 2020 at the Barcelona airport. Since then, McAfee had been awaiting his extradition hearing in prison. During a hearing earlier this month, he claimed the charges were politically motivated and feared he would spend his life behind bars upon returning to the U.S.”
McAfee allegedly killed himself this week, and news broke that he was found dead in his cell in Spain while still awaiting extradition. The long, dark, and twisted path that led McAfee to that Spanish cell beggars belief, yet it appears to be the legacy of the software pioneer. However, as with all things McAfee; not everything is as it seems. Perhaps in the years to come, we’ll know a little more about what went on that he was so desperate to hide with public spectacle.