With his tinted hair and tribal tattoos, John McAfee has always stood out like a sore thumb among the yacht-owning multi-millionaires who choose to live out their teatime years in the picturesque Caribbean tax haven of Belize.
The co-founder of the technology company McAfee, which is famous for its popular anti-virus software, he moved to a beachfront mansion on the tourist island of Ambergis Caye in 2009, hoping to enjoy a long and happy retirement filled with sun, sea, sand, and yoga.
But after an extraordinary fall from grace, the British-born entrepreneur has found himself holed-up in a jungle hideaway, attempting to stay one step away from detectives seeking to question him about the gangland-style murder of his next door neighbour.
Police in the Central American country have described McAfee as a “person of interest” in the killing of Gregory Faull, a wealthy native of Florida who was found face-down in a pool of blood on Sunday morning. He had been shot in the head.
McAfee insists that he has been framed, as part of a vendetta by local authorities. Speaking via telephone to a reporter from Wired magazine, he alleged that his own life would be in danger in the custody of Belize’s police force.
“You can say that I'm paranoid about it, but they will kill me, there is no question,” he told the technology magazine. “They've been trying to get me for months. They want to silence me. I am not well liked by the prime minister. I am just a thorn in everybody's side.”
McAfee had been on the run for 36 hours by daybreak today. He claimed to have initially evaded arrest by burying himself in sand and placing a cardboard box over his head so he could breathe. Then he fled to a secret jungle location.
Around 9am, local time, power was cut to that hideaway, leading him to believe that the net was closing. But at the time of going to print, he remained at large.
“I am adept at hiding. I will do whatever it takes to stay alive,” he told Wired. “The police have set up roadblocks across the country to catch me. I slept last night on a mattress infested with lice. It was extraordinarily uncomfortable [but] I will not turn myself in.”
McAfee had been in dispute with several neighbours, including Faull, over the state of his beachside compound. The property is surrounded by high fences, boasts an untidy garden, and has for months patrolled by heavily-armed guards.
It also contains a pack of large guard dogs. They had recently been the subject of several noise complaints, one of which came from Faull. On Friday night, four of the dogs died, after having apparently been poisoned.
McAfee claims the poisoning occurred at the hands of authorities, as part of a plot to frame him for Faull's murder. The police, who have recovered several firearms during a search of his home, say there is “absolutely no truth” to that allegation.
“This guy amazes me every day,” said Marco Vidal, the head of Belize’s Gang Suppression Unit, who cald him a “prime suspect” in the homicide investigation. “We don’t have anything personal against Mr McAfee. There is no need for us to poison dogs.”
The manhunt is just the latest twist in a life story which already stretches the bounds of credulity. Raised in Virginia, McAfee worked in Silicon Valley throughout the 1980s, and founded his eponymous firm in 1987. It became hugely successful thanks to an explosion in the market for anti-virus software and a (then) unique business model which involved giving away the product online, but charging customers for tech support.
The firm went public in 1992, and McAfee sold his stake two years later, giving him a fortune of around $100m. He purchased a string of luxury homes, in Hawaii, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, and decided to devote his time to a mixture of yoga and “Aerotrekking,” a highly dangerous adventure sport which involves flying unlicensed planes at low altitude.
The good life came to an abrupt end in 2008, however when the stockmarket crash wiped out many of his assets. At one point, the New York Times reported that he was down to his last $4m, although that figure has since been disputed. He duly liquidated his property portfolio and moved to Belize, a destination which offered low taxes and robust protection from creditors.
In recent years, McAfee claimed to have founded an alternative medicine company which was using local plants to manufacture a natural alternative to antibiotics, and a herbal version of Viagra for women. But police appear to have come to the conclusion that the business was instead a front for a methamphetamine laboratory.
At dawn on April 30th, they raided his home. They shot a guard dog before arresting five security guards, along with a 17-year-old local who was described as McAfee’s girlfriend. A search uncovered ten firearms, including seven pump-action shotguns and a pistol.
McAfee was thrown into prison on suspicion of manufacturing methamphetamine and illegal firearm possession. He was released after several hours, though the case against him has yet to be fully resolved. According to Reuters, charges are still: “pending.”
In interviews conducted over the ensuing months, McAfee has told reporters that he's being persecuted for refusing to donate money to one of Belize’s most influential politicians. He alleges that several attempts had been made on his life, forcing him to hire heavily-armed gang members to protect him.
A reporter from Wired, who is working on a major profile of McAfee, says that he conducted a recent interview with a Luger pistol lying on his desk. That’s the same gun which was apparently used to shoot Faull.
Yet McAfee continues to insist he knows “nothing” about the murder. In a phone call to Wired's reporter, he has even speculating that it may have been a botched attempt to assassinate him. “They mistook him for me. They got the wrong house,” he claimed. “He’s dead. They killed him. It spooked me out.” A jury may eventually have to decide whether he’s telling the truth.