As the inventor of the antivirus software that bears his name, John McAfee, who died aged 75 after apparently taking his life in a Spanish prison, turned paranoia into a fortune. He was one of the first famous millionaires to successfully promote themselves, whose power and exposure in the media provide untold influence in America.
Moving from a computer expert to a spiritual guru, he then began a prolonged second act in Belize, where his inordinate lifestyle fueled his own personal paranoia and led him to become the prime suspect in the murder of a beachfront neighbor.
However, he returned to the United States, made another fortune, and took up politics, before fleeing again, this time to avoid being charged by the American authorities with tax evasion and fraud. He died immediately after a Spanish court granted an extradition request from the United States.
McAfee’s rise to riches came unexpectedly at the crest of the Internet wave, but the chaos of his previous life foreshadowed what was to follow. He was born in Cinderford, Gloucestershire, where his father, Don, stationed at a US Army base during World War II, met his English mother, Joan (née Williams). The family returned to Don’s home in Roanoke, Virginia, where he worked as a surveyor and Joan as a bank teller. But Don was an abusive alcoholic and took his own life when John was 15 years old. McAfee later said, “Every relationship I have, every mistrust, he is the negotiator for that mistrust.”
McAfee went through Roanoke College and discovered the ability to scam people with a simple and straightforward approach, selling “free” magazine subscriptions that required substantial postage payments. In 1969, as a teaching assistant studying for a doctorate in mathematics at Northeast Louisiana State College, he was fired for sleeping with one of his students, leading to his first short-lived marriage.
An expert in programming the key drilling machines of the time, he went through a series of jobs and a growing dependence on alcohol and drugs. He landed in Silicon Valley, where, after a work break, he joined AA. In the mid-1980s, he had a steady job and security clearance at Lockheed, when he read an article about the Pakistani Brain Computer Virus. He immediately understood how the virus worked and created a program to neutralize it. Starting with McAfee Associates from home, he created an antivirus that he gifted to users, in the correct hope that it would build a market to sell licenses to businesses.
Tricks like creating a mobile antivirus van helped generate national notoriety, as did his writing of a book warning of the threat of the virus. He stoked fears about him Michelangelo virus in 1992, just as his fast-growing company was listed on the Nasdaq Stock Exchange, which immediately made his stake worth $ 80 million. The following year, he stepped down as CEO and in 1994 he sold his stake. That year he also founded Tribal Voice, which designed an early messaging system, PowWow, for windows; sold that in 1999.
In 2000, when the world panicked over the threat of the year 2000, McAfee bought 280 acres in Colorado, built a property, and started a yoga retreat; He also wrote four guides to spirituality. He was divorced from his second wife, Judy, a flight attendant whom he married in his early years at McAfee Associates and who had helped build the company in 2002. As his longtime girlfriend, Jennifer Irwin, put it, “John has always been looking for something “. He bought properties in desirable locations like Hawaii and New Mexico, founded a flight school, and invested in a start-up antivirus firewall company, Zone Labs.
In the 2008 financial crisis, McAfee was reported to have lost most of his fortune and auctioned off his properties, including the Colorado property, to move to Belize. However, in interviews he claimed that he was avoiding vexatious personal injury lawsuits, and in a documentary, Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee (2016), researching her life in Belize, told filmmaker Nanette Bursten that she had a separate fortune in secret accounts and bearer bonds.
McAfee bought a farm facing the sea on Ambergris Caye in San Pedro. In 2010 he met Allison Adonizio, a Harvard graduate student researching herbal antibiotics. He agreed to partner with his research, starting a company called Quorum Ex and building a laboratory on a 22-acre property inland near the town of Carmelita.
Out of fear of gangsters, he began assembling his own security force, largely made up of criminals. When a local gangster, David Middleton, allegedly threatened him, he made a pact with another. Middleton was found tortured and eventually died, but no one was charged. In 2012, McAfee was playing Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, running the city and even ordering locals to get off the streets for curfew.
He was also gathering a harem of young women. According to the girls interviewed in Gringo, McAfee’s sexual inclinations centered on coprophilia under a hammock; McAfee claims they were paid for telling lies. Meanwhile, the madness scared Adonizio so much that he told McAfee he wanted to leave; she alleges that McAfee drugged and raped her before she escaped with the help of friends.
In 2012, the Belize Gang Prevention Unit raided property and seized illegal weapons and drugs (which turned out not to be illegal). McAfee claimed the raid was retaliation for his refusal to contribute money to the government, but he retreated to San Pedro, where his armed guards and 11 dogs soon scared residents along the beach.
A neighbor of his, an American named Greg Faull, filed a complaint. One day McAfee’s dogs were poisoned; Faull was found dead the next day; Gringo makes a compelling circumstantial case that McAfee ordered a hit. But McAfee made his way to Guatemala by boat.
They found him when a photo from an interview with Vice was tracked down and he was arrested. After McAfee’s extradition to Belize was approved for questioning, he staged a heart attack to stay in hospital until his attorney could file an appeal. He was later extradited to the United States. The night he landed in Miami, he picked up a sex worker named Janice Dyson; she would become his third wife.
In the United States, he rebuilt his celebrity, filming a video mocking press coverage in which he surrounded himself with young women, drugs and guns, while mocking McAfee Antivirus, now owned by Intel. He resumed the entrepreneurial spirit, advocating for the safety of mobile phones. In 2015, when he was appointed CEO of MGT Capital, a technology investment firm, his shares increased substantially.
That year he also launched a race for the Libertarian party’s presidential nomination. They had broken the million-vote barrier for the first time in 2012 alone, but it received exposure on talk shows like Larry King Live and the Fox News broadcast of the libertarian presidential debate. Although it did not win the nomination, the party quadrupled its vote in 2016. It ran again, “from exile,” for the 2020 go-ahead, as it was already dodging its tax evasion charges. After a bizarre series of endorsements, withdrawals and re-entries, he was again unable to be nominated.
McAfee was arrested in October of last year in Spain, on tax charges filed in Tennessee. The next day, the US Securities and Exchange Commission filed charges of “pump and dump” fraud of fake cryptocurrencies. The Spanish National Court authorized his extradition last Wednesday; later that day, he was found hanging in his cell.
His attorney said McAfee did not appear suicidal and his widow alleged that he had been executed to prevent him from revealing what he knew about important people in the United States, revelations that McAfee once said were ready to be released if he died suspiciously.
She is survived by Janice and, she claimed, up to 47 children “depending on DNA testing.” Although he also once explained to a journalist that he was doing what he always did: “Fuck with the media as much as I can.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism