The bizarre life of software millionaire John McAfee

The software developer John McAfee.

The software developer John McAfee.

JOHAN ORDONEZ / AFP via Getty Images

John McAfee: Anyone who hears this name will inevitably think of the antivirus program that is installed on millions of PCs. Its inventor recognized the threat posed by computer viruses in the 1980s and is considered one of the companions for the technology. That is one side of the highly acclaimed software pioneer. But after his IT career, McAfee led an extremely bizarre life that few are aware of. For example, he built up his own private army of criminals in Belize, was wanted in the country on suspicion of murder, went on an escape through Central America and even sought to run for US president in 2016.

But let’s start from the beginning: McAfee was born a few days after the end of World War II on a US military base in Scotland. A little later, the family moved to the US state of Virginia. McAfee grew up here as an only child and was beaten repeatedly by his heavily drunk father. When McAfee was 15 years old, his father took his own life. After high school, McAfee began studying math and computer science. He is drawn to the promised land for software and hardware developers: Silicon Valley.

This is where McAfee begins to grapple with a new, previously unknown threat to PCs: computer viruses. His own computer was infected with the first PC virus, “Brain”, which prompted him to found the computer security company McAfee. As early as 1993, McAfee was the largest virus program in the world and controlled 67 percent of the market.

At that time the company only had 20 employees. But when you worked for McAfee, you didn’t just do your job and go home afterwards. The working environment in the company has been described as a kind of sect. McAfee’s former PR manager Mark Coker described his ex-boss as follows: “He’s a genius, but also completely paranoid.”

In 1996 McAfee finally sold its shares in the company and became a multimillionaire. As a result, he opened, among other things, his own yoga center in the US state of Colorado. He regularly invited friends and teachers to meditate on the huge forest property. Companions from back then described the atmosphere on the property as particularly mythical. Here, too, the comparison with a sect came up. Goldy Ivashkov, a former yoga teacher, even thought McAfee was an enlightened guru. But the personality of the software pioneer has changed over the years. He felt increasingly exploited by his environment.

Then came the economic crisis in 2008 and McAfee’s fortune was pulverized, according to media reports. The millionaire had to auction his property. McAfee himself later claims that this was a lie he cleverly spread in the media. In the same year the entrepreneur bought a piece of land in Belize. This is where the most bizarre chapter in the software developer’s life began.

The Donald Trump of Belize

The state on the east coast of Central America is a popular destination for Americans looking to go underground. But McAfee did not go into hiding here. He made donations to the police, gave the government a $ 1 million boat and got armed guards. In a very short time he rose to become one of the most powerful men in the region, without holding any political office. Staff referred to him as the Donald Trump of Belize.

This was especially true for the Orange Walk district, where McAfee set up a laboratory in the jungle for his recently founded pharmaceutical company “QuorumEx”. However, its influence and wealth also attracted many enemies. Because crime is the order of the day in Belize and the murder rate is particularly high. He received constant threatening phone calls – his paranoia worsened.

So he decided to fight fire with fire, hired brutal and feared criminals as security guards whom he himself called his “killers” and allied himself with the regional street gangs. His delusions went so far that he imposed curfews in the evening in Orange Walk Town, the district’s capital.

McAffe had a special relationship not only with criminals, but also with women. He constantly surrounded himself with young prostitutes, some of whom, as he himself admitted, were still in their “teenage years”.

His escape through Central America

A former lab worker accuses McAfee of raping her and threatening her with a gun. But after she reports it, nothing happens. The local police are paid by McAfee and the FBI was also powerless. The case was never resolved.

McAfee was considered inviolable. At least until April 30, 2012. On that day, the elite police unit GSU stormed his property in Orange Walk. There was a search warrant. McAfee has been suspected of making and selling drugs on his property. But apart from a few weapons, the police couldn’t find anything.

McAfee then moved to the small town of San Pedro. Here, too, he and his entourage turned city life upside down. His guards with guns and fighting dogs intimidated the local neighbors. One of them was Gregory Faull. He complained to McAfee and was threatened with a gun. A short time later, the attack dogs were poisoned by McAfee. He suspected that his neighbor Faull was behind the poisoning. Just days after the incident, Gregory Faull’s body was found in his living room. He died from a shot in the head.

McAfee was immediately considered the prime suspect in the case. But before the police could catch him, he left the country, dyed his hair and went on an escape through Central America. At the same time, however, he stayed in touch with the media and spread his own version of the story. After he entered Guatemala illegally, Interpol police were able to track him down and arrest him. But McAfee appealed and was ultimately extradited to the United States. Although he is still considered one of the prime suspects behind the death of Gregory Faull, the Belize police force has been unable to produce any evidence against him. The murder investigation rate in the country is less than three percent.

Back in the USA and entering politics

When he was back in the United States, his time in Belize seemed like forgotten. Nobody spoke of rape allegations and murder charges anymore. In 2016 he was even planning a presidential candidacy for the Libertarian Party, but was only nominated in third place.

Despite its criminal past, McAfee continued to enjoy a high reputation in the software world and was a guest speaker at many trade shows and events. However, on October 5, 2020, the past finally caught up with him. That day he was arrested in Spain for tax evasion and unfair advertising of cryptocurrencies. After an unsolved murder, allegations of rape and the creation of a private army made up of criminals, the inventor of one of the most famous virus programs is now facing years of imprisonment.

If you want to find out more about John McAfee and his time in Belize, you can tune in to ZDFinfo on Wednesday at 8:15 pm. There the documentary “John McAfee – The bizarre life of the software millionaire” is running. The journalist Nanette Burstein explains in discussions with former companions about the criminal machinations of the entrepreneur. The documentation is already available from 10 a.m. in the ZDF media library.


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