He smiled, fixed them with his penetrating blue-eyed gaze, and hit them with a nonstop stream of patter. I made a fortune, he says. He spent his money on booze but managed to graduate and start a phD in mathematics at Northeast louisiana State college in 1968. He got kicked out for sleeping with one of his undergraduate students (whom he later married) and ended up coding old-school punch-card programs for Univac in Bristol, tennessee. That didnt last long, either. He was arrested for buying marijuana, and though his lawyer got him off without a conviction, he was summarily fired. Still, he had learned enough to gin up an impressive, totally fake résumé and used it to get a job at Missouri pacific railroad.
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He grew up in roanoke, virginia, where his father was a road surveyor and his mother a bank teller. His father, McAfee recalls, was a heavy drinker and a very unhappy man who McAfee says beat him and his mother severely. When McAfee was 15, his father shot himself. Every day i wake up with him, McAfee says. Every relationship I have, hes by my side; every mistrust, he is the negotiator of that mistrust. So my life is fucked. McAfee started drinking heavily his first year at roanoke college and supported himself by selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door. He would knock and announce that the lucky resident had won an absolutely free subscription; all they had to do was pay a small shipping and handling fee. So, in fact, i am explaining to them why its not free and why they are going to pay for. But the ruse worked, McAfee recalls. He learned that confidence was all that mattered.
Photo: Brian Finke, nineteen eighty-three was a pivotal year for McAfee. He was 38 and director of engineering at Omex, a company that built information storage systems in Santa Clara, california. He was also selling cocaine to his subordinates and snorting massive amounts himself. When he got too high to focus, hed take a quaalude. If he started to fall asleep at his desk, hed snort some more coke to wake. McAfee had trouble making donation it through the day and spent his afternoons drinking scotch to even out the tumult in his head. Hed been a mess for a long time.
As the gsu stormed up the stairs, he put on some shorts, laid down his gun, and walked out with his hands. The commandos collided with McAfee at the top of the stairs, slammed him against the wall, and handcuffed him. Youre being detained on suspicion of producing methamphetamine, one of the cops said. McAfee twisted to look at his accuser. Thats a startling hypothesis, sir, he responded. Because i havent sold drugs since 1983. During his time in Belize, mcAfee has collected a retinue of bodyguards, dogs, and young women.
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After all, the madonna concert wasnt over yet. Outside, flashlight beams streaked across the property. This is the police, a voice addison blared over a bullhorn. Deep in the compound, McAfee burst out of pongos a thatched-roof bungalow that stood on stilts 20 feet off the ground. He was naked and held a revolver. Things had changed since his days as a high-flying software tycoon. By 2009 he had sold almost everything he owned—estates in Hawaii, colorado, new Mexico, and Texas as well as his 10-passenger plane—and moved into the jungle.
He announced that he was searching for natural antibiotics in the rain forest and constructed a mysterious laboratory on his property. Now his jungle stronghold was under attack. The commandos were converging on him. There were 31 of them; he was outgunned and outmanned. McAfee walked back inside to the 17-year-old in his bed. She was sitting up, naked, her long frizzy hair falling around her shoulders and framing the stars tattooed on her chest.
At the far end of the property, a muddy river flowed slowly past. Crocodiles lurked on the opposite bank, and howler monkeys screeched. In the guard station, a drunk night watchman gaped. Blond Ambition, a madonna concert dvd. The guard heard the trucks first.
Then boots hitting the ground and the gate rattling as the lock was snapped with bolt cutters. He stood up and looked outside. Dozens of men in green camouflage were streaming into the compound. Many were members of Belizes Gang Suppression Unit, an elite force trained in part by the fbi and armed with taurus mt-9 submachine guns. Formed in 2010, their mission was to dismantle criminal organizations. The guard observed the scene silently for a moment and then sat back down.
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I can do this all day long, he says to the sound of the hammer clicking. I can do this a thousand times. Nothing will ever happen. Because you have missed something. You are operating on an assumption about reality that is wrong. Its the same thing, he argues, with the governments accusations. They were a smoke screen—an attempt to distort reality—but theres one thing everybody agrees on: The trouble really got rolling in the humid predawn murk of April 30, 2012. It was a monday, about 4:50. A television flickered in the guard resume station of McAfees newly built,.5-acre jungle outpost on the belizean mainland.
We dont have nehru to do this. I know we dont, he says, the muzzle pressed against his temple. And then he pulls the trigger. He pulls it three more times in rapid succession. There are only five chambers. Reholster the gun, i demand. He keeps his eyes fixed on me and pulls the trigger a fifth time. With the gun still to his head, he starts pulling the trigger incessantly.
he says, staring hard. Can I do a demonstration? He loads the bullet into the gleaming silver revolver, spins the cylinder. This scares you, right? Then he puts the gun to his head. My heart rate kicks up; it takes me a second to respond. Yeah, Im scared, i admit.
More than 25 years ago, he formed McAfee associates, a maker of antivirus software that went on to become immensely popular and was acquired by Intel in 2010 for.68 billion. Now hes holed up in a bungalow on his island estate, about 15 miles off the coast of mainland Belize. The shades are drawn so i can see only a sliver of the white sand beach and turquoise water beauty outside. The table is piled with boxes of ammunition, fake ids bearing his photo, frontiersman bear deterrent, and a single blue baby pacifier. McAfee picks a bullet off the floor and fixes me with a wide-eyed, manic intensity. This is a bullet, right? He says in the congenial southern accent that has stuck with him since his boyhood in Virginia. Lets put the gun back, i tell him. Id come here to try to understand why the government of Belize was accusing him of assembling a private army and entering the drug trade.
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On november 12, 2012, belizean police announced that they were seeking John McAfee for questioning in connection with the murder of assignments his neighbor. Six months earlier, i began an in-depth investigation into McAfees life. This is the chronicle of that investigation. Twelve weeks before the murder, john McAfee flicks open the cylinder of his Smith wesson revolver and empties the bullets, letting them clatter onto the table between. A few tumble to the floor. McAfee is 66, lean and fit, with veins bulging out of his forearms. His hair is bleached blond in patches, like a cheetah, and tattoos wrap around his arms and shoulders.