The tech industry is full of offbeat characters, but none are quite so off the beaten path as John McAfee. The creator of the antivirus software that bears his name has been in the news of late, but I'm having a hard time deciding if his story is comic or tragic.
After selling his software company in 1994, the 67-year-old McAfee built an instant messaging app, operated an "aerotrekking" company that offered motorized hang glider flights across the New Mexico desert, taught yoga, got sued for negligence in the death of one of his aerotrekkers, and fled to Belize, where he started up a bio-pharmaceutical company and was accused of cooking meth in the jungles. Most recently he's been living with his 20-year-old girlfriend Samantha, allegedly dabbling in all manner of mind-altering substances.
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Now he's on the run from the law. The Belize authorities consider McAfee a "person of interest" in the murder of his neighbor, Gregory Faull, who died of a gunshot wound to the head earlier this month. McAfee, who had been feuding with Faull but has also complained about corrupt local police in the past, says he's being framed. Beyond the essential facts of the case, though, is a story I can only describe as Hunter Thompsonesque. It's "The Mosquito Coast" meets "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."
But don't take my word for it. You can follow it all on The Hinterland blog and McAfee's newly minted Twitter account. Like this post about how McAfee managed to sneak back onto his compound after disappearing by donning a disguise:
I darkened the skin of my face, neck and hands carefully with shoe polish and put on an LA Saints baseball cap with the brim facing backwards and tufts of the front of my hair sticking out unkempt through the band. I stuffed my cheeks with chewed bubble gum stuck to the outside of my upper and lower molars - making my face appear much fatter. I darkened and browned my front teeth. I stuffed a shaved down tampon deep into my right nostril and died the tip dark brown - giving my nose an awkward, lopsided, disgusting appearance.... I adjusted my posture so that I appeared a good six inches shorter than my actual height and slowly walked up and down the beach with a pronounced limp, pushing an old single speed bicycle and peddling my wares to tourists and reporters using a broken English with a heavy Spanish accent.
Some intrepid reporters have made the trek to Belize to meet the man in person. McAfee's tweets give the flavor of the story better than I can:
I am sitting face to face with Adam Thomson of the London Financial Times. He is scared. Samantha is trying to soothe him. Weird world.
Adam Thomson of the Financial Times has chosen not to stay with us. Made a 4 hour recording and moved on. Anyone else out there wanna try?
I think it was the raw, sundried iguana that put him off. Better than sushi in my mind. Should have talked diet before the arrangement.
"I am younger and smaller than you, and I am a girl, but I have more balls than you" - Samantha to Financial Times reporter Adam Thomson