To the many people who crossed his path on a tropical island in Belize, it was apparent John McAfee’s life had taken some bizarre turns in the past few years.
The anti-virus software guru, who started McAfee Associates in 1989, has been in hiding since police said they wanted to question him about the weekend murder of his neighbour, fellow American Gregory Faull, with whom McAfee had quarreled.
Despite his disappearance, Mr. McAfee, 67, has remained in contact with the media, providing a stream of colourful bulletins over his predicament, state of mind and his claim that Belize’s authorities want to kill him.
Residents of the Caribbean island of Ambergris Caye and others who know him paint the picture of an eccentric, impulsive man who gave up a career as a successful entrepreneur in the United States for a life of semi-seclusion in the former pirate haven of Belize, surrounded by bodyguards and young women.
“Never mind the dog, beware of owner,” counsels a small sign, embellished with a sketched hand gripping a large pistol, tacked to the fence separating Mr. McAfee’s beachfront swimming pool from the pier that cuts into the azure sea.
Mr. McAfee, a yoga fan who has lived on the island for about four years, often moves around with bodyguards, wearing pistols in his belt. Since going into hiding, he has compared his lot to that of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is battling extradition from Britain from inside the Ecuadorean Embassy.
Officials suspect Mr. McAfee used designer drugs, and neighbours say he tried to chase them off the public beach in front of his house. Inside his home, a blue-roofed cottage complex, he kept a small arsenal of shotguns and scope-fitted rifles.
There were also complaints about the millionaire’s numerous and noisy dogs. Officials say the poisoning of four of the dogs may be linked to the murder of Mr. Faull, a 52-year-old Florida building contractor who was shot dead at his salmon-hued two-story villa about 100 meters down the beach from Mr. McAfee.
Mr. Faull was one of the locals who had complained about Mr. McAfee’s attitude and his dogs.
Mr. McAfee told Wired magazine, with whom he first kept up a running conversation, that he was disguised and holed up in what he describes as a lice-infested refuge. In comments to the magazine, Mr. McAfee denied he shot Faull and said he fears that the police will kill or torture him. Police, who believe he is still in Belize, say they just want to talk to him about the killing.
Mr. McAfee, who has not responded to requests for comment by Reuters, blamed Belize’s “pirate culture” for his troubles in an essay Wired said he had sent to the magazine.
“Belize is still a pirate haven and is run more or less along the lines established centuries ago by the likes of Captain Morgan, Blackbeard and Captain Barrow,” Mr. McAfee said.
Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow has urged Mr. McAfee to help police with their inquiries, calling him “bonkers.”
In an interview with CNBC television by phone on Friday, Mr. McAfee said he would not seek refuge in the U.S. Embassy.
“What would happen? They will offer me either sanctuary where I will spend my days living in the embassy like poor Julian Assange or when I leave ... I will be nabbed by the police. My ultimate goal is they’ll figure out who killed the man, it will have nothing to do with me and they will leave me alone. Or if enough international pressure is applied,” he said.
‘PARANOID’ Many locals in San Pedro describe the tattooed Mr. McAfee, who made a fortune developing the Internet anti-virus software that bears his name, as a generous but unstable man.
“He’s a good guy, he helped a lot of people. The problem was when he wanted something he wanted it right now. And when he didn’t get it, he’d get paranoid,” said one islander, a former McAfee employee, who like many people here spoke on condition their name not be used for fear of retribution.
“He’s a complex man, very impulsive,” the islander added.