With his extradition to the United States assured, British-American businessman John McAfee had seemingly run out of options to avoid some criminal accountability in his life.
On June 23, 2021, after spending nine months in a penitentiary in Barcelona, Spain, the European country’s national court ruled that McAfee would be sent back to America where he faced tax evasion charges. Hours later, prison guards found the 75-year-old anti-virus software pioneer hanging in his cell, according to Reuters. Spanish authorities ruled his death a suicide.
People in McAfee’s inner circle had doubts about his manner of death. His criminal defense attorney Javier Villalba said his client showed no signs of wanting to take his own life, El Pais reported. “We are outraged,” Villalba said, according to the Spanish newspaper. “We are going to get to the bottom of this.”
In a note posted to her Twitter account two weeks after his death, McAfee’s widow Janice McAfee said that she “did not accept the ‘suicide’ story that has been spread by the malignant cancer that is the [mainstream media].”
It was an abrupt, tragic end for McAfee, who spent his last years trying to stay one step ahead of his law enforcement pursuers, including homicide investigators in Belize seeking to interview him about the murder of Gregory Faull, McAfee’s neighbor in the Central American country a decade ago. During that span, he morphed from a successful, brilliant tech entrepreneur to a cryptocurrency peddling outlaw.
The World’s First Computer Virus Eradicator
McAfee gained fame in the late 1980s when he launched McAfee Associates, maker of the first commercial anti-virus software to hit the consumer market. By 1990, the company was raking in $5 million a year in revenue, The Times reported.
Four years later, McAfee sold his remaining stake for a reported $100 million and left his namesake firm. He spent his new fortune building nine homes, acquiring planes and cars and developing a yoga retreat in Colorado only to liquidate most of his lavish assets after the 2008 recession nearly crushed him financially.
McAfee moved to Belize in 2010, in part, to avoid personal injury lawsuits and to spend a separate fortune he’d stashed in overseas accounts… He told ABC: “No, I didn’t lose everything. I wanted to stop people from trying to sue me.”
A Dark Descent in Belize Ends with Unsolved Murder
Over the next two years, McAfee seemingly embraced the role of a jungle warlord from his compound in the Central American nation, according to a Wired magazine profile, which featured a photo of him, bare-chested and pointing a gun at his head. In May 2012, Belize’s gang suppression unit led a raid on McAfee’s residence believing a laboratory he set up was being used to manufacture methamphetamine.
While the cops didn’t turn up any illicit drugs, they alleged they found evidence McAfee was producing antibiotics without a license. Officers also cataloged an arsenal of handguns and shotguns that belonged to McAfee and arrested two of his security guards.
McAfee and his then-17-year-old girlfriend, Samantha Vanegas, were briefly detained and then released. Afterward, McAfee told Gizmodo in an interview that he was targeted for not contributing money to a local politician: “It was simply a message saying ‘look don’t mess with us and when we ask you for something, give it to us.'”
Seven months later, Belize police officials sought McAfee again. This time, investigators wanted to question him about Faull, a former Florida native who was found shot to death in his home that was next door to McAfee’s compound. Prior to his assassination, Faull had reportedly complained to McAfee about the tech mogul’s “vicious dogs,” four of which ended up getting poisoned and had to be put down.
McAfee, who was named a person of interest, went into hiding and ultimately fled Belize. While on the run, he spoke to news reporters from undisclosed locations to proclaim his innocence, accusing Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow and other government officials of wanting him dead. Barrow dismissed the allegations, saying McAfee was “extremely paranoid, even bonkers.”
Back In the U.S., But Not For Long
By early December 2012, McAfee made it to Miami after narrowly escaping extradition to Belize when Guatemalan police apprehended him on immigration charges. He later told reporters that he had faked a heart attack to buy his lawyer time to get him back stateside.
Over the next seven years, McAfee developed a cult-like following on social media and parlayed it into making money hawking cryptocurrencies and cyber-security tech products, including a failed gambit to fool reporters into believing he had hacked the encrypted messaging application WhatsApp using cellphones with pre-installed malware, according to Gizmodo.
He also launched two longshot bids for the U.S. presidency as a Libertarian candidate in 2016 and 2020.
McAfee charged digital coin makers $105,000 per tweet to promote their cryptocurrencies.. One such tweet, sent on November 30, 2019, played off McAfee’s paranoia that the U.S. government was out to get him, while serving as an unabashed advertisement for a cryptocurrency token.
It showed a photo of a fresh tattoo he’d just stamped on his bicep. The black ink scrawled into his skin read, “$Whakd.” With the photo, he tweeted, “Getting subtle messages from U.S. officials saying, in effect: ‘We’re coming for you McAfee! We’re going to kill yourself.’ I got a tattoo today just in case. If I suicide myself, I didn’t. I was whackd. Check my right arm.”
By then, McAfee was on the run again months after he publicly disclosed on his Twitter account that he hadn’t filed a tax return in nearly a decade. He was also facing $25 million in damages stemming from his losing a wrongful death civil lawsuit filed against him by Faull’s family.
In October 2020, Spanish authorities apprehended McAfee as he and his third wife, Janice, were about to board a plane in Turkey. In Tennessee, federal prosecutors had indicted McAfee for not paying $4.2 million in taxes between 2014 and 2018 and hiding his assets.
During his nine-month-stint in the Barcelona prison, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission hit him with another indictment alleging fraud and money laundering tied to his cryptocurrency promotions.
Following his death, his widow refused to accept the Spanish government’s claims that McAfee died by his own hand. She said she would seek a second autopsy, Vanity Fair and other news outlets reported.
In a brief video posted to her Twitter account on August 5, 2022 Janice said she had not given up. “We won’t get a decision about the release of the autopsy report or the release of John’s remains until September,” Janice said. “I just wanted to inform you guys of what has happened so far and to thank you again for all your help to bring attention to what is happening here in Spain.”