From tech legend to Caribbean fugitive. From a rural ranch in the Tennessee to a candidate for the White House. From bitcoin prophet to fugitive from American justice.
The eccentric life of American billionaire John McAfee came to an end on Wednesday. Officials at a prison in which he was being held in Barcelona, Spain, found him dead in what they preliminarily considered a suicide.
The death of the 75-year-old antivirus pioneer was known a few hours after the Spanish National Court gave the go-ahead to extradite him to the United States, where he has been accused of tax evasion for years.
He had fled in January 2019, when authorities in Washington began looking for him after he himself confessed that had not paid taxes for more than 8 years for considering them “unfair”.
Since then, he has declared himself a “persecuted” and “victim of a forced exile” that took him on a tour of the Caribbean islands and that culminated in his arrest last October at the Barcelona airport, when he was trying to fly to Turkey.
A Spanish court had previously denied him his last request for parole, after considering that the “risk of flight” continued “to be evident” and that he had “no appreciable sign of roots.”
A life on the run
The last trip that took him to a jail in Spain and finally to his death began in January 2019, when he escaped from the United States.
He arrived first in the Bahamas and from there he also fled after alleging that he was “persecuted” by the CIA.
He then traveled to Cuba, where he anchored his yacht in the exclusive Marina Hemingway, and from where he published daily photos, videos and comments on tobacco, restaurants, expensive drinks and parties.
In Havana, in fact, he announced that he would establish his tropical headquarters for the 2020 elections, his second attempt to reach the White House, with a campaign based on cryptocurrencies and free trade.
Shortly after, he announced that he was “at sea” again and was arrested a few weeks later with weapons and more than US $80,000 in cash in the Dominican Republic.
He was released and his destination was unknown again for months, until he announced that he was in London, his last whereabouts until his arrest in Barcelona.
It was not the first time that the founder of McAfee Associates had to hide and run on the run.
In 2012, he was also considered a fugitive by the authorities in Belize, where he was residing at the time.
He fled the Central American country after being considered a “person of interest” in the homicide of his neighbor, Gregory Faull, with whom he allegedly had a dispute over some dogs.
So he dyed his hair and beard, painted his teeth, and put gum on his gums so they couldn’t recognize him. As he told the magazine Wired, he even hid in boxes buried under sand to evade the police.
He escaped to Guatemala and was deported from there to the United States.
According to him, it was on his first night after being extradited that he met his last wife, Janice McAfee, in Miami Beach after she offered him her services as a prostitute.
They married shortly after and settled on a rural Tennessee ranch, from where the computer scientist launched his first campaign for the presidency in 2016 for the Libertarian Party, although his candidacy did not progress.
Citizen of two countries
Despite his southern accent, the businessman was born on a US military base in England, the son of a British woman who met an American soldier during World War II.
As a young man, he moved to Virginia, where he had a troubled childhood: his father was an alcoholic who committed suicide when McAfee was 15 years old.
It was not long before he himself began to drink heavily and use drugs of all kinds, although he managed to maintain a promising academic career, which came to an abrupt end in 1960.
So, Louisiana State University ended his doctorate in mathematics after it was revealed that he had slept with a student whom he mentored.
He later married her and began working with some of the biggest tech organizations of the day, such as NASA, General Electric, Siemens, Univac and Xerox, while still immersed in his addictions.
Things came to a head in the 1980s, when his dependence on drugs and his fondness for prostitutes forced him to seek help.
As he counted several times, he had 47 children.
McAfee landed a career-changing job nearly three decades ago: He was offered a position at defense firm Lockheed Martin, where he began working on a secret speech recognition program.
There he encountered unusual self-replicating code, designed to copy itself to any floppy disk inserted into infected computers.
His first contact with a virus fascinated him and he devised a way to disinfect computers and then spread the cure through a precursor network system.
The challenge inspired him to create his own business from the parking lot of his house: McAfee Associate, with which he developed all kinds of programs to detect and eliminate computer viruses.
At first he offered it free to common users and later he began to sell it to different companies.
By 1992, a large number of companies were using antivirus from McAfee, who not long after sold the firm to Intel.
In the mid-1990s, at age 50, McAfee retired from the company.
Since then, he has dedicated himself to other computer projects, but what focused his attention was the still incipient world of cryptocurrencies.
Since then, his life full of gruesome episodes, adventures and eccentricities of all kinds, for which he continued to grab headlines.
The US government accused McAfee of failing to report in recent years the profits he made from promoting cryptocurrencies, for holding talks on the subject, and for selling the rights to his life story for a documentary by TV.
For these accusations he was arrested in Spain, where he finally met his death.
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