Silicon Valley’s eccentric outlaw: How John McAfee overcame his own father’s suicide to pioneer anti-virus tech before spending his millions on a rock star lifestyle with drugs and women before paranoid conspiracy theories led him to Spanish jail
John McAfee was found in his cell at the Centre Penitenciari Brians 2 in Barcelona
John McAfee, the eccentric 75-year-old antivirus software pioneer who killed himself in a Barcelona jail cell on Wednesday within hours of learning he’d be extradited to the US, lived a colorful life of womanizing, government conspiracies and running from the law.
McAfee was facing multiple counts of tax evasion from 2016 to 2018 and on Wednesday night, learned that Spain had agreed to extradite him. He was found in his cell at the Centre Penitenciari Brians 2 in Barcelona.
McAfee started McAfee Associates in 1989. He sold it to Intel in 2010 for $7.7billion.
Born in the UK on a US army base, McAfee hated the US government and said in the past that he felt as British as he did American, despite growing up in America.
When he was 15, his alcoholic father shot himself. McAfee said in a 2012 interview with Wired that it he woke up ‘every day’ with his father.
“Every day I wake up with him. Every relationship I have, he’s by my side; every mistrust, he is the negotiator of that mistrust. So my life is f****d.’
He studied at Roanoke College in Virginia, where he took up drinking, then briefly attended Northeast Louisiana State College before being kicked out in 1968 for sleeping with one of his undergraduate students when he was a PhD.
His first job in computers was at the Missouri Pacific Railroad in St. Louis. They were trying to use an IBM computer to schedule trains in 1969. McAfee made a system that produced optimized train routes.
As his career in computers blossomed, his drug and alcohol addiction exploded. It was usual for McAfee to do acid before a shift at work and to snort lines of cocaine off his desk while drinking a bottle of whiskey in a day.
McAfee’s first job in computers was at the Missouri Pacific Railroad in St. Louis. They were trying to use an IBM computer to schedule trains in 1969. McAfee made a system that produced optimized train routes. At the time, he was in the throes of drug and alcohol addiction. In the years that followed, his first wife left him and he hit rock-bottom. He founded McAfee Associates in 1989 after reading about a computer virus from Pakistan that was invading American computers. He’s shown that year. By 1990, he was making $5million-a-year from people using his anti-virus software
His first wife – the student he married while he was a PhD student – left him in the 1980s because his addictions were spiraling out of control.
In 1983, alone in his home with no possessions because he’d sold them to buy drugs, he said he contemplated suicide. Instead, he joined Alcoholics Anonymous and was sober from then until his death.
In 1986, he started McAfee Associates out of the home he lived in in Santa Clara, California, after reading about how a computer virus from Pakistan was infecting American computers.
He launched an anti-virus software and advertised it on messaging boards, making it available to people for free.
Within five years of launching, major companies across America were using it. Then, they started paying a licensing fee for it in 1990. McAfee started earning $5million a year.
He publicized his business by making Americans fear cyber security attacks or viruses from overseas, drawing on his own paranoia to make them paranoid too and invest in software.
It was a controversial way of doing business, but one he defended.
In 1990 for example, he claimed there was a Michaelangelo virus that would damage 5million Americans. Less than 100,000 were impacted but McAfee’s sales soared.
The strategy proved lucrative for him- in 1992, McAfee Associates went public on NASDAQ at $80million.
By 2008, McAfee had divorced his second wife and moved to Belize where he settled into his compound. By 2013, he had a harem of seven women living with him on the property. He posted photos of them on his blog that year, calling them ‘The Girls’
The women included 16-year-old Amy Emshwiller. McAfee dumped his girlfriend of 12 years within a month of meeting Amy, claiming he was in love. She said she wanted to rob him. She also tried to kill him on one occasion
McAfee enjoyed life in Belize. He would say that he had cut ties with ‘polite society’ and was more comfortable in the company of the ‘prostitutes, thieves and handicapped people’ he met there
McAfee married his second wife, Judy, and the pair set up in Silicon Valley. He opened a Colorado yoga studio in 2000 and for many years, lived a life that was relatively free of scandal.
But later in his life, the paranoia started to apply to Americans, specifically the government, who McAfee was convinced were out to get him and he became jaded with his life.
By 2009, after suffering financially in the Great Recession and growing tired of his wealth, he had sold most of his possessions and was divorced for the second time.
One thing he wanted to hold on to was an expansive property in Belize that he purchased in 2008. He moved there in April that year.
Over the next several years, McAfee cut ties with what he called ‘polite society’ to live in Belize and mingle with the locals. He frequented a bar called Lover’s, which was also a brothel, where he said he belonged.
Though he had a girlfriend – Jennifer Irwin – the owner of Lover’s procured a 16-year-old girl for him in around 2010.
After being transferred from Guatemala to Miami, he was released on bail. He is shown on Ocean Drive in Miami after wards
McAfee went on the run from Belize, convinced he’d be set up there for Faull’s death. He fled to Guatemala but was arrested there in 2012 and extradited to Miami. He is shown being transferred in an ambulance to the Police Hospital in Guatemala
Within a month of meeting her, the pair were sleeping together and McAfee was building her a bungalow on his property.
The girl, Amy Emshwiller, was also interviewed by Wired in 2012. She said she wanted to rob McAfee, who she thought was a dumb millionaire.
By 2013, McAfee had a harem of seven women living with him on the property. DailyMail.com exclusively revealed photographs of the harem, where he appears shirtless, hugging them, clutching a spear. McAfee met his second wife Janice Dyson, a prostitute, in 2012. The pair remained married until his death.
While decidedly unquiet, McAfee didn’t have legal problems until 2012, when he was named as a person of interest in the murder of his neighbor in Belize, Gregory Faull.
Faull was found dead in his home, which was next door to McAfee’s compound, with a single gunshot wound in his head. Prosecutors in Belize suggested McAfee might have been involved because he had long argued with his neighbors about the guard dogs on his property.
McAfee in 2016 at the 4th China Internet Security Conference. He was consulted as a global expert on cyber security because of his work, but McAfee became increasingly paranoid as the years went on
To avoid detection, he sent out a ‘double’, he claimed, to act as a decoy.
The double was arrested but he was able to make it out of the country, fleeing Belize for Guatemala. He was then arrested and extradited to the US – at the request of the Belize authorities.
He flew to Miami, which is where he met Dyson in a bar and where he hired her for the night.
Charges relating to Faull’s death never came but he was sued by Faull’s family in a wrongful death suit. In 2015 , he was charged with driving under the influence in Tennessee, but his major legal troubles in the US didn’t start until 2019.
That is when he announced he had fled America because he and other members of his failed 2020 campaign to become president, had been charged with tax evasion in a federal indictment.
McAfee made no effort to hide that he didn’t pay US tax. He said repeatedly that he didn’t believe in the system.
McAfee and Janice took to the seas aboard his ‘Freedom Boat’ and cruised the Caribbean as McAfee issued a series of bizarre pronouncement and threats to expose ‘corrupt’ US officials he claimed were unjustly pursuing him.
He was cryptic about where he was but always spoke with the media and communicated with fans on Twitter.
In one incident, McAfee revealed that one of his teleconference-enabled ‘body doubles’, Jay Pizzle, had disappeared while in route to deliver a keynote speech for him in Barcelona
‘No-one’s heard from him. I’m not a conspiricy [sic] theorist, but I don’t believe in co-incidence. I have no clue. But would the U.S. go that far to silence me?’ McAfee said.
‘We spoke with Jay the night before he was supposed to leave. All was fine and he was excited to go on the cruise,’ tweeted McAfee in an update
‘His flight was to leave the following morning. We know only that he did not show up for his flight and he was not seen at the airport,’ said McAfee.
McAfee responded with wide-ranging threats to release information he said would expose corruption at the highest levels of the CIA, as well as other U.S. authorities.
‘If I’m arrested or disappear, 31+ terrabytes of incriminating data will be released to the press,’ McAfee said in one recent tweet.
McAfee also issued a video statement vowing to release a web page detailing corruption within the U.S. government.
‘There is corruption that goes far deeper, however, and that is the corruption of those who reach for more power, in order to be more corrupt,’ he said.
In July 2019, he tweeted that he’d been captured on his boat in the Dominican Republic. He and five others were suspected of traveling on a yacht carrying high-caliber weapons, ammunition and military-style gear, officials on the Caribbean island said at the time. He was later released.
In 2020, he popped up in Norway, claiming to have been arrested for wearing a thong as a COVID-19 mask.
On the run again in Cuba, in 2019: McAfee went on the run after being charged with tax evasion but he still kept in touch with the media. He wasn’t shy of running from the US authorities and wanted people to know what he claimed – that the American government was guilty of corruption
On the run again: In 2019, McAfee fled the US after being charged with tax evasion. He is shown in the Dominican Republic (left) after being arrested there because authorities thought he had illegal weapons on his boat, and right, in Belarus in 2020
McAfee and his wife Janice were both active on social media while he was on the run. They are shown in one picture, which he described as showing them ‘in their retreat’
June 21, 2021: McAfee appears via video-link for his extradition hearing after being arrested in Spain. He spent seven months in jail then found out this week that he would be extradited to the US. He was found dead in his jail cell on Wednesday and Spanish authorities say it was a suicide
McAfee had become increasingly erratic in his tweets in recent years. He claimed last year to have 47 kids, 61 grandkids and 19 great-grandchildren but he has never been public about any of his children
In October 2020, he was arrested in Spain and was finally taken into custody. He was still in jail when prosecutors in the US charged him with a pump and dump cryptocurrency scheme in April 2021.
The Justice Department claimed that he would knowingly inflate the price of a cryptocurrency by tweeting about it, with the sole intention of selling it at a peak once people were interested in it.
Final Tweet: In one of his final tweets, presumably dictated to his wife from behind bars, McAfee said ‘I have nothing. Yet, I regret nothing.’
There were several examples of currencies that surged in value after McAfee tweeted about them then plummeted which backed up the Justice Departments’ claims.
He denied wrongdoing, saying he’d only ever tried to help followers, and insisting that the US government was corrupt. He was able to communicate his innocence on Twitter from Spanish jail, and through spokespersons.
McAfee tweeted in 2020 that he had ’47 children’ and dozens more grandchildren but that he’d never met any of them. He called the kids ‘lazy’. None of his children have been identified publicly.
His widow, former prostitute Janice Dyson, tweeted a long statement on Fathers Day on Sunday claiming John was being vilified by the American media and the authorities.
‘The US authorities are determined to have John die in prison to make an example of him for speaking out against the corruption in their government agencies. There is no hope of him ever having a fair trial in America because there is no longer any justice in America. You either play ball or get f***d.
‘Happy Fathers’ Day John Davod. Father of many, loved by few.’ It’s unclear where she is.