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Sunday, December 2, 2012

John McAfee Plays Hide-and-Seek in Belize

John McAfee Plays Hide-and-Seek in Belize

Photo Illustration by The New York Times

John McAfee, right, a pioneer in computer security who lives in Belize, is a “person of interest” in the murder of his neighbor.


DANIEL GUERRERO promised during his campaign for mayor here to clean up San Pedro, the only town on this island, a 20-minute puddle jump from the mainland. But if he ever runs for re-election, don't expect him to mention that vow.

“I meant clean up the trash, the traffic, that sort of thing,” he says. “I didn't mean this.”

“This” is a full-blown international media frenzy and the kind of mess that no politician could have seen coming. It started on Nov. 11, the morning that Gregory Faull, a 52-year-old American, was found dead, lying face up in a pool of blood in his home. He had been shot in the head. His laptop and iPhone were missing. A 9-millimeter shell was found nearby.

What happened next turned this from a local crime story to worldwide news: The police announced that a “person of interest” in the investigation was a neighbor, John McAfee, a Silicon Valley legend who years ago earned millions from the computer virus-fighting software company that still bears his name.

A priapic 67-year-old, with an improbable mop of blond-highlighted hair and a rotating group of young girlfriends, Mr. McAfee quickly melted into the island's lush green forest. Then, for Belizean authorities, the real embarrassment began.

Asserting his innocence, Mr. McAfee became a multiplatform cyberdissident, with a Twitter account, and a blog at whoismcafee.com with audio links, a comments section, photographs and a stream of invective against the government and the police of Belize. He has done interviews on podcasts, like the “Joe Rogan Experience,” and offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of “the person or persons” who killed Mr. Faull. He has turned lamming it into a kind of high-tech performance art.

“I am asking all people of conscience to read this blog, especially the links in the ‘Background' section,' and see the ugly truth unfolding here,” he posted on Nov. 18. “Speak out. Write your congressmen. Write the prime minister. Do what you can.”

Before he went underground, Mr. McAfee led a noisy, opulent and increasingly stressful life here. He was known for the retinue of prostitutes who he says moved in and out of his house, and for employing armed guards, some of whom stood watch on the beach abutting his house. He also kept a pack of untethered dogs on his property who barked at and sometimes bit passers-by.

Two days before the murder, someone had poisoned a handful of those dogs. As it happens, Mr. Faull had complained about the animals, as well as the guards and the constant late-night inflow and outflow of taxis on the dirt path that runs behind his and Mr. McAfee's homes - a path so tiny that it's supposed to be off-limits to cars.

Mr. Faull had shown up at the town council office a few weeks ago with a letter decrying the din and the dogs, as well as Mr. McAfee's guns and behavior. Nothing came of it.

“We were planning to meet with John McAfee and hand him the letter,” Mr. Guerrero said. “But it never happened. We were busy doing other work.”

In hindsight, that looks like a blunder. Mr. McAfee has since said on his blog that he had no choice but to flee because police and politicians in Belize are corrupt and eager to kill him. As proof, he has written at length about a late April raid that the country's Gang Suppression Unit conducted at a property of his on the mainland, in a district called Orange Walk.

Some McAfee watchers have a different theory - namely, that he grew paranoid and perhaps psychotic after months of experimenting with and consuming MDPV, a psychoactive drug. These experiments were described in detail by Mr. McAfee himself, under the pseudonym “Stuffmonger” in a forum on Bluelight, a Web site popular with drug hobbyists.

So, here's one hypothesis: Rich man doses himself to madness while seeking sexual bliss through pharmacology. Then shoots neighbor in a rage. Case closed, right? Ah, but those Bluelight posts were a ruse, Mr. McAfee would later blog, just one of the many pranks he has perpetrated over the years - part of a bet with a friend to see if he could create Bluelight's largest-ever thread.

A version of this article appeared in print on December 2, 2012, on page BU1 of the New York edition with the headline: Hide-and-Seek in Belize.