The rise, and fall, and rise of John McAfee, from tech pioneer to 'person of interest' in a murder case overseas to presidential candidate

McAfee has been a person of interest in a murder and a presidential candidate.

ByABC News
May 12, 2017, 10:52 AM

— -- There are many different versions of security software founder John McAfee.

He has gone from being known as a multimillionaire tech legend, to making headlines as a "person of interest" in a mysterious killing in Belize, to launching new tech companies, to running to become a presidential candidate, to living in rural Tennessee. The one constant these days is his state of mind -- his belief that people are after him.

“I’m a mad man to some people because I don’t follow the normal rules,” McAfee told ABC News’ Matt Gutman in an exclusive series of interviews this spring for an ABC News "20/20" report. “You know, the drummer that leads me is an odd drummer, but I follow the sound.”

McAfee, 71, is best known for developing antivirus software in the 1980s that bears his name and helping to pioneer instant-messaging in the 1990s. He says he wrote the antivirus program “in a day and a half” and that “4 million people were using it within a month.”

He sold his shares in the software company in the mid-90s, and reportedly made $100 million, though McAfee told ABC News his fortune was worth “much more.” But, he added, “I wasted it, like everybody who has money.”

McAfee built nine homes, filling them with expensive art, furniture and oddities, such as a dinosaur skull, and he bought a fleet of planes and antique cars. He created a yoga retreat in Colorado that hosted 200 guests at a time and set up a center in New Mexico for a new sport called aero-trekking.

But then the recession hit McAfee hard and in 2009, he said he liquidated his assets, and several of his properties and possessions were auctioned off. But he later said he didn’t lose his all of his fortune, and had set up the auctions to try to fool the media.

“I’ve had 200 lawsuits in my life because my name is John McAfee,” he told ABC News. “No, I didn’t lose everything. I wanted to stop people from trying to sue me.”

So McAfee packed up and moved to Belize. When asked what made him go to the Central American country, McAfee joked, “because I’m a stupid man.”

PHOTO: John McAfee's home in Belize, Ambergris Caye, is pictured here.
John McAfee's home in Belize, Ambergris Caye, is pictured here.

In 2009, he started a company that he said would manufacture plants from the Belize jungle into antibiotics. His lab was raided in May 2012 by the police department’s Gang Suppression Unit on suspicion he was manufacturing methamphetamine. He says the raid was retribution for his refusal to be extorted by the government. No illegal drugs were found during the raid. He was never charged and the lab was eventually shut down.

The Belize government declined ABC News’ request for comment.

McAfee was catapulted to the headlines again in November 2012. This time Belizean authorities linked him to a more serious crime, naming him "a person of interest" in the mysterious slaying of 52-year-old Gregory Faull, a U.S. man who was McAfee’s neighbor two doors down from McAfee’s beachside compound. McAfee went into hiding, telling ABC News at the time he was afraid the authorities were trying to kill him.

He has denied any involvement in Faull's death.

After being on the run for almost a month, McAfee was arrested in Guatemala by Guatemalan immigration officials for entering the country illegally. He was about to be deported back to Belize when he collapsed. McAfee later said he had faked a heart attack.

“Sure, I faked it,” he said. “What would you have done?”

He was never arrested or charged in connection with Faull's death, and McAfee’s attorney in Guatemala was able to obtain a stay of deportation to Belize for him. Soon after, Guatemalan authorities deported him to Miami, where he met his future wife – Janice Dyson McAfee, a former prostitute – at a restaurant.

“I instantly saw in Janice what I had been looking for my entire life,” McAfee said.

“It was, I don’t know how to say it, magical,” Janice told ABC News. “He saw the hurt that was there. He saw the human in me. He thought I was worthy enough of a second chance.”

"I had nothing to do with the murder of Gregory Faull," McAfee told ABC News "20/20" in an exclusive interview with him and his wife, Janice.
"I had nothing to do with the murder of Gregory Faull," McAfee told ABC News "20/20" in an exclusive interview with him and his wife, Janice.

McAfee and his wife now live in Lexington, Tennessee. He has an armed body guard with him everywhere he goes and his home sports a large gun collection.

“I have no fascination with guns,” he said. “I have a fascination with survival.”

McAfee and his wife are convinced that they have been followed for the past four years.

“We have been chased for days,” he said. “You could see the same cars and trucks over and over and over.”

McAfee was the subject of filmmaker Nanette Burstein’s Showtime documentary, “Gringo,” released last year, which alleged McAfee was responsible for Faull’s death.

One of the people featured in the film was McAfee’s property caretaker in Belize named Cassian Chavarria, who says in the film McAfee paid to have Faull killed, though the supposed hit man he named denied all wrongdoing.

When asked about the documentary recently, McAfee laughed it all off, saying Burstein paid Chavarria to make false statements. After the film was released, McAfee posted multiple videos online with Chavarria and others who said they had lied to Burstein.

“Let me make this perfectly clear,” McAfee told ABC News. “I had nothing to do with the murder of Gregory Faull.”

Burstein told ABC News that she didn’t pay for interviews, though she said she did pay what she called a nomral fee for some photos. She says McAfee paid Chavarria to recant his story.

“I called him and said listen, why did you do this?” she said. “He said, ‘Someone showed up at my house who works for John and they offered me thousands of dollars to say this.’”

An attorney for Chavarria and three others featured in the film held a press conference in Belize City shortly after the film was released, in which they all claimed they had lied in the documentary to get money from filmmakers for their interviews.

McAfee denies paying off people from the documentary to recant what they said –- Chavarria also denied at the 2016 press conference that McAfee had paid him -- but at one point, McAfee did threaten to walk out of the ABC News interview if our questions about Belize continued. McAfee’s only conditions for the interview were that ABC News adhere to his schedule and location.

Since being back in the states, McAfee hasn’t completely avoided legal trouble. In August 2015, he was pulled over in Henderson County, Tennessee, on suspicion of driving under the influence. He says he wasn’t drunk, but high on Xanax, which he said a doctor had prescribed. He pleaded guilty to a DUI, and has yet to get his suspended license back.

Though he may not have the fortune he once did, McAfee does paid speaking engagements at cybertech conferences, where some in the hacking world consider him to be a visionary. He took his public persona to a whole new level last year when he ran to become the Libertarian Party candidate for president. He finished as a runner-up to Gary Johnson.

McAfee is the CEO of MGT Capital, a company that invests in cybersecurity, such as a cellphone that McAfee says is the first that cannot be hacked.

He also demonstrated a “NFC ring,” or “near field communications ring,” which he did not develop, but said “could have downloaded a script which took full control of your phone.”

“You’re living in an age of no privacy,” he added.

Given the world’s obsession with hacking, McAfee could be looking to make another comeback.

“It’s an opportunity for me to speak again,” he said. “People are listening.”