John McAfee – via PNUTs Gallery

Software Pioneer Found Dead

(VCG via Getty Images)

Controversial antivirus software magnate and fugitive, John McAfee, apparently chose suicide over extradition to the U.S., where he faced multiple charges including tax evasion. The 75-year-old was found dead Wednesday in his prison cell near Barcelona, just hours after a Spanish court approved his extradition.

McAfee was arrested in Spain in October 2020, where he’d fled after being indicted in the U.S. He faced charges of failing to file taxes from 2014 to 2018, despite earning millions in income from promoting cryptocurrencies, consulting work, speaking engagements, and selling the rights to his life story for a documentary. He was indicted again in March 2021 on separate fraud and money laundering charges. McAfee argued the charges against him were politically motivated.

McAfee was born in the U.K. in 1945 and grew up in Virginia. He was 15 when his alcoholic father committed suicide. In college, McAfee began drinking and experimenting with drugs. In the late 1960s, he started work at a company where he learned the basics of early computing. From there he moved to Missouri Pacific Railroad (MPR), helping them calibrate train schedules with the use of the newly introduced IBM computer system. At MPR he began using LSD and other psychedelic drugs. In the 1970s he moved to Silicon Valley, working for various tech companies and using more drugs and alcohol. 

In the 1980s McAfee worked at NASA and Lockheed Martin. When the first computer virus hit PCs in 1986, he decided to start his own antivirus software company. He founded McAfee Associates in 1987 and achieved early success, earning millions as the creator of McAfee’s first commercial antivirus software; he ran the company until 1994. In 1996 he sold his remaining shares for about $100 million, but after the market collapse in 2008 he was left with only about $4 million. A year later he liquidated his U.S. holdings and moved to a remote island off the coast of Belize, where he started another company, and became more erratic and unhinged

McAfee was leading a paranoid, sex and drug-fuelled, jungle-dwelling lifestyle, complete with a harem of local prostitutes and gun-toting bodyguards. In 2012 he became a “person of interest” in the death of a neighbor. His mansion was raided by police who suspected him of illegal drug manufacturing and weapons possession. McAfee fled to Guatemala where he asked for political asylum, but he was deported back to the U.S. 

McAfee lived in Portland and started another company, but relocated to Montreal after claiming he narrowly escaped an attempt on his life. A March 2014 article quoted him as saying “Running a company while on the run is not easy.” In 2016 McAfee was a candidate for president on the Libertarian ticket. After his indictment in 2020 he escaped again, this time to Spain. He never believed the 2019 death of Jeffrey Epstein was suicide and told his social media followers that if he died in prison it wouldn’t be by suicide. He said “know that if I hang myself, a la Epstein, it will be no fault of mine.” (CNN, Insider, BBC, Crime Museum, Independent)