John McAfee Is Dead at 75 After an Apparent Suicide. Here's the Disconcerting Backstory of His Last Decade.

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Photo credit: Larry Marano - Getty Images
Photo credit: Larry Marano - Getty Images

If the last time you thought about John McAfee was your last dalliance with that pesky “update your antivirus software” notification from his eponymous company, you’re not alone. But it’s time to get caught up, because McAfee’s story has taken a tragic turn that’s truly stranger than fiction. Today, McAfee’s lawyer confirmed that he died at 75 in a Spanish prison—the very same day a Spanish court ruled that he could be extradited to the United States on tax evasion charges. McAfee’s shocking death has renewed interest in his controversial life, which made him a legend in tech circles and often defied belief.

Let’s rewind: British-born McAfee made his name in the late '80s with McAfee Associates, a software company that was once the gold standard of consumer computer security. In 1994, McAfee resigned from the company, which went on to reach its apex without him. The company has since tried to distance itself from McAfee, even going so far as to rename the venture Intel Security following its $7.7 billion purchase in 2010 by computer chip manufacturer Intel.

Why did the company want to put McAfee at arm’s length, you ask? After selling his stake in the business, McAfee went all in on a series of short-lived business ventures, including an instant messaging system, a firewall provider, and a ranch providing flights in “trikes” (cabins suspended from hang-gliders). The trouble started when he headed south to Belize in 2008, where he founded the company QuorumEx, which aimed to produce herbal antibiotics disrupting quorum sensing in bacteria. In April 2012, on suspicion of a methamphetamine lab, the Gang Suppression Unit of Belize’s police force raided QuorumEx’s research facility, where they confiscated both McAfee’s passport and licensed weapons, shot his dog, and briefly imprisoned him before charges of unlicensed drug manufacturing and unlicensed weapons possession were dropped. When the police arrived, they found McAfee in bed with a sixteen-year-old girl.

Photo credit: JOHAN ORDONEZ - Getty Images
Photo credit: JOHAN ORDONEZ - Getty Images

Later in 2012, McAfee became the subject of a media frenzy surrounding the death of his neighbor, Gregory Faull. Faull was irate about McAfee’s disruptive lifestyle, characterized by a rowdy crowd of underage girls and bodyguards. He complained to the local mayor about McAfee’s nine disruptive dogs. Two days later, Faull’s housekeeper found him dead of a bullet wound to the head. When local authorities sought McAfee out as a “person of interest” in their investigation, McAfee went on the run, claiming that he would be “silenced” if he was thrown in jail. McAfee conducted interviews while living as a fugitive until he was apprehended and arrested in Guatemala in December. McAfee sought and was denied political asylum from Guatemala, then faked two heart attacks in prison to avoid deportation to Belize. It worked: McAfee was instead deported to Miami.

In the United States, McAfee continued to make headlines. In 2015, McAfee announced his run for president as the candidate for the newly formed Cyber Party; later that year, he switched his ticket to the Libertarian Party. He ran again for the Libertarian nomination in the 2020 election, but this time, he ran “in exile,” following reports that he, his wife, and four of his campaign staffers were being investigated for tax felonies by the IRS.

In October 2020, McAfee was arrested in Spain at the behest of the United States government. He stood accused of failing to file tax returns for four years, despite raking in millions from consulting work, cryptocurrencies, speaking engagements, and selling his life rights. He was also accused of concealing assets, like yachts and real estates, in others’ names. In March, McAfee was indicted on additional charges of fraud and money laundering, with the U.S. Justice Department alleging that he and a business partner bilked investors of over $13 million by falsely promoting cryptocurrencies. McAfee resisted extradition to the United States, claiming he faced political persecution. Today, a Spanish court ruled that extradition must go forward.

Photo credit: Joe Raedle - Getty Images
Photo credit: Joe Raedle - Getty Images

“The social, economic or any other relevance the defense claims the appellant possesses does not grant him any immunity,” the ruling stated. The court also noted that there was “no revealing data or indication that Mr. McAfee could be subjected to any political persecution.”

Then, today around 1:00 p.m. ET, McAfee was found dead in his cell at a Spanish jail near Barcelona. The Catalan Justice Department said in a statement that “everything indicates” that McAfee took his own life.

We’ll update this story as we continue to learn more about the peculiar circumstances of McAfee’s death.

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