From malware to madman: A brief history of John McAfee’s lunacy binge

John McAfee timeline

John McAfee is one crazy son of a bitch. But you already know that, thanks to the ridiculous escapade that started back in November after McAfee’s neighbor was found dead, and McAfee fled into the jungles of Belize. It’s a sordid tale, with many ins, outs, and what-have-yous – one of the most spectacular displays of utter madness the technology world has ever seen.

McAfee’s absurd story actually starts much earlier, all the way back in the 1990s. So sit back, grab yourself a hit of bath salts, and come with us on a journey through John McAfee’s long, hilarious descent into madness.

1987: McAfee Associates launches

After nearly two decades working as a programmer for NASA, Univac, and Xerox, McAfee lands a job at Lockheed Martin where he begins developing anti-virus software. In 1987, he launches his own company, McAfee Associates, which becomes the world’s go-to anti-virus company.

1992: Michelangelo virus stir-up

This is when McAfee’s crazy streak first begins to reveal itself. McAfee tells the world that a virus dubbed “Michelangelo,” which had the charming feature of completely wiping the hard drive of infected computers, had made its way into as many as 5 million PCs. On March 6, McAfee said, Michelagelo would trigger a meltdown in all infected computers at once. His declaration caused a near-panic in the computer-using world, much as the Y2K D-Day scare did some eight years later. But by March 7, nothing had happened. Nothing.

McAfee was blamed for creating a false threat to sell more of his anti-virus elixir – which he did. McAfee’s anti-virus software sales reportedly “skyrocketed” that year, with more than half of the companies in the Fortune 100 having purchased McAfee software. Of course, this only furthered the theory that McAfee had just made up the whole damn thing.

1994: McAfee cashes out

The Michelangelo fiasco eventually took its toll on McAfee’s reputation within the company. By 1994, he was forced out of his own firm. He cashed out most of his stock in the company, plunking a whopping $100 million into his bank account. At 47, McAfee is massively rich, retired, and bored.

1994 to 1999: The dark years

Flush with millions of dollars in cash, McAfee purchases a 280-acre compound in Woodland Park, Colorado for $25 million. The sprawling estate includes a 10,000-square-foot mansion, two apartments, and nine guest cabins.

It was from this home base that McAfee developed one of the first Internet instant messaging and VoIP clients, PowWow, which precluded eventual winners in the space, like AOL Instant Messenger and Skype. He launched the product under a new company called Tribal Voices, a Native American-themed venture that foreshadowed McAfee’s eventual turn into a hippy-dippy yoga junkie.

1999: Goodbye, Tribal Voices. Hello, extreme sports and giant houses

Tribal Voices, though innovative, never managed to gain the mainstream appeal of competing products. And McAfee decided to sell the company in 1999 for about $17 million. He then dove head first into real estate, purchasing properties in Arizona, Hawaii, Texas, and New Mexico.

This was also the start of McAfee’s plunge into the batshit-crazy sport of aerotrekking, which involves soaring through the air on half-motorcycle-half-hang-glider contraptions called kite-planes. McAfee would later establish a group of aerotrekking enthusiasts called the Sky Gypsies. The Sky Gypsies would later prove to be one of McAfee’s various downfalls.

2000: Board the Zone Labs

Following the sale of Tribal Voices, McAfee invests in San Francisco-based cybersecurity firm Zone Labs, creator of the then-popular ZoneAlarm firewall product. McAfee also joined the Zone Labs board of directors. At this point, McAfee’s reputation, though tarnished by the whole Michelangelo debacle, is still intact enough for companies to accept his money.

2001: Yoga, yoga, yoga

In his spare time, McAfee managed to write four books on his favorite hobby, yoga. His catalog includes Into the Heart of Truth, The Secrets of the Yamas, The Fabric of Self, and Beyond the Siddhis, the latter of which takes things like telepathy, time travel, and levitation totally, totally seriously. Seriously. The next year, McAfee released two instructional yoga DVDs.

2006: Wrongful death lawsuit

By 2004, McAfee was so obsessed with aerotrekking that he spent $11.5 million on a 117-acre ranch in New Mexico, which he established as the home base of the Sky Gypsies. But his high-flying dreams came crashing down in late 2006 when his nephew, Joel Gordon Bitow, crashed one of the kite-planes into a canyon wall. Bitlow and his 61-year-old passenger Robert Gibson both died instantly. Gibson’s family then sued McAfee for $5 million, arguing that McAfee should not have allowed Bitlow to fly the aircraft because he didn’t have enough experience.

2008: McAfee moves to Belize

The Sky Gypsies tragedy reportedly led McAfee to flee to Belize to avoid the Gibson family lawsuit. Upon arriving in the Central American nation, McAfee bought the Belize Coast Guard a 27-foot-boat worth about a $1 million to help the fight against drug trafficking. He also donated about $100,000 worth of equipment to the San Pedro Town Police Department.

2009: Fortune plummets?

A New York Times report says that McAfee’s fortunes had plummeted to around $4 million thanks in large part to the crash of Lehman Brothers. But Fast Company reporter Jeff Wise, who visited McAfee in Belize, would later call the eccentric man’s finances into question, claiming that he was not living like a man who only had a mere $4 million in the bank.

2010: Drug trade

As relatively nutty as McAfee’s life had been up until this point, it wasn’t until 2010 that the fruitcake really hits the fan. As Wise reported, McAfee had begun researching a bacteria that was thought to be the next big thing in antibiotics. He purchased 22 acres in the Belize jungle to grow the necessary plants, and hired a legit researcher. Eventually, he set up Quorumex to develop the drug.

2010 (Oct.): Bath salts

Speaking of drugs, in the same year, a person with the username Stuffmonger posted to a drug discussion forum called Bluelight about attempts to purify a drug called MDVP, otherwise known as “bath salts.” Stuffmonger, according Gizmodo, was actually McAfee.

“I’m a huge fan of MDPV,” wrote Stuffmonger. “I think it’s the finest drug ever conceived, not just for the indescribable hypersexuality, but also for the smooth euphoria and mild comedown.”

McAfee later denied that he was Stuffmonger, and said he didn’t do drugs at all.

“I have a highly addictive personality,” wrote McAfee on his blog. “That’s one of the reasons I do not drink or do drugs. If I had been on MDPV, then I would still be on MDPV.”

April 30, 2012: Police raid

In the early morning hours of April 30, McAfee and his 17-year-old girlfriend “Amy” awoke to 42 police and military personnel storming his Belize compound. They announced with a bullhorn that they were looking for drugs and guns. They shot one of McAfee’s dogs, and confiscated an arsenal of firearms that included seven pump-action shotguns, 9-mm pistols, and buckets of ammunition.

McAfee says he was handcuffed and forced to sit in the sun for 14 hours “without food or water while I watched my property being destroyed and taken away.” He was arrested on charges of possessing illegal firearms – charges McAfee says were bogus.

November 9: Dogs die

On November 9, McAfee found four of his dogs dead. They had been poisoned. McAfee’s neighbor Gregory Faull had reportedly complained about the dogs’ barking, and McAfee’s loud lifestyle.

November 11: Murder

Faull was found dead in his home two days after the death of McAfee’s dogs. He had been killed with 9-mm gunshot to the back of his head. McAfee was officially a suspect, police said. Still, they did not – and have not – officially charged him with any crime. They just want to talk, John. That’s all – just a little chitchat.

November 14: McAfee, a wanted man

News that McAfee was now a suspected murder first arrived via Jeff Wise, writing for Gizmodo.The report came just days after Wise published his latest profile of McAfee, who had seemingly fallen into a pit of madness over the previous two years.

McAfee later denied that he was involved in the killing of Faull, claiming that the 52-year-old’s death was part of a government plot against him. McAfee the decided to make a run for it. He would later tell reporters that he was living in a lice-infested hellhole in the jungle.

November 17: McAfee blogs on the run

Three days later, McAfee surfaced from his hiding in the form of a blog. He took the opportunity to blast Wise, saying that he “made a life work out of smearing my character.” He also took shots at Wired’s Josh Davis. (In a later post, McAfee apologized for blasting Wise.)

McAfee continued to blog throughout his time on the lam, allowing the rest of us to follow his sordid journey, which eventually led him and his 20-year-old girlfriend Samantha to Guatemala.

December 4: Vice exposes his postion

We know McAfee went to Guatemala because some Vice Magazine reporters had joined him there, and took a picture of him with an iPhone. The photo, which was posted to Vice’s website, still contained metadata that revealed the precise location of McAfee.

McAfee initially claimed that the metadata had been intentionally altered to throw authorities off his trail. But he later admitted that he was, in fact, in Guatemala, where he was seeking asylum.

December 6: Arrested in Guatemala, blogs, has “heart attack”

But asylum he did not get. Guatemalan authorities soon arrested McAfee for entering the country illegally. Following his apprehension, McAfee suffered intense chest pains, which were initially believed to be symptoms of a heart attack. Later reports indicate that he did not suffer a heart attack, and was released from the hospital to return to jail.

December 7: Awaiting trial

As of today, McAfee is awaiting trial in a Guatemalan jail.

Image via Wired

Get our Top Stories delivered to your inbox: