“James Bond meets Scarface with a little Indiana Jones.”
That’s how John McAfee, the notorious tech mogul who lived a strange life shrouded in power, mystery, violence and international espionage, describes himself in the new Netflix documentary “Running With the Devil: The Wild World of John McAfee,” out Wednesday.
McAfee was born in England to an American soldier-turned-road surveyor, Donald McAfee, and a bank teller, Joan. He grew up in Roanoke, Va., and worked for NASA before creating his namesake protective software in the late 1980s. At his peak, his net worth was an estimated $100 million, and he stepped away from his successful company in 1994.
But in retirement, his life took a series of strange turns.
He became increasingly obsessed with using his computer prowess to tap into devices around the world so that he could spy on governments, high-profile criminals and others that intrigued him.
“John told me that he created a software [that] enabled him to spy on anyone in the world. The CIA, FBI, the KGB, NSA, even the White House. Everyone,” Alex Cody Foster, a ghostwriter who worked for McAfee, says in the doc. “John had access to information on virtually everybody in the world.”
In 2012, he was living on a beach in San Pedro, Belize, when a neighbor, Gregory Faull, suddenly died.
He and McAfee had clashed over their pets — Faull had a prized parrot that he feared McAfee’s beloved dogs would attack. Four of McAfee’s pups were mysteriously poisoned, and he had to shoot them out of mercy. Soon after, Faull was found dead by a gunshot wound to the head. Many presumed McAfee was to blame.
“John was in a different space” when the murder happened, Darryl Williams, McAfee’s first cousin who once met Faull, says in the film. “Alcohol was back in his life, drugs … There’s a reason they call them mind-altering substances.”
Others say Faull’s apparent murder was a setup on his neighbor, because McAfee had leverage on global entities from his years of surveillance.
“His side of the story is that they’re after him because he didn’t pay off the government. They wanted to hurt him, to get rid of him,” McAfee’s ex-girlfriend Samantha Herrera says in the documentary. She also notes that through his surveillance, he had allegedly found hard evidence linking Belize’s government to corruption.
McAfee didn’t stick around to clear his name. He and Herrera fled Belize to Guatemala by boat, taking with them a Vice camera crew they’d invited to document their adventure.
“If you get arrested with me, there is the chance that you may suffer some ill treatment,” McAfee, who feared authorities would chop off his fingers, says to the Vice team in archival footage. “You guys are f–ked too.”
Once in Guatemala City, McAfee was arrested by federales and Interpol agents on passport issues after he spoke at a press conference he had called to announce that he was seeking asylum.
“I have documentation that proves the intense corruption at all levels of the Belizean government,” McAfee told reporters prior to getting jailed. Days later, he had a heart attack, which forced his transfer from jail to a hospital.
Though it remains unclear how, McAfee managed to leverage his return to the United States while recuperating.
Once there, McAfee ended his relationship with Herrera and went on to wed Janice Dyson, a sex worker he had picked up in Miami for a cuddle.
The murder of Faull remains unsolved, and McAfee was never formally charged for it.
That wasn’t the only murder McAfee was suspiciously close to. His most trusted adviser, identified in the film only as Jimmy, once let it slip to Foster that McAfee had allegedly killed his abusive father.
“John confided in him that he had shot his father when he was a teenager. He killed him and made it look like it was a suicide,” Foster says. “This is a dangerous man. He’s hurt a lot of people.”
In 2016, McAfee ran for president on the Libertarian ticket, but lost in a landslide to former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson in the primary. In 2019, McAfee again felt paranoia that people were after him. This time it was not only government entities, but the internationally feared Sinaloa drug cartel once led by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. The gang wanted McAfee’s head on a silver platter, he feared.
“He had all the goods on the nefarious activities that the government of Belize was involved in, and that actually involved other American high-up politicians … Human trafficking, drug trafficking, money laundering,” Dyson says.
In 2019, McAfee admitted on camera and on social media that he hadn’t paid taxes in nearly a decade — another incentive to get back on the run.
“He got rid of everything, moved all assets. Cars, house, he sold,” Vice cameraman Michael King, whom McAfee invited to cover his 2019 flight, says in the documentary. “Yeah, he packed up and left … It was very difficult. Seventy-something-year-old on the run again.”
McAfee, Dyson, King and a troop of ex-commando private security armed to the teeth made their way by yacht — one that McAfee claimed he bought from the Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort — to the Bahamas.
When they got to port, customs would only allow a portion of McAfee’s guns and ammo to stay, so they high-tailed it out.
“We’re at life and death here. Leave immediately … I’m taking no chances” McAfee says to the Vice cameras.
King says that in addition to the trove of guns around the yacht, there was a plethora of drugs that McAfee had been doing at the time — most notably bath salts.
They caused McAfee to go off the deep end. He started randomly shooting guns off the boat without telling anyone, and he even half-jokingly threatened to shoot King in the foot, drawing a pistol at the cameraman.
McAfee also admitted to King — who took a hiatus after the shooting threat — that his wanted status and past might have been blatant lies.
“I will fabricate whatever reality I see fit to keep eyeballs on us, Robert, are we clear? … I have created this gold, do you understand this? I have fabricated a perception that is matched with reality,” McAfee is caught on camera saying.
Foster, too, recalled McAfee’s ability to twist the truth into whatever he pleased.
“He was the most brilliant, manipulative person that I’ve ever met. And he wanted to control narratives too. He did it expertly.”
McAfee was eventually arrested in the Dominican Republic for irresponsibly flaunting one of his guns during the deranged yachting journey. He managed to use his British passport to get deported to Europe and wound up in Spain, where he was again arrested. There he awaited extradition to the US on tax evasion and insider trading charges in October 2020.
In June 2021, the extradition McAfee feared was finally approved. Then, late that month, he was found hanged in his cell. It was a moment that McAfee spent years warning about online.
“If I suicide myself, I didn’t. I was whackd,” he famously tweeted in 2019, showing off a tattoo he got that reads $WHACKD.
“I am not suicidal my friend, no, OK? If I go down it will be fighting with my shoes on,” McAfee is heard saying on recorded audio.
But did the master of deceit — who once said “Possibly the Joker is the best description of me” — have one final card to play?
“I don’t know if I should say, but two weeks ago, after his death, I got a call from Texas: ‘It’s me, John. I paid off people to pretend that I am dead, but I am not dead,’” Herrera says in a bombshell moment at the end of the documentary.
“[He said,] ‘There are only three persons in this world that knows I’m still alive.’ And then he asked me to run away with him.”
McAfee’s company is now worth roughly $14 billion.