Longform

The Real John McAfee: Four Hours in South Beach With the World's Most Wanted Man

For an instant, John McAfee is anonymous. He is haggard, sleep-deprived, and a bit unhinged, but anonymous. For the first time in days, there are no cops, guards, or handcuffs. No TV cameras or tape recorders or questions. But he can't escape them forever. Dressed in the same dark pinstriped suit he's been wearing since his release from a Guatemalan jail two days ago, McAfee ducks into a small sunglass shop in South Beach. "I need a disguise," he says.

McAfee slips on a pair of Ray-Bans. The salesman has no idea who this overly tanned customer is. No idea that McAfee has been accused of running a heavily armed harem of sex, guns, and bath salts on a tiny island in the Caribbean. And no idea that McAfee is a "person of interest" in a bizarre murder last month in Belize. But then McAfee begins to talk, and it is instantly clear something is not right.

"I need a pair of these," McAfee says, holding up the shades. "Women are always trying to stab me in the eyes with needles."

McAfee, the 67-year-old millionaire antivirus software guru, is the most wanted man in the world: coveted by newscasters, Belizean authorities, and mobs of fans from Central America to South Florida. Yet for some reason he agreed to let me into the quiet center of the chaotic shitstorm his life has become. During the four hours we spent together, I heard him plead his innocence, watched him blow well over $1,000, and witnessed him hit on a half-dozen women.

All the while, he was jovial and relaxed — almost Zen-master-like. Not the supposedly bath-salts-snorting maniac some media outlets have suggested. And certainly not what you would expect from a murderer on the run, as others have painted him.

But not normal, either. Far from it.

My afternoon with McAfee began just before noon last Thursday, when he sauntered out of the Beacon Hotel on Ocean Drive and chucked a red Frisbee into a crowd of reporters and tourists. Then he launched into his self-defense. "I want to make this clear for the hundredth time: I had absolutely nothing to do with the murder in Belize."

McAfee laid out his version of events in a raspy roar: Marco Vidal, the head of the Belizean police's Gang Suppression Unit, had demanded $2 million this spring, he said. When he refused to pay, 42 soldiers stormed his island property April 30.

"[They] shot my dog in the head, held me in the sun, handcuffed my hands behind my back for 14 hours, destroyed half a million dollars' worth of my property," he said. "Since then, they've attempted to charge me with everything."

The spat blossomed into an international mystery November 10 when McAfee's neighbor, a Floridian named Gregory Faull, was found murdered. The next day, Vidal told reporters that McAfee was the "prime suspect."

McAfee quickly escaped with Samantha "Sam" Vanegas — one of his two teenage girlfriends — and two Vice magazine reporters to the Guatemalan border. But the plot unraveled December 3 when the Vice reporter tweeted a photo without removing the pic's GPS tag. Within minutes, their location — the pool at the Hotel & Marina Nana Juana in Izabal, Guatemala — was all over the Internet.

Four dozen Guatemalan police arrived shortly before midnight and arrested McAfee on immigration charges. For a week he sat in jail, eating "moldy beans and rice." Then, just as McAfee was about to be deported to Belize — "where I would have been killed," he claims — he feigned a heart attack. He was taken to the hospital, and the ruse gave his lawyer time to negotiate McAfee's deportation to Miami. He landed at Miami International Airport late last Wednesday.

But none of this explains who the hell McAfee really is. For that, I had to spend the whole next day with him.

When McAfee finished his interviews, he was swarmed by tourists. Then a young Puerto Rican cab driver named Franklin Camacho approached, offering to drive him around on his errands.

"You look too clean-cut to be a cabbie," McAfee said. When Camacho explained he was a recovering alcoholic, McAfee said he was too. "If you're a 'friend of Bill's,' you're a friend of mine," McAfee said, jumping into Camacho's cab. I jumped into the front seat, while a female reporter from the Miami Herald sat next to McAfee in the back.

What happened next was four hours of bath-salts-less insanity.

Our first stop was Ross Dress for Less. As Muzak played, McAfee hunted for clothes. ("Dude, I was just taken out of a jail cell and shoved on a plane," he explained, pointing to his crumpled suit. "This is all I've got.") Then he took his shirt off in the middle of the store, exposing a giant tribal tattoo that arcs across his back.

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.