From the moment antivirus pioneer John McAfee went on the lam from Belize authorities three weeks ago, the basic question hanging over the story was: Is John McAfee crazy?
Questions about the soundness of his judgment began almost as soon as his neighbor, Gregory Faull, turned up dead with a gunshot wound to the back of the head on the morning of Nov. 11. Though the police in Belize hadn’t even named him a suspect (and still haven’t), McAfee went on the run, a move that seemed dubious to anyone familiar with criminal proceedings. “Why the hell would he move?” asks Ted Brown, an experienced criminal defense attorney. “If I killed my neighbor, I would stay put. Express surprise.”
McAfee didn’t slip out of sight, however. He undertook what has become perhaps the best documented disappearance in human history. He started, on his second day in hiding, by directly phoning the media—first to Joshua Davis of Wired, then to a handful of others, and by the end of the first week to seemingly anyone who would take his call. He started Tweeting, and then he started a blog. He invited journalists to interview him in hiding. Then invited two reporters from Vice magazine to tag along.
Obviously, calling attention to yourself is the opposite of a rational strategy for someone on the lam. The first rule for anyone accused of any crime, anywhere, is: Shut up. Get a lawyer. Let someone else do your talking for you.
Getting the hell out of dodge is another obvious, rational strategy. Why not return home, back to the United States? The United States has an extradition treaty with Belize, but it’s aimed at drug dealers, and its primary intent is to move people the other way, from Belize back to the States. But instead of heading home (where, admittedly, he faces a number of legal woes, including a wrongful death lawsuit, among others), McAfee apparently lingered in Belize for weeks, criticizing the country’s government and police with colorful vehemence.
Doubts about McAfee’s sanity have also been fueled by the nature of the stories that he’s told. In his first conversation with Wired’s Davis, for instance, he said that he had eluded police by burying himself in the sand and covering his head with a cardboard box. Later he said that he’d been lingering in the vicinity of his home in a variety of disguises, accosting journalists and screaming obscenities without being recognized. He has been especially operatic in his description of what he describes as a sustained, nefarious plot of the Belizean authorities to exterminate him—even though he has in fact enjoyed a quite close relationship with the local police. Indeed, he posed with police officials at a press conference just days before Faull’s murder, on the occasion of McAfee’s donation of a considerable quantity of stun guns and other material to the force.
Ultimately, it was McAfee’s hunger for media attention that brought his escapade to an end. This past Monday the journalists tagging along with him from Vice accidentally revealed his location in Guatemala by publishing a picture with embedded location data. McAfee first claimed that he’d deliberately forged the metadata to fool pursuers, then admitted that they’d screwed up, and soon after appeared before a throng of reporters in Guatemala City announcing that he would seek asylum and hold a press conference. But he didn’t get a chance: On Wednesday night Guatemalan police took him into custody and announced that they would soon deport him to Belize.
Assuming they do, the million-dollar question is: Will Belize finally charge him, or let him go? Under Belizean law, the police can hold a person for questioning for up to 48 hours without placing him or her under arrest. What they choose to do will depend on how much evidence they have against him. If McAfee is innocent, or took some basic precautions in the execution of the crime, there will be little physical evidence against him.
Here’s where the question of sanity becomes particularly germane. No one questions that McAfee is fiercely intelligent; while reporting on McAfee I have twice stayed at his home as his guest on multiday visits and I can attest to the keenness of his intellect. But by all evidence he has spent the last several years heavily using the potent psychosis-inducing drugs known as “bath salts.” If he did kill Faull in the throes of an intense high, would he have had the presence of mind to erase his tracks?