McAfee antivirus software founder on the run after murder on Belize

Software pioneer reportedly declares his innocence while on the run from authorities following the shooting death of his neighbour

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 3:52am

Police in the Central American nation of Belize are hunting for computer antivirus pioneer John McAfee to question him about the murder of his neighbour in the Caribbean.

McAfee, the American founder of the software firm of the same name, is reported to have proclaimed his innocence in a telephone interview with an American journalist.

He reportedly phoned Wired magazine reporter Joshua Davis on Monday and said he had hidden from police as they searched his property by burying himself in sand with a cardboard box over his head. "It was extraordinarily uncomfortable. But if they find me they will kill me."

McAfee, whose fortunes have plummeted since he sold his firm, lived next door to 52-year-old Gregory Viant Faull, a fellow American who was found with a gunshot wound to his head inside his two-storey home north of San Pedro, a town on the island of Ambergris Caye, said Raphael Martinez, spokesman for Belize's Ministry of National Security. A housekeeper discovered the body on Sunday morning.

Martinez said no charges had been filed in the case, describing McAfee, 67, only as a "person of interest" for police. "It's too early in the investigation. To say he is a suspect would be a bold statement," Martinez said.

Police went to McAfee's home on the island but he had not been there, the spokesman said.

One resident of the island said Faull had complained about McAfee's behaviour, and others said the former software executive was hard to befriend.

The case was the latest twist in McAfee's recent life as an eccentric yoga lover. He sold his stake in the antivirus software company in the early 1990s and moved to Belize about three years ago to lower his taxes. He told The New York Times in 2009 that he had lost all but US$4 million of his US$100-million fortune in the US financial crisis and that he was moving to Belize.

Last April, Belize police raided McAfee's home looking for drugs and guns. He said officers found guns that were legal and he was released without charge after being detained for a few hours.

Faull's killing shocked the island community. Residents said he was a long-time homeowner there who had recently retired as a builder and moved from Florida to live on the island. "He was starting to enjoy his retirement," an estate agent said.

The agent, who insisted on speaking anonymously out of fear of retaliation, said she had heard Faull complain about McAfee's numerous dogs barking outside his property.

In the reported interview with Wired, McAfee is quoted as saying that he knew nothing about the killing but was worried that whoever shot Faull may have been targeting him instead.

"I thought maybe they were coming for me. They mistook him for me. They got the wrong house. He's dead. They killed him. It spooked me out," he reportedly said, adding that he had gone into hiding.

McAfee reportedly said his dogs had been poisoned and died on Friday. He blamed Belizean authorities.

Other residents said McAfee seemed stand-offish and unfriendly. "His physical appearance doesn't really inspire you to go over and make friends with him. He's a little scruffy looking," said estate agent Bob Hamilton.

Martinez said police had questioned other neighbours of Faull but had been unable to locate McAfee.

Police said Faull's computer and phone were missing, but there were no signs of forced entry at his home. Police reported finding a 9mm shell casing.

McAfee spokeswoman Tracy Ross said the company does not comment on former employees and that its founder "retired from McAfee in 1994 and has not had any affiliation with the company since then".

Intel agreed to buy McAfee for US$7.68 billion in 2010.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg