* Software pioneer in hiding since murder of neighbor
* Residents paint picture of complex, intense man
* Belize prime minister describes McAfee as "bonkers"
SAN PEDRO, Belize, Nov 16 (Reuters) - To the many people who
crossed his path on a tropical island in Belize, it was apparent
John McAfee's life had taken some bizarre turns in the past few
The anti-virus software guru, who started McAfee Associates
in 1989, has been in hiding since police said they wanted to
question him about the weekend murder of his neighbor, fellow
American Gregory Faull, with whom McAfee had quarreled.
Despite his disappearance, McAfee, 67, has remained in
contact with the media, providing a stream of colorful bulletins
over his predicament, state of mind and his claim that Belize's
authorities want to kill him.
Residents of the Caribbean island of Ambergris Caye and
others who know him paint the picture of an eccentric, impulsive
man who gave up a career as a successful entrepreneur in the
United States for a life of semi-seclusion in the former pirate
haven of Belize, surrounded by bodyguards and young women.
"Never mind the dog, beware of owner," counsels a small
sign, embellished with a sketched hand gripping a large pistol,
tacked to the fence separating McAfee's beachfront swimming pool
from the pier that cuts into the azure sea.
McAfee, a yoga fan who has lived on the island for about
four years, often moves around with bodyguards, wearing pistols
in his belt. Since going into hiding, he has compared his lot to
that of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is battling
extradition from Britain from inside the Ecuadorean Embassy.
Officials suspect McAfee used designer drugs, and neighbors
say he tried to chase them off the public beach in front of his
house. Inside his home, a blue-roofed cottage complex, he kept a
small arsenal of shotguns and scope-fitted rifles.
There were also complaints about the millionaire's numerous
and noisy dogs. Officials say the poisoning of four of the dogs
may be linked to the murder of Faull, a 52-year-old Florida
building contractor who was shot dead at his salmon-hued
two-story villa about 100 yards (meters) down the beach from
Faull was one of the locals who had complained about
McAfee's attitude and his dogs.
McAfee told Wired magazine, with whom he first kept up a
running conversation, that he was disguised and holed up in what
he describes as a lice-infested refuge. In comments to the
magazine, McAfee denied he shot Faull and said he fears that the
police will kill or torture him. Police, who believe he is still
in Belize, say they just want to talk to him about the killing.
McAfee, who has not responded to requests for comment by
Reuters, blamed Belize's "pirate culture" for his troubles in an
essay Wired said he had sent to the magazine.
"Belize is still a pirate haven and is run more or less
along the lines established centuries ago by the likes of
Captain Morgan, Blackbeard and Captain Barrow," McAfee said.
Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow has urged McAfee to help
police with their inquiries, calling him "bonkers."
In an interview with CNBC television by phone on Friday,
McAfee said he would not seek refuge in the U.S. Embassy.
"What would happen? They will offer me either sanctuary
where I will spend my days living in the embassy like poor
Julian Assange or when I leave ... I will be nabbed by the
police. My ultimate goal is they'll figure out who killed the
man, it will have nothing to do with me and they will leave me
alone. Or if enough international pressure is applied," he said.
Many locals in San Pedro describe the tattooed McAfee, who
made a fortune developing the Internet anti-virus software that
bears his name, as a generous but unstable man.
"He's a good guy, he helped a lot of people. The problem was
when he wanted something he wanted it right now. And when he
didn't get it, he'd get paranoid," said one islander, a former
McAfee employee, who like many people here spoke on condition
their name not be used for fear of retribution.
"He's a complex man, very impulsive," the islander added.
Doug Singh, Belize's former police minister, told Reuters he
was at a loss to explain McAfee's recent comments.
"Mr. McAfee seems to have a bit of a divorce from reality
and it seems to be consistent in his behavior and some of the
things he has said recently. He's way out of line and out of
proportion. Nobody has anything against Mr. McAfee," Singh said.
After making millions with his anti-virus product, McAfee
decided to abandon the United States for Belize, a languid
coastal paradise. It is a path that has been taken by a number
of rich Americans over the years.
He took a beachfront compound on the island's isolated and
exclusive north side, 6 miles (10 kilometers) from the town of
San Pedro by boat or by driving over badly cratered asphalt and
dirt track. It is a world away from California's Silicon Valley,
which he once called home.
He took the company public in 1992 and left two years later
following accusations that he had hyped the arrival of a virus
known as Michelangelo, which turned out to be a dud, to scare
computer users into buying his company's products.
Officials at the company he created and its parent, Intel,
have declined to comment on the controversy.
But one long-time McAfee manager who recently left said
company executives were likely monitoring the news closely. He
said they have tracked reports of John McAfee's activities over
the years out of concern they might need to do damage control.
A case is already pending in Belize against McAfee for
possession of illegal firearms, and police previously suspected
him of running a lab to make illicit synthetic drugs.
But McAfee said this week he was opposed to drugs.
"My life is fucked up enough without drugs, and always has
been," McAfee told Wired magazine.
For all his trouble with authorities, McAfee has worked hard
to be the island's benefactor. Upon arriving in Belize he bought
a $1 million boat for the country's new coast guard, and donated
equipment to the local police force, according to local reports.
He tipped generously everywhere he went, and hired a steady
stream of taxis for frequent female guests on the $150 round
trip from the small airstrip in San Pedro out to his house.
"Not two or three, a lot of women," said Artemio Awayo, 24,
a local waiter. "Every time I saw him it was a different woman."
Those who knew him said he didn't drink and never hung out
at the island's many bars. But employees at a restaurant near
the pier where McAfee's water taxi company is based said his
actions grew more bizarre following a police raid last April on
his mainland hacienda outside the town of Orange Walk.
Even for casual lunches, McAfee began regularly coming to
town with at least two bodyguards, clad in camouflage and each
packing pistols, they said.
"Generally, you don't need a bodyguard in Belize," said
Jorge Alana, a San Pedro Sun reporter who interviewed McAfee
several times, noting top elected officials don't have them. "It
does call attention when you move with so many guards."
McAfee's home is in a stretch of Ambergris where the
wealthiest foreigners hole up. Raw lots of land 100 feet by 200
feet (30 meters to 61 meters) can cost up to $500,000 here. Even
modest-looking houses reflect multimillion-dollar investments.
On Thursday afternoon, a 23-year-old calling herself Tiffany
used a key to enter McAfee's home with another young woman and
said he had spent Saturday night with them - around the time
police said Faull's murder took place.
They had not spoken to McAfee since Sunday, she said.
On Friday, an outside light was still on at his beachfront
complex, and a dog roamed freely around the grounds.
Like McAfee, many of his north shore neighbors tend to favor
being left alone, rarely coming to town and loath to mix with
"That's why they come to San Pedro," said Daniel Guerrero,
the tour guide and real estate broker now serving as the town's
mayor. "They like the quietness. They like the isolation."
But even fishing, scuba diving and sunset daiquiris can get
tiresome. Accustomed to hard work and achievement, newcomers
established and kept up the island's charities, locals say.
Quite a few foreigners, like McAfee, started local businesses.
And some fall out of synch with local culture.
"It's one thing to vacation here and another thing living
here," said Wyoming native Tamara Sniffin, owner and editor of
the San Pedro Sun, the local newspaper.
Immortalized in song by Madonna as La Isla Bonita, Ambergris
Caye stretches 27 miles (43 km) along the blue Caribbean below
the Mexican border, flanking the world's second-largest barrier
reef and some of its finest sport fishing waters.
Those attributes have attracted well-heeled foreign retirees
and celebrities such as actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who owns a
small island nearby.
"Here it's just party, party, work, party," said Iris Mavel,
27, a waitress at a restaurant favored by McAfee. "A lot of
couples who come here leave divorced. That's why they call it
The island also has a darker side. Dumped at sea and carried
ashore by the tides, bundles of Colombian cocaine flow through
the island not far from McAfee's house and on, many say, toward
the Mexican border. Cocaine not recovered by the smugglers is
collected by islanders, supplying a thriving local drug market
that has sparked low-level gang feuds and occasional killings.
International fugitives have taken refuge here. In the
summer, a Slovak man accused of murdering a woman, her
10-year-old son and a gangster in his home country was arrested
on an international warrant, processed for extradition but then
released by a Belizean judge.
Some townsfolk suspect McAfee is hiding on a yacht off of
San Pedro. Others note that Mexico is only an hour away by the
sort of fast boat McAfee owns and that passports are never
checked for people landing in the oceanfront villages there.
San Pedro's mayor believes he will surface.
"I have the feeling that this guy will turn up," Guerrero
said. "But he'll turn up with his attorneys. He's a big guy."