Who was John McAfee and why did he commit suicide in a Barcelona jail?

The inventor of the first antivirus had an overly hectic life. He became a millionaire, went bankrupt, trafficked in arms, was accused of murder and denounced the existence of a shadowy US government. He ended up taking his own life in a Catalan prison


Who hasn't had McAfee antivirus on their computer? It was in the late 1980s that computers entered the home and viruses entered the home. And there was John McAfee (Gloucestershire, UK, 1945) to defend users and companies from malicious attacks. On 23 June 2021, McAfee committed suicide in Brians 2 prison in Sant Esteve Sesrovires (Barcelona), 9,000 kilometres from Santa Clara (California), the place where the empire of a genius who never stopped being one began to take shape.

It all began with the beatings McAfee's mother received at the hands of his father, an American military man stationed in the United Kingdom. Years later the family moved to Virginia but the abuse did not stop. When John McAfee was 15, his father pulled the trigger on the gun resting on his head and disappeared from their lives. Who would have thought that 61 years later he would end his life just as his father did.

McAfee did one good thing and one bad thing after his father's death. He enrolled at Roanoke College in Virginia to study mathematics and turned to drinking. He ended up graduating in 1968 while selling newspapers to pay for alcohol. His problems with abiding by the rules began when he decided to sleep with the girl he would later marry on campus, but that cost him expulsion.

McAfee started working in Tennessee for Univac in employee card programming. It was short-lived because he was caught buying marijuana and lost his job. He then went to Missouri Pacific Railroad in St. Louis, where he helped the company program trains using an IBM computer system. He was noted for his ability to design a program that optimised train routing patterns. But LSD entered his life, closed his mind and he quit his job.

From 1968 to 1970 he worked for NASA's Space Studies Institute in New York. Drugs and alcohol already occupied much of his existence and his jobs were a necessary evil to support the vices. At Xerox he worked as an operating systems architect and from there he went to Lockheed, an aerospace company that shaped his life.

One fine day while working at Lockheed and with a clear mind, he got his hands on the first recorded computer virus created by two brothers in Pakistan. It was an experiment to see how far the virus could spread on the global computer network. McAfee set to work to devise a programme that would identify the virus and prevent it from infecting computers. He succeeded. At first he gave the software away for free to companies, but when he realised how successful it was, he decided to sell licenses for the world's first anti-virus.

McAfee Associates was founded in 1989 to develop anti-virus software. From Santa Clara, John MacAfee became the scourge of hackers. He took his company to the New York Stock Exchange and was valued at $80 million. In 1994 he jumped ship with more than $100 million in his pocket after liquidating his shares.


The greenbacks made him lose his entrepreneurial direction. He started investing and creating companies in the technology sector. The New York Times reported in 2009 that the fortune of the founder of the largest antivirus and computer security company had been reduced to four million euros by the 2008 crisis.

McAfee turned to the contemplative life and became a yoga teacher. He began to create an aura of a Higher Self when he declared that "to hackers I am a badge of honour". It later emerged that for his own security he had people buy equipment for him, used pseudonyms to start up computers and access systems, and even changed his IP address several times a day.

In 2010 his projects targeted Belize. There he tried to manufacture natural antibiotics but ended up being arrested and charged with producing medicines and possession of unlicensed weapons. All this happened in front of his 17-year-old girlfriend. Within days the charges were dropped and McAfee vowed to sue the Belizean government for unlawful detention.

In November 2012, Gregory Viant Faull was found dead in his Belize home with a gunshot wound to the head. The American expatriate was a neighbour of McAfee's and neighbours in the area told police that the computer scientist had fired guns and exhibited strange and erratic behaviour days earlier. The police put out an APB on him. He fled to Guatemala but was denied asylum there and attempted to be repatriated to Belize for questioning. McAfee claimed heart problems, spent several days in a Guatemalan hospital and his lawyers managed to get him extradited to the US where he said he "felt safer".

The second time this mathematical prodigy wanted to become a "chosen one" was in 2016. McAfee publicly offered to help the FBI decrypt an iPhone 5c used by the killers in the San Bernardino shooting. It was a gamble and he later commented that he would not have been able to do it. What's more, years later the US government revealed that it had paid 900,000 euros for third-party software to decrypt the iPhone.

John "the Terrible" experienced two more arrests in the last years of his life. The first was in the Dominican Republic in 2019 when illegal weapons were found inside his yacht. The final one was in 2020 in Spain for an alleged tax evasion offence in the United States with a sentence of up to 30 years in prison. The Audiencia Nacional authorised his extradition to the United States on 23 June 2021. A few hours after hearing the news, the programmer was found dead in his cell in the Catalan prison of Brians 2 and everything pointed to suicide.

It didn't take long fo conspirarcy theories to catch fire on the internet. John McAfee himself helped fuel them with videos on his Twitter feed in which he spoke of a shadowy government pulling the strings. He also threatened to publish compromising information about US personalities. Digital folklore is already pointing to the black hand that got rid of the guru who was a nuisance. And, if that wasn't enough, in 2015 he tried to run for the US presidency within the Libertarian Party.

It was 75 years of intense life. John McAfee did not know how to manage his intelligence and when he was able to govern it, he found himself with the poison of money. Alcohol, drugs and a life unleashed. The boy who watched his father pull the trigger decided to follow in his footsteps and tighten the noose around his neck. McAfee was unable to fight the virus that killed the last libertarian hero.