Early signs of the eccentric behavior of entrepreneur John McAfee, who surrounded himself with a private paramilitary security force on a Belize island and was being hunted there Tuesday night in connection with a murder, could be seen decades earlier in Silicon Valley as he created his namesake anti-virus program.
As the head of McAfee Associates, he staffed his business in Santa Clara with an entourage that included a group of Wiccans -- practitioners of pagan religion -- while he nurtured a company culture that saw its employees participating in a risque office game that awarded points based on where and what time of day they had sex in the building.
"I didn't look down on anything as long as work got done," he told this newspaper in a 2001 interview, although he said he was unaware of the office sex tournament.
His company produced McAfee anti-virus software, a pioneering product widely in use today around the world. In the process, its founder became a multimillionaire, wealthy enough to pursue an extraordinary range of passions, from modern art and yoga to antique automobiles and desert-skimming aircraft.
But in Belize, where he was pursuing another obsession -- developing new antibiotics -- his quirky lifestyle alienated some neighbors and drew the attention of authorities.
One concern was his team of at least eight European security guards who wore paramilitary attire, openly carried sidearms and alarmed local residents,
Another were the half-dozen or so complaints that the local humane society received in the past six months about McAfee's menagerie of large dogs, which by instinct or by command were preventing people from enjoying the public beach in front of McAfee's compound on the island of Ambergris Caye.
"He had a reputation," said Mary Hawthorne, a volunteer and former board member of the SAGA Humane Society. "He was a bit of an eccentric."
But the most disturbing revelation about McAfee's life in Belize came Monday when police said he was being sought as a "person of interest" in the shooting death of his neighbor, Gregory Viant Faull, 52, who lived two doors away.
Faull's body was discovered Sunday morning by his housekeeper with a single gunshot to the back of the head.
About a month ago, Faull hand-delivered a letter to the San Pedro Town Council outlining three concerns about the 67-year-old McAfee, Mayor Daniel Guerrero told this newspaper.
The letter complained about increased traffic to McAfee's compound of beachfront homes; alleged that McAfee's security detail was trespassing on private property; and
Guerrero said the council "had a meeting concerning how we were going to deal with this. But we got delayed a little." No action was taken.
"He's got all kinds of dogs -- a poodle, a Rottweiler or two, mostly large dogs, island dogs that we call 'pot lickers,' " or mutts, said the Humane Society's Hawthorne.
On Friday, three of McAfee's dogs were found dead of poisoning.
Two days later, Faull was found dead.
Although no one has formally accused McAfee of murder, police want to question him. But McAfee told The Associated Press in an email that he was not planning to turn himself in. "Suspect or no, I believe the government wants me out of the way. Too many people have died in custody in this country so I intend to do nothing that puts me in their custody," he said in the message. He gave no indication of his whereabouts.
Long before authorities began searching for him, McAfee had been following his own path of unconventional pursuits.
After graduating from Roanoke College in Virginia in 1967, the British-born McAfee worked as a software engineer at Lockheed in the 1980s. He also briefly ran the American Institute for Safe Sex Practices, which provided identification cards to people who tested HIV-negative.
When that business died, McAfee turned to the growing problem of computer viruses and in 1987 founded McAfee Associates,
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In the 2001 interview with this newspaper, former McAfee workers described how several Wiccan employees would beat drums on the front lawn, while others played the sex game: engaging in the act in the conference room was worth 16 points -- or twice that if it occurred during business hours -- and sex in John McAfee's office scored eight points.
Flush with money, McAfee was often quick to spend it. Aryeh Goretsky was working for McAfee when they went to brunch in Los Gatos, where McAfee spotted a piece of modern art, a green painting of a circle.
"He just had to have it," Goretsky said.
The price: $20,000.
"He made a lot of money very rapidly," Goretsky said. "To do an impulse buy like that was not uncharacteristic."
But managing dozens of employees wasn't something McAfee enjoyed, he once told this newspaper, and he quit the company in 1994, moving to Woodland Park, Colo. There, he built a 10,000-square-foot home with three guesthouses and four trout ponds and launched another enterprise, Tribal Voice, an Internet chat site that he sold for $17 million in 1999.
During this period, McAfee taught yoga and sang Vedic chants. He also reportedly rode around on all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, personal watercraft and lightweight aircraft called "trikes" in Arizona and at a 157-acre New Mexico ranch he bought in 2004.
But two people died in a trike accident at the ranch in 2006 and one of the victim's relatives blamed it on McAfee's negligence, slapping him with a lawsuit that is still pending.
McAfee moved to Belize two years later. In 2009 he sold the ranch -- reportedly his last U.S. possession -- to avoid paying damages for the accident, according to the victim's lawyer, Frank Fleming.
"He believes he is beyond the power of execution of any American judgment in Belize," Fleming told this newspaper, adding that he believes McAfee sold off his U.S. property so he'd have no assets here to seize.
But in a 2010 interview with the publication Fast Company, McAfee said he wanted to go to Belize to help humanity by developing a new kind of antibiotic from the herbs that grow in the rain forests there.
During that time, McAfee's fortune -- which had been once estimated at around $100 million -- reportedly shrank to about $4 million in the soured economy.
Nonetheless, he spent lavishly in Belize, buying properties and contributing a boat and money worth more than $1 million to local authorities, raising questions about the full extent of his wealth.
In recent emails back to California, McAfee dropped few hints of his troubles with authorities to Goretsky and sounded upbeat.
"He seemed to be enjoying himself, having a good time," Goretsky said. "He liked to change things up and seemed to be onto something with (antibiotics). I figured he wanted to be associated with something more than anti-virus software."
Contact Dan Nakaso at 408 271 3648. Follow him at Twitter.com/dannakaso.