John McAfee, eccentric tech pioneer who died in prison, had ties to southern New Mexico

Jason K. Watkins

LORDSBURG – Infamous tech millionaire John McAfee, who once operated an aviation company in Hidalgo County in New Mexico’s bootheel, has died in a Spanish prison. He was 75.

McAfee was found dead in a Spanish jail cell on Wednesday just hours after his extradition to the United States to face charges for tax evasion was announced. Spanish officials say he hanged himself.

After selling his controversial Rodeo, New Mexico, compound in 2009, McAfee was accused of murdering his neighbor, Gregory Faull, in Belize in 2012 and leading authorities on an international pursuit.

He eventually returned to the United States, where he attempted to run for president on the Libertarian ticket in 2016, before fleeing the country. A US Justice Department indictment states McAfee failed to file taxes from 2014 to 2018, even though he was earning millions “promoting cryptocurrencies, consulting work, speaking engagements and selling the rights to his life story for a documentary.”

“When I heard of John’s impending extradition, my team was fully prepared to fight for his innocence before the United States courts,” said Andrew B. Gordan, one of McAfee’s lawyers. “We knew he would appreciate the opportunity to share his story and put the false charges against him to rest. Only hours later, we were shocked to learn of his untimely death.”

John McAfee, the antivirus software entrepreneur who faced extradition to the U.S. on tax-related criminal charges, was reportedly found dead.

McAfee made his initial fortune pioneering antivirus software. He resigned as head of McAfee Associates in 1994. In 2010, Intel purchased the cybersecurity company in a deal worth $7.68 billion.

‘Rodeo’ star

Before much of his international intrigue and subsequent fame, John David McAfee set up shop in 2007 in Rodeo on a 150-acre ranch where he built runways and hangars and hosted what he called “aerotrekkers” who flew unlicensed open-cockpit planes. 

“I sold him gasoline for his aero-lite planes,” Mike “Opie” Orphey said this week. Orphey is a lifelong rancher and businessman in the Rodeo area. “Can’t say I knew him real well but he seemed like a nice guy. Good customer.”

The property featured a café, a convenience store, a movie theater, guest houses, a swimming pool, antique and exotic cars for guests to drive, and several airplane hangars. The Wall Street Journal reported that McAfee had purchased a trailer once owned by Howard Hughes and brought it to the ranch. He built eight airports in New Mexico and Arizona for his “Sky Gypsies” aerotrekking group and hosted lavish, sometimes outlandish parties here.

John McAfee pilots a kite-winged plane near
the Chiricahua Mountains near Rodeo, New Mexico, in 2007.

He built a name for himself in Hidalgo County. A definitive report in Wired in 2012 characterized McAfee’s time in Hidalgo County and immediately after as an orgy of pharmaceutical experiments (he was an early promoter of bath salts), weapons, questionable business practices, and unsafe flying.

More:More than a decade before his death, John McAfee was an Arizona airborne explorer

Predictably, one of the untrained pilots crashed, leading to the death of his 61-year-old passenger. The family sued McAfee for $5 million.

After pouring more than $11 million into the Rodeo compound, The New York Times reported, McAfee sold the place at auction for a mere $1.15 million, further decimating his fortune that was once reportedly as high as $100 million down to just $4 million.

To avoid legal troubles, McAfee, his money, and his entourage, fled the United States to Belize where his troubles grew.

And he may have left quite a treasure behind, possibly in Hidalgo County. Last summer, McAfee claimed on Twitter that before leaving New Mexico for Central America he stashed millions of dollars’ worth of exotic and antique automobiles “all stashed in the New Mexico wilderness.”

In the tweet, McAfee claims to have hidden “two 1937 Auburn Boattails, threr (sic) Aston Martin Valkyries, 4 Pagani Huayras, 4 Lamborghini Venenos,” and a Bugati Centodieci he claimed was worth $11 million. 

“No-one will ever find them – ever :)” he wrote.

Mysterious end 

In Belize, McAfee’s descent into drugs, sex and paranoia hit an all-time high. After a history of confrontation with his neighbor, Gregory Faull, McAfee’s beloved dogs were found poisoned to death. The next day, Faull was found dead. McAfee fled the country, was arrested in Guatemala on suspicion of murder, was extradited to Miami, then released because Belize dropped charges, all while his celebrity grew.

Reporter Jeff Wise, writing for Psychology Today, called McAfee a master manipulator of the media. “All along,” he wrote, “I’ve assumed that McAfee was working the media while on the lam out of a pathological need for attention, but now I wonder if he’s snookered all of us once again: By kicking up such a fuss, he may have convinced the Belizean government that it wouldn’t be worth their while to try to bring him to justice.”

John McAfee posted this photo of his homestead in Rodeo, New Mexico, to his twitter account in May 2014. The tweet stated:

Now more famous for his behavior than for his work, McAfee made himself an early proponent of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, making millions promoting and investing in them. He gained a million twitter followers, made movie and book deals, solicited and then married a prostitute in Florida (he claimed in 2018 to have fathered 47 children), and made regular appearances on cable news networks. 

Accused of rape, murder, neligent death, tax evasion, narco-trafficking, investment fraud, obstruction of justice, cryptocurrency scams, and countless other crimes while leading a bizarre, peripatetic life of luxury, McAfee died as mysteriously as he lived. 

His last words to the public, via Twitter, were “my remaining assets were all seized. My friends evaporated through fear of association. I have nothing. Yet, I regret nothing.”


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