Is John McAfee at the 'Heart of Darkness'?
When our crew jumped on the boat and traveled up river, into the deep jungle of Belize towards an "eco-lodge" John McAfee was building, he made an ominous reference to that famous Joseph Conrad novella: "Here's your 'Heart of Darkness' moment."
One of the most eccentric characters I've profiled at CNBC, McAfee is now on the run, hiding from the Belizean police who he says, want to kill him. So what is it? Is he being set up, shaken down, the target of corrupt cops or has he gone completely off the rails?
I've been speaking with him all week, since the news broke that he was wanted for the questioning in the death of his next door neighbor and at no point, over the course of our 5 or 6 conversations has he sounded in the least bit delusional. He's seemed lucid, in control, albeit scared for his personal safety. So if he isn't crazy, what the hell is going on with John McAfee? Is he becoming Colonel Kurtz?
It's been a dramatic turn of events for John McAfee, the former tech entrepreneur who was once worth more than $100 million and is now holed up somewhere in Belize with a young woman named Sam (he claims). He says he has no intention of turning himself in to the police.
In 2009 David Faber and I traveled to that Central American country to meet McAfee after he famously lost almost all of his tech fortune on bad real estate investments and with a little help from Lehman Brothers. He viewed his move to Belize as a rebirth. (Read More: McAfee's Unusual Gospel of Wealth Led Him to Belize.)
And what a beautiful place to start over again. He had a beautiful home on the beach, a ferry business, an ultra-light business (I actually went up in the air with him, in the wind, over crocodile infested waters and I've never been more scared in my life) and was just breaking ground on that eco-friendly lodge.
Flash forward three years, and now he's caught up in a story that has grabbed headlines everywhere. I emailed him immediately after the news broke and miraculously he called me back on Tuesday. I got the call as I was about to jump on the subway with my two young sons. The number was listed "unknown" but McAfee's deep, gravelly voice was unmistakable. I asked him about the charges and he told me, "you just have to look at the source of the allegations," suggesting that the police may have a vendetta against him. I asked him where he was and he told me he's on the run, moving every four hours, fearing for his life. "This is a Central American country and if they handcuff me and take me to jail, I may not make it out alive."
In April of this year, the police raided his house and discovered two handguns. A member of his inner circle called me at midnight after his arrest, looking for stateside media coverage. I asked why he would have two guns. She said he kept them for protection because he had been shaken down for cash.
There are also rumors that McAfee had set up a meth lab at his house in Belize. But in 2009 I had an intense conversation with him about sobriety, yoga and life. Back then he told me that he was clean and sober and seemed lucid, healthy and genuinely happy. And on Wednesday, he told me he "wouldn't know how to make it, sell it or compete with the Mexican drug cartels." He also told me on Wednesday afternoon that his bodyguard, housekeeper and taxi driver had all been arrested in what he calls "a police conspiracy" against him. Adding, "the whole thing is ludicrous. This is all about the fact that I've been an outspoken critic of a government that won't adhere to a rule of law." (More: McAfee Not a Suspect in Murder Case: Belize Police.)
I was able to get in touch with him again Friday (we even put him on the air, see video) and he said he was still in hiding but close enough to see his compound. How hard could it be for the police to catch him if he's close enough to see his house? I asked him about a story that came out in Wired about playing Russian Roulette with one of their reporters and I expected him to tell me that there wasn't a bullet in the gun, that he was just clicking the trigger to make a point about what is real and what isn't. But he didn't. He told me he walked outside and fired the gun again, a slug hitting the dirt when he pulled the trigger one last time.
Maybe this is John McAfee's Heart of Darkness moment.