Software company founder John McAfee says he has fled from Belize using a bizarre ruse, adding yet another chapter in what threatens to become one of the biggest media fugitive frenzies since OJ Simpson led police on a low-speed chase in 1994.
McAfee claimed in a blog posting he had evaded authorities by staging an elaborate distraction in neighbouring Mexico.
In an email to The Associated Press, McAfee confirmed a posting to his website in which he described, in what appeared to be joking tones, how he mounted the ruse.
"My 'double,' carrying on (sic) a North Korean passport under my name, was detained in Mexico for pre-planned misbehaviour," McAfee wrote in the posting, "but due to indifference on the part of authorities (he) was evicted from the jail and was unable to serve his intended purpose in our exit plan."
It was a turn typical of the bizarre saga of the eccentric anti-virus company founder wanted for questioning in connection with the killing of fellow American ex-pat Gregory Viant Faull, who was shot to death at the Belize island where they both had homes in early November.
Since then, McAfee has refused to turn himself in for questioning saying he fears Belizean police would kill him, and has titillated the media with phone calls, emails and blog posts detailing his life on the lam. It has all resulted in a rather undignified media scrum to get interviews with McAfee, complete with taunts.
Vice magazine, two of whose journalists are reportedly travelling with McAfee, posted a story entitled "We Are with John McAfee Right Now, Suckers."
A representative of the Faull family said Monday that the real issues - the murder of an American who by all accounts was well-liked by his neighbours on Belize's Ambergris Caye - are getting lost.
"The real issues are that a human life was violently taken, (and) authorities lack all the information ... we're beyond the danger of them being lost, it's become entertainment. This is tragic to the family," said Dan Keeney of Texas-based DPK Public Relations, who has issued statements on behalf of the Faull family.
A woman who answered the phone at an Orlando, Florida phone number listed for Vickie Faull confirmed she was a relative and said that Keeney spoke on behalf of the family, but had no further comment.
"Mr. McAfee is astute at media manipulation, and he's using those skills to great effect," said Keeney. "I would just caution the media not to let themselves be manipulated."
Keeney added in email that "we strongly urge journalists covering the McAfee story not to glorify the words and actions of this person who, by refusing to cooperate and tell police all he knows about the murder of Greg Faull, is harming the investigation of the murder."
"The family of Mr. Faull is concerned that journalists may be assisting Mr. McAfee either implicitly by helping him to create an elaborate fiction that undermines trust in authorities or explicitly in his efforts to escape."
Police in Belize have called McAfee a "person of interest" in the slaying of Faull and asked him to turn himself in for questioning.
Faull was shot to death in his home, a couple of houses down from the compound where McAfee kept several noisy dogs, armed guards and entertained a steady stream of young women brought in from the mainland. McAfee acknowledges that his dogs were bothersome and that Faull had complained about them, but denied killing Faull. Several of the dogs were poisoned shortly before Faull's killing.
For two weeks, McAfee refused to turn himself in and claimed to be hiding in plain sight, wearing disguises and watching as police raided his house. It was unclear, however, how much of what McAfee - a confessed practical joker - said and wrote was true.
McAfee did not describe the entire plan, nor did he say where exactly he was now. He noted only that "we are not in Belize, but not quite out of the woods yet."
In a previous interview with the AP, McAfee had said he had no plans to leave Belize.
"I'm not going to leave this country," he had told the AP. "I love this country, this is my home. I intend to fight the injustice that's here from here, I can't do much from outside, can I?"
In Monday's post, McAfee said he left Belize because he thought "Sam," the young Belizean woman who has accompanied him since he went on the lam, was in danger.
"I left Belize because of a series of events which led both Sam and I to believe that she was in danger of capture. She has been my go-between and my eyes and ears in the outside world. I decided to make the move. I will be returning to Belize after I have place (sic) Sam in a safe position. My fight is in Belize, and I can do little in exile."
Police sources in Belize said early Monday they believed he was still in the country. The sparsely populated border between the two countries is unguarded and unmarked in many places.
Rumours arose over the weekend that McAfee had been caught, but Belizean police quickly denied that.
Belize's prime minister, Dean Barrow, has expressed doubts about McAfee's mental state: "I don't want to be unkind to the gentleman, but I believe he is extremely paranoid, even bonkers."
McAfee, who is extremely polite and coherent in telephone conversations, brushes off such accusations, telling the AP "if people want to call that paranoia, they can do so if you wish, that will not concern me."
McAfee, the creator of the McAfee antivirus program, has led an eccentric life since he sold his stake in the anti-virus software company that is named after him in the early 1990s and moved to Belize about three years ago to lower his taxes.
He told The New York Times in 2009 that he had lost all but US$4 million of his US$100 million fortune in the US financial crisis. However, a story on the Gizmodo website quoted him as calling that claim "not very accurate at all." He has dabbled in yoga, ultra-light aircraft and producing herbal medications.
McAfee has never said where he's hiding. But in his blog, he has claimed to have disguised himself as a grungy street peddler and a foul-mouthed German tourist.
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