Update 12/4 4:30 p.m. EST: According to the Associated Press, fugitive software guru John McAfee will petition Guatemala for “asylum,” on the grounds that he believes he will be killed if he returns to Belize, where he has lived for the last four years. McAfee is now at a hotel in Guatemala City, according to the AP.
After three weeks on the run, he arrived in Guatemala City with his 20-year-old girlfriend “Samantha” on Tuesday, according to Vice journalists. During a meeting set up by Vice with Samantha’s uncle, described as a “powerful Guatemalan lawyer and former Attorney General Telésforo Guerra,” McAfee confessed that he’d illegally crossed the border into Guatemala with the official’s niece. He went on to explain that they have passports, “but no entry stamps into Guatemala or exit stamps from Belize.”
The 67-year-old fugitive, who is wanted for murder questioning in Belize, also said that he intended to marry Sam. It’s not known if she said yes. Meanwhile, McAfee was focused on his nascent legal representation.
“I need a lawyer, sir,” McAfee said over his breakfast of of crepes and fresh fruit, according to Vice. Guerra, a well-known lawyer in Guatemala, has allegedly agreed to help McAfee “untangle the web of confusion and — according to John — corruption that has taken over his life in Belize since April,” according to the magazine.
Earlier Tuesday, McAfee (or someone writing under his name) claimed that he was in Guatemala, and “will be meeting with Guatemalan officials this morning.” McAfee, who’s wanted for murder questioning in Belize over the slaying of his neighbor, lamented that yesterday was chaotic, “due to the accidental release of my exact co-ordinates by an unseasoned technician at Vice headquarters.” In other words, McAfee appears to admit that both he and the Vice photographer lied when they claimed that they had manipulated the iPhone 4S location data on this photograph. It’s yet another reason not to believe anything anyone affiliated with McAfee says.
Given what’s transpired over the last few weeks in the stranger-than-fiction saga of software magnate John McAfee, it’s safe to expect the unexpected. But Monday’s events were bizarre even by the standards of a drama that features murder, sex, drugs, guns, prostitutes, jungle hideouts, armed gangs, possibly corrupt anti-gang commandos, a body-double, a North Korean passport, and a central character — McAfee — who has been described by Wired as “unhinged” and by the prime minister of Belize as “bonkers.”
As of Monday morning, McAfee, who is currently on the run from Belizean authorities, was nowhere to be found. Belizean officials want to interview McAfee about the murder of his neighbor, American businessman Gregory Faull, who was found dead three weeks ago in a pool of his own blood with a 9-mm. bullet wound to the head. McAfee hasn’t been charged with a crime — and denies any wrongdoing — but rather than submit to questioning, the 67-year-old McAfee, who claims the Belizean government wants to kill him, has led authorities on an international manhunt. (Please find background on the case here.)
Over the weekend, an item appeared on McAfee’s personal website that said: “We have received an unconfirmed report that John McAfee has been captured at the border of Belize and Mexico.” But a McAfee spokesman could not confirm that report, telling TIME, “We have no idea where he is.” The spokesman did say that McAfee is on the run with another person, whom we now know is a young woman in her early twenties who McAfee calls Sam.
By mid-morning Monday, things started to get really weird. In a posting on his website, McAfee (or someone writing under his name) claimed that he had fled Belize and was safely outside the country “in the company of two intrepid journalist[s] from Vice Magazine, and, of course, Sam.” (Vice is a media company and magazine that has championed an immersive style of journalism, including such initiatives as travelling on a ”spiritual journey” to Jamaica with rapper Snoop Dogg, who, after consulting with a Rastafarian “high priest,” changed his name to Snoop Lion and vowed to embark on a new career as a reggae artist.)
In his blog post, McAfee claimed to have concocted a ruse involving a body-double carrying a North Korean passport bearing McAfee’s name, who was briefly detained in Mexico before being released. “I left Belize because of a series of events which led both Sam and I to believe that she was in danger of capture,” McAfee wrote. He also suggested, as he has in the past, that the entire episode is the result of his one-man crusade to battle corruption in Belize.
Hours later, Vice published a blog post entitled, “We Are With John McAfee Right Now, Suckers.” The post said that the magazine’s editor-in-chief Rocco Castoro and photographer/videographer Robert King have been “following” John McAfee for the past four days, “documenting his life on the run.” The post said that it intends to release “exclusive preview footage of a forthcoming long-form documentary about his ordeal.” In order to provide evidence of its claim, Vice posted a photo of Castoro and a grinning McAfee standing in front of lush jungle scenery.
There was only one problem. The photo, taken with an iPhone 4S, included location “GPS metadata” indicating that McAfee and the Vice journalists were in Guatemala, less than 20 miles from the Belize border, specifically along the Rio Dulce in the Parque Nacional Rio Dulce. (Longitude, latitude 15.658167, -88.992167.) “Near the Ranchon Mary restaurant,” Wired observed. “By a swimming pool.”
Vice, which only hours earlier had boasted of its proximity to McAfee in a post addressed to “suckers,” had now apparently revealed McAfee’s location by accident. But like much in the McAfee saga, that explanation seemed a little too simple. Once the location data had been revealed, Vice photographer Robert King took to Facebook to assert that the location data had been manipulated “to keep our location secret.” In other words, King seemed to imply, the Vice journalists deliberately altered the location data to throw authorities off the trail.
But that explanation was cast into doubt a short time later when McAfee wrote a new blog post in which he claimed to have manipulated the location data against the wishes of the Vice journalists. “I openly apologize to Vice Magazine for manipulating their recently published photo,” McAfee wrote. “I have been ferocioously [sic] put my place by Mr. Rocco for ‘interfering’ with the objectivity of their reporting.” The software pioneer said he had altered the location data on the photo for his own safety. “I felt that our tenuous situation demanded action, and that was the action that I chose,” he wrote, adding, “I do not believe that Vice will remain with me further.”
By now, after weeks of subterfuge, misdirection, and misinformation, it’s clear that little about this increasingly bizarre story can be taken at face value. And quite frankly, McAfee’s act is starting to wear extremely thin. If I had to guess, I would say that Vice did, in fact, inadvertently reveal McAfee’s location, and once the journalists realized that fact, they attempted to cover up their error by claiming to have manipulated the location data.
If the Vice journalists or McAfee really had manipulated the geo data to hide their location, of course, why would they admit to doing so, rather than allowing the world to believe they were somewhere that they weren’t. As for McAfee, he may have been trying to cover for Vice, with whom he clearly has some kind of arrangement, given that the magazine says it’s preparing a documentary that is sure to deliver the one thing that McAfee seems to value above all else: publicity.
(Note 2:30 p.m. EST: This post has been updated to include new details about McAfee’s arrival in Guatemala City.)