The story of John McAfee going from an antivirus-software mogul to a man fleeing Belize on questions about a murder has been chronicled numerous times, but exactly why he had to leave paradise in 2012 is still shrouded in mystery.
Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Nanette Burstein (“On the Ropes,” “The Kid Stays in the Picture”) went down to Central America to find the truth in her new movie, but as with many things related to McAfee, it’s layered with more questions than answers.
“Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee,” which recently had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and will air on Showtime September 24, is a revealing look at McAfee’s time in Belize from the locals who were there alongside him, and some who allegedly followed through on violent acts ordered by McAfee — including murder.
In 2012, McAfee’s neighbour in Belize, Gregory Faull, was murdered. Sought for questioning as a “person of interest,” McAfee fled to Guatemala, and after being arrested there on accusations of entering the country illegally, he suffered heath-related issues and ultimately was expelled from Guatemala and sent back to the US, where he’s lived since.
The murder case of Faull has never been solved.
In “Gringo,” Burstein goes to Belize and gains the trust of McAfee’s associates, members of his security detail, and numerous women to learn of McAfee’s alleged involvement in not just the Faull case but other crimes.
McAfee (who has contributed to Business Insider in the past) declined to be filmed for the movie but Burstein does include correspondence the two had via email.
“I’ve always been fascinated by people who are under the spotlight of coming from fame, money, power, and how that affects them,” Burstein told Business Insider at TIFF. “So John is someone I read about when he was escaping to Guatemala, and there was tons of press, but I still had a lot to learn. There were a lot of surprises along the way.”
In October of last year, Showtime approached Burstein with the idea to do a story about the Belize episode in McAfee’s life. (A year earlier, Spike TV asked her if she wanted to make a film with McAfee’s involvement, for which she would follow him around for a year. She declined. It’s since been made into the series “The McAfee Project.”)
An executive producer for the Showtime doc, Jeff Wise, who has written numerous stories about McAfee, and fellow producer Michael Hirschorn presented Burstein with a promo tape of interviews they put together of revelations about McAfee from his associates in Belize.
“I was like, ‘Now, this is interesting,'” Burstein said.
She jumped on a plane and went down to Belize to begin work. One of the first people she met was through Wise, Eddie McKoy, a local who is known for his ties to the gangs in Belize and goes by the nickname “Mac 10” (like the gun). Having at one time planned to kill McAfee, he ended up being a part of his security detail, according to the film and stories by Wise.
And in the towns of San Pedro and Orange Walk, McAfee’s old stomping grounds, Burstein quickly stood out as the woman who was doing a story on the eccentric millionaire who once lived there.
Though the setting was extremely intimidating, Burstein says that being a woman in that environment was actually a huge advantage.
“Tough guys like Eddie McKoy saw me as a sister and they were nice to me and respectful,” Burstein said. “They would speak to me in a different way than if I was a guy. And the women, because they were younger than me, this maternal thing was happening.”
After a few weeks on the ground, Burstein began to get into McAfee’s inner sanctum in the country and found some chilling revelations.
The alleged $5,000 hitman
Burstein uncovers alleged specifics about the Faull murder. Most notably, McAfee’s caretaker, Cassian Chavarria, claims on camera that he was ordered by McAfee to wire $5,000 to McKoy with instructions to kill Faull after Faull allegedly poisoned McAfee’s dogs. When Burstein confronts McKoy in the movie with this information, however, he denies it.
She also learned that the allegations about McAfee’s time in Belize don’t end there.
A man named David Middleton, who allegedly broke into McAfee’s house in Belize, was beaten to death. Men who claim to have been involved in the beating speak in “Gringo” about the incident, saying McAfee hired them.
Then there’s a disturbing recollection by microbiologist Allison Adonizio, who was working for McAfee developing antibiotics derived from jungle plants in Orange Walk. She alleges McAfee drugged her one night and raped her.
The director admits she had to be careful not to be susceptible to the rumormongering in Belize, however.
“That was one of the hardest parts of this film, trying to decide what is true and what is an exaggeration, because there’s definitely a huge rumour mill in Belize,” Burstein said.
In the film, Burstein attempts to ask McAfee questions about what happened in Belize by cornering him at a debate for the American Libertarian Party in New York (McAfee was a prospective 2016 presidential candidate). However, once he realises who she is, he walks away. This leads back to an email conversation, one in which McAfee calls Burstein “Satan.”
‘If I’m going to be crucified, I want to have some fun out of it’
If spending months in Belize trying to gain the trust of people to talk about potentially criminal details wasn’t stressful enough for Burstein, once in postproduction and faced with a July deadline to lock the movie for Showtime, she endured continued correspondence with McAfee and others in his inner circle.
“As soon as I found out Jeff Wise was involved at that point I decided I would just start messing with [the film],” McAfee recently told Business Insider over the phone of his side of the events. “If I’m going to be crucified, I want to have some fun out of it.”
McAfee claims that the email correspondence between Burstein and him featured in the film was not authentic, as he never wrote any of the emails. According to McAfee, he hired a group of people to impersonate him while emailing Burstein.
When asked why he didn’t just refuse to communicate with Burstein at all, McAfee told us, “Here’s the issue, Nanette [Burstein] and Jeff Wise had their minds made up before they even went down there, so why not? I knew it was a film that, without anything from me, what would it be? Seriously, what’s a documentary about John McAfee with nothing from John McAfee?”
Brustein, on the other hand, told Business Insider that when she got involved with the film, McAfee was willing to be interviewed, but only if he got a share of the film’s profits. McAfee says this is false.
Burstein is convinced that McAfee was the author of all the emails she received.
“I would be shocked if I was Catfished,” Burstein said, using the internet language for someone duped by a false identity online. “I really would, given that the people that were coming out pretending to have impersonated him did not sound like they could actually pull that off.”
Burstein believes her theory was confirmed when McAfee’s daughter called her.
“She wanted to make sure she wasn’t in the film — she’s not,” Burstein said. “And I don’t know if she was trying to find out stuff for him. She was like, ‘My dad is really worried that there’s more than one murder [featured] in the film,’ and I just didn’t say anything.”
But when Burstein brought up to McAfee’s daughter the suggestion that the emails were not really from her father, according to Burstein, she said, “That’s ridiculous, he would never do that, he’s a total control freak, he has to do everything himself.”
However, that’s not the only way in which McAfee has picked at the legitimacy of “Gringo.”
Before finishing the film, Burstein got word that McAfee posted a video on his YouTube channel that features people from her movie stating on camera that Showtime paid them to say that McAfee was behind the alleged crimes discussed in the movie.
The video posted by McAfee includes McKoy and Chavarria saying that Showtime paid them.
Burstein, who said she and Showtime did not pay anyone for interviews (but did pay some subjects a nominal fee for use of photos they had of McAfee after the interviews took place), quickly called Chavarria, the man who in the film claims he’s the one who paid McKoy on the orders of McAfee to kill Faull, after seeing him in the YouTube video.
“I called Cassian and recorded it on my phone. I asked why he would say this?” Burstein said, “and he said John paid him $1,200 to say it. That he needed the money. I said, ‘Did you lie to me? I cannot put in the film something that’s not true,’ and he said, ‘I swear to God, put it in the film, I would not lie to you, I want to get this out.'”
When contacted by Business Insider, Chavarria did not corroborate Burstein’s story. Instead, he said that Burstein paid him to lie about McAfee in the movie. When asked to present proof of payment, he didn’t respond.
Showtime sent Business Insider the following statement about the accusations that subjects in the film were paid for their stories: “Showtime Documentary Films does not pay subjects for their interviews. We fully support ‘Gringo’ filmmaker Nanette Burstein and applaud the bravery of those interviewed in the film.”
Burstein also sent the following statement: “I am confident that all the interviews I present in ‘Gringo’ are true. None of my subjects were paid by me or Showtime Documentary Films for their interviews. The people in the film voluntarily came forward to share their stories with me. I truly admire their courage, but understand that under duress, and in light of the vast resources available to John McAfee, these subjects could be pressured to recant their statements.”
I swear to God, put it in the film, I would not lie to you, I want to get this out.
McAfee, for his part, told us, “Showtime has done the most disgraceful things to these people in Belize, and I’m trying to bring this to light.”
He then sent Business Insider photos of documents from the Supreme Court of Belize in which locals interviewed for the movie state that they were paid for what they said.
McAfee also posted more government documents from Belize authorities stating that the information in the movie isn’t valid in a post on the site for cybersecurity technology company MGT Capital Investments, of which he is the CEO. In the post, he addresses the rape allegation by Adonizio, which he denies. (The Belize government did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.)
Burstein told us of the official Belize documents, “What can you do? The guy pays people to do s—.”
The ‘threatening’ texts from McAfee
Burstein calls “Gringo” the most bizarre movie she’s ever made and admits that at one point it got very scary for her.
After trying to get McAfee on camera at the Libertarian Party debate, she says she started receiving emails for the next 24 hours from McAfee that she calls “threatening.” Afterward, Burstein says she received a text message from McAfee stating, “I want to send you something very precious to me. I need an address where you can sign for something.”
“My husband was away, I was alone, and the last [email] before the text he called me Satan, which I put in the film,” Burstein said. “I didn’t know if he was still in New York and he’s got an armed security guard who is licensed to carry. I was scared at that moment.”
Nothing ever came of it. When asked about the text, McAfee told Business Insider that he did text her but only to inform her about the video of people admitting Showtime paid them to lie about him. He denies ever asking for Burstein’s address.
But after McAfee first spoke to Business Insider about the text, Burstein sent us a screenshot of the text he sent her asking for her address. When confronted with this, McAfee changed his story and admitted he asked for her address, but only because he wanted to send her back a jar of Marmite that she had sent to him. (Marmite is a food spread common in the UK and Australia.)
“I had already told her how precious Marmite was to me,” he said. He believed she was trying to poison him with the Marmite. (This is not the first time McAfee has apparently misled a reporter, having previously sent journalists phones with malware trying to convince them that he had hacked the encryption used on WhatsApp, according to Gizmodo.)
Regardless of whether “Gringo” convinces you that John McAfee is a murderer, as some say, or that he’s a victim of a Belizean government plot to kill him, as he claims, it is certainly not short on stories.
In fact, Burstein claims that while in Belize, she heard from sources that McAfee may have been involved in more than the alleged two murders and the rape that she highlights in the movie.
“I didn’t put those [allegations] in the film because I couldn’t substantiate enough,” Burstein said. “But there were others that were talking, but I didn’t know if they were true, and didn’t find the people who were directly involved, like the murders in the film.”
So would McAfee — who denied on numerous occasions to Business Insider that he was responsible for the deaths of either Faull or Middleton — be shocked if in the future he was linked to other murders in Belize?
“I wouldn’t be shocked at all,” he told us. “The governor of Belize is certainly not a friend of mine, and I’m certain they would use whatever comes out in Showtime to their advantage, so I wouldn’t be shocked at all.”
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