John McAfee Reveals His Hiding Place (Updated)

In a too-strange-to-be-true twist on an already bizarre crime story, fugitive tech millionaire John McAfee today revealed where he'd been hiding over the last six days: in his own compound. McAfee, wanted by police in connection with the murder of his neighbor Gregory Faull over the weekend, said in a phone interview that he had never really been on the run at all. He'd just been hiding out at home. The calls were coming from inside the house!

"I am," he said in a telephone interview Friday afternoon, "where I am most of the time. I am certainly inside my compound."

The revelation came at the end of a week of intense international media attention which began when I broke the story on Gizmodo.com Monday. McAfee, who has bragged about the delight he takes in hoaxing the press, had managed to control the coverage of his story by doling out a carefully measured flow of misinformation to an eager press corps, many of whom were camped right outside his house as he spoke to them from within one of the numerous outbuildings on the property, unaware of his presence within.

The truth of McAfee's location did not come as a shock to some of his neighbors. "If I had to guess, I'd say he's in his house," one of his neighbors told me on Wednesday, adding: "He's such a media whore, he's probably loving it."

McAfee bought the property after his arrival in Belize in 2008, and proceeded to build a number of outbuildings. Apparently they contained at least one difficult-to-detect shelter or safe room, because local police reportedly searched the property after Faull's murder without managing to find him. A source who lived on McAfee's compound in Colorado told me that he had built a shelter on that property, too.

McAfee's property on the coastal island of Ambergris Caye is less than 50 miles from Mexico, and it would be a fairly straightforward matter to travel by boat across the border. But McAfee's behavior made it clear that he hadn't gone far. Almost as soon as the story broke, he began an intensive series of communications with Wired magazine reporter Joshua Davis, who published McAfee's often outlandish claims without qualification. Within days he was conducting phone interviews with other news outlets as well, and posting on internet message boards. The uninterrupted communication suggested that he was not in transit. (Today he debuted a blog.) The uninterrupted flow of communication suggested that he was not, say, riding a mule through a Central American swamp.

Ambergris Caye is a long, thin island, with the population spread out along about 10 miles of beachfront. Much of that distance is traversed by only a single rutted dirt track. It would have been difficult for McAfee to travel along it without being noticed, and even harder to travel within the community by boat. What's more, McAfee's increasingly erratic behavior has left him feared and loathed by his fellow expatriates; he is no Robin Hood who could melt effortlessly into the citizenry. For a man who has boasted of taking large quantities of psychosis- and paranoia-inducing "bath salts," the comforts of home no doubt seemed preferable to a peripatetic existence. At least one girlfriend remained on the property during the week, and news reports described employees continuing to show up for work.

At time of writing, it is not clear what, if anything, Belize authorities will do now that they know McAfee's location. The reporters to whom McAfee disclosed his location, Brian Sullivan and Robert Frank of CNBC, did not press him to reveal further details of how he managed to hide out in his own home.

UPDATE 10:12AM Saturday 11/17/12: I called Belize police spokesman Raphael Martinez this morning, and he said that he would check with the local San Pedro police to see if they had followed up on McAfee's claim. While I was waiting for his reply, Foxnews.com reporter Jeremy Kaplan managed to reach him, and was told by Martinez that the information "has been passed on to the police in San Pedro... They are checking it out right now." I have also emailed McAfee to ask why he revealed his location to CNBC, and what he thought of their failure to recognize the significance of his answer, but McAfee has not yet replied.

UPDATE 5:20pm Saturday 11/17/12: Belize police spokesman Raphael Martinez reports that officers from the San Pedro force again visited McAfee's Ambergris Caye today and "nobody was found there." Said Martinez, "We're back at square one."

Jeff Wise is a science journalist, writer of the "I'll Try Anything" column for Popular Mechanics, and the author of Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger. For more, visit JeffWise.net.