Globe-trotting antivirus inventor, gun-happy wackadoo, and failed 2016 Libertarian presidential hopeful John McAfee hasn’t yet outrun his troubles in Belize, from whence he fled in 2012 as local authorities sought him in connection to the brutal murder of his neighbor. In the explosive new documentary Gringo, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Nanette Burstein unveils new information tying McAfee to the killing of American expat Greg Faull—as well as stunning allegations accusing the tech magnate of an unrelated rape and murder in the Central American paradise.
Burstein premiered the Showtime documentary Sunday night at the Toronto International Film Festival ahead of its Sept. 24 broadcast debut, delivering no shortage of shocks—quite an achievement, given her already shocking subject. Intrigued by the eccentric tech trailblazer’s increasingly erratic and unapologetically hedonistic public profile, Burstein begins by tracking her attempts to reach out to McAfee via email and triggers a yearlong digital pas de deux filled with answers, combative replies, and eventually, menacing threats from the multimillionaire.
She travels to Belize to interview locals, employees, gangsters, and several of the teenage girlfriends McAfee kept as he lived large, greased the government, and bought up an entire town between 2008 and 2012. The recollections of those closest to McAfee paint a portrait of a sometimes generous, definitely paranoid benefactor who surrounded himself with heavily armed bodyguards and fancied himself the Colonel Kurtz of Belize: Tan, tattooed, and given to posing for pictures with guns and girls in bikinis.
A few of those young women, who say they accepted McAfee’s financial support in exchange for living with him as his girlfriends, also have no qualms about spilling details of McAfee’s sex life—and his proclivity for scat sex. As one former Belizean ladyfriend plainly puts it, “He used to make you shit in his mouth.”
“He was Belize’s Donald Trump,” laughs McAfee’s former masseuse.
Another former employee of McAfee’s, biologist Allison Adonizio, was, like many, taken in by his charms and fiscal generosity. When he offered to fund her research into plant-based antibiotics in Belize, she quit her job and moved into his compound. Eventually, however, their business relationship soured and she fled back to the States following a violent outburst, which, she previously reported to the press, caused her to lock herself in her lab out of fear for her safety.
In Gringo, Adonizio alleges that her decision to leave the lab and sever ties with McAfee was preceded by an incident in which she believes he drugged and sexually assaulted her.
She tells Burstein that McAfee’s increasingly alarming behavior made her decide to walk out on their professional partnership. “He talked about taking over the Belize government, referred to men as hitmen,” she said. “He would talk about how he could have people hurt or killed, and honestly I was scared.”
While discussing her leaving to go back to America, she continues, he allegedly gave her a glass of laced orange juice that knocked her out. “I told him I had a headache and he went into the other room and he brought me two pills and a glass of orange juice. I took them, and I took a sip of the orange juice and it tasted foul,” claimed Adonizio. “It tasted bitter.”
She says she remembers only flashes of what happened next. “He was standing over me naked. I woke up the next morning. I was sick, I was dry heaving. I was dizzy. I grabbed my clothes—I don’t even remember taking them off. I went back to my house, I locked the door, and I sat in the shower until the water ran cold… and I was crying and I was bleeding.”
When she confronted McAfee about it, she alleges “he acted as if nothing had happened.” She says she asked him to buy her out of the company and he became enraged. “He went from zero to crazy in like two seconds. He called me all kinds of names and pushed me through the door of his Orange Walk compound. I locked myself in the lab and thought he’s dangerous.”
Adonizio says she had just enough time to email her father and buy a plane ticket when McAfee cut the power. Then, she says, “He left and he got a gun.” Adonizio texted local friends for help and was able to sneak away and fly home the next day. “I’m mad at myself for not realizing who he was sooner,” she laments, “’cause he’s dangerous.” Adonizio says she called the FBI to report McAfee but they have no authority in Belize.
Amazingly, that’s not the half of what Burstein uncovers in Gringo.
Local denizens and former employees of McAfee’s claim he ordered the intimidation of a local man named David Middleton, believed to have broken into McAfee’s home, to send a message that he was not to be messed with. McAfee’s former driver Tom Mangar says McAfee called him and asked him to recruit three men “to chastise this guy, to teach him a little respect.”
Another man who remains anonymous—but identifies himself as one of those men that night—remembers chasing Middleton into the bush. “They beat him bad,” he says. “His whole face, full of torture. Steak knife, cut him up.”
Middleton was tased in the mouth, face, and genitals, he says. “That guy was screaming for his life. Then they called McAfee.”
Mangar claims that McAfee demanded to see Middleton face-to-face, so he was brought to McAfee’s vehicle, driven to town, and dumped out in front of onlookers. “I think he wanted to make his point like ‘Don’t fuck with me,’” says Mangar.
Burstein tracks down a friend of the victim, a local thug called MAC-10, who gregariously explains how he and McAfee nearly came to deadly odds after Middleton’s death following the alleged intimidation episode—until McAfee recruited him to work for him. These wild threads converge when Burstein uncovers evidence suggesting that McAfee paid MAC-10 $5,000 to kill his neighbor, Faulls, over a bitter quarrel involving McAfee’s dogs.
Gringo’s saddest revelation comes when a local detective informs Burstein that few homicide cases in Belize ever get solved—because there is not a single DNA lab in the entire country. That means a fingernail found on Faull’s body can’t be tested. Incredibly, Burstein seems to be getting further in her private investigations than the local authorities have gotten but realizes, she tells her audience, that playing sleuth in some of Belize’s most dangerous neighborhoods is no longer a wise or safe choice.
Returning to America where McAfee is in the throes of his presidential run, Burstein confronts her elusive subject at a campaign event—one that took place only a few months ago. She spooks him, and later shares another email ominous message from McAfee: “You are my final battle,” he writes. “I am merely doing what I always do, which is fuck with the media as much as I possibly can. You are my magnum opus.”