For a man who built an empire in pixels, Paul Le Roux seemed like a digital phantom. After his name surfaced in the press in late 2014, I spent the better part of a year trying to understand him through the same means by which he’d directed his massive pharmacy business: the Internet. Late at night, I would open my laptop and plunge into an online wormhole, searching for clues about who Le Roux had been and what he became.

There I found another Paul Le Roux, from another time—one who’d left his trace in archived copies of long-dormant websites and message boards. This Le Roux had been famous among a small community of hackers and privacy geeks in the early 2000s as the author of an important piece of encryption software. Before encryption was a mainstream idea, before Apple defied a U.S. government request to provide a method to unlock our phones, this Le Roux had written the underlying code of a program that, a decade and a half later, the National Security Agency still could not break.

The question was: Could the Le Roux who politely answered jargon-laden posts about encryption software be the same one who ordered the murder of a real estate agent over a bad deal on a beach house? At first I thought I would never know. The former Paul Le Roux seemed to have disappeared from the Internet in 2004. Encryption experts I contacted had no idea what had become of that Le Roux, and there was no evidence linking him to the man known for drugs and gun running.

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