“He was like Cypher from The Matrix—y’know, ‘You see code, but I see brunettes and redheads,’ ” Yannitell says. “But when he reached that genius moment, when he was on the cusp of some big idea that could maybe change the world, he got nervous.”
In 2006, Haas’ childhood friend Jerritte Couture contacted him about a job. Couture headed up a web development firm outside Dayton and hired Haas to work as a full-stack developer. Haas did the job remotely, from Athens, for four years, until Couture drove over from Dayton one day to check on his employee. He was shocked to discover that Haas was living with his girlfriend and her father in a house that had literally been hit by a tornado; there was a gaping hole in the roof. The floors were buried beneath mounds of newspapers, old cereal boxes, and plates encrusted with rotten food that emitted an unholy stench.
Haas seemed oblivious to the filth, his attention devoted to chatting with people online. (“Maslow didn’t know about the internet when he created his hierarchy of needs,” Haas once wrote. “I could be wrong, but I think it’s just below food.”) Under the alias tonehog, he spent countless hours moderating a cyberpunk web forum where he opined about his pet topics: libertarian politics, social anxiety, high-fat diets, and shibari bondage.
Fearing for his friend’s well-being, Couture eventually convinced Haas to move in with him and his family in the suburbs of Dayton and start working full-time at his company, Edge Webware. Haas left his girlfriend behind in Athens and instantly curtailed his drug use. At the office, he embraced the role of the lone weirdo amid Midwestern squares—the resident expert on matters such as government surveillance and a newfangled invention called bitcoin. “The way his ego worked, he was turned on by the things he knew that you didn’t know,” says Ron Campbell, the president of U! Creative, a marketing firm that had brought Edge Webware in-house. “He felt like he knew a whole world that you didn’t—that you’re living in this polished, 2.2-children, white-picket-fence world, but he knows a dark world you know nothing of, a humanity you know nothing of.”
But Haas couldn’t sustain this state of near-normalcy. He moved out of Couture’s home in 2013, reunited with his girlfriend, and once again drifted into darkness. Dressed in ratty black clothes, Haas would show up hours late for work or nod off at his desk. His dental hygiene was so poor that several of his teeth rotted into goo. One Halloween he whipped off his shirt and ran around the office with arms outstretched while muttering, “I’m getting the idea, man, I’m getting the idea.”
Haas was also a fount of fantastic lies. He once submitted his notice to Edge Webware, for example, explaining that he’d saved up $40,000 and was going to move abroad with his girlfriend and her father; he said they needed to escape the US government, which had targeted his girlfriend’s dad because of his radical politics. After bidding his final farewells on a Friday, Haas showed up for work the next week, claiming that all his money had been stolen just hours before his flight to an unidentified foreign country.
As always, Edge Webware gave Haas another chance, because hyperpolyglots like him are so rare. “I can’t tell you how many times a client would say, ‘Can you program this in X?’ and I would go to Jerry and say, ‘I can hire a contractor to do this, but do you want to take a crack at it?’ ” Couture recalls. “And he’d say, ‘Sure,’ and within 24 hours he’d know the language well enough to have an intelligent conversation with our client, and within a week he’d be coding competently in it. I can’t tell you how many times that happened.”
Haas’ run at Edge Webware finally came to an end in November 2016. One morning, as usual, Couture went to give the nondriving Haas a lift to work. When Haas emerged from his ramshackle rental house, he was trembling and holding a .22-caliber pistol. He said he’d been up all night because people had been banging on his door, threatening to murder him and his girlfriend. He persuaded Couture to give him a day off to recover. He never showed up for work again.