In the book “Pablo Escobar My Father,” the notorious drug lord’s only son, Juan Pablo Escobar, recounts his memories of his father and the moments that marked Colombia’s history. InSight Crime looks at the most intriguing tales.
10. A Boy Scout and a Young Communist
Before he was a murderous drug lord, Pablo Escobar was part of his neighborhood Boy Scout troop. He would cut his neighbors’ lawns to raise money, go camping on the weekends, and watch cowboy movies with the rest of his prepubescent cohort. Escobar also filled his personal library — which he decorated with a human skull he had dug out of the graveyard — with Communist texts by Vladimir Lenin and Mao Tse-tung.
9. Fake High School Diplomas
Pablo Escobar made his debut in the world of crime by selling fake high school diplomas with his cousin Gustavo Gaviria. He and his cousin also learned how to copy their teachers’ handwriting to fake final grade reports and stole the answers to difficult exams so they could sell them. After providing dozens of people with falsified academic documents, Escobar and his cousin moved on to a variety of other criminal schemes like stealing cars, robbing movie theater ticket windows, and selling stolen tombstones.
8. A Thirteen-Year-Old Wife
Pablo Escobar started dating Juan Pablo’s mother, Victoria Eugenia Henao Vallejo, when she was 13 and he was 24. When Henao’s family tried to separate the couple, Escobar whisked Henao off to the city of Palmira, where they eloped. Not long afterwards, Henao gave birth to Juan Pablo at the age of 15.
Although Escobar was notoriously unfaithful, Henao stayed with him until his death in 1993. Later, when she met with the leaders of the rival Cali Cartel, they told her they had forced their wives to listen to recordings of her phone calls with Escobar — which they had intercepted as part of the ongoing war between the cartels — to “teach them how to support their men.”
7. Cruel Jokes
While living in the luxurious La Catedral prison, Pablo Escobar and his men planned cruel jokes to entertain themselves. On one occasion, one of Escobar’s men installed a microphone in Escobar’s brother Roberto’s bathroom and left women’s lingerie in the shower right before Roberto’s wife came to visit. The man who had planned the joke listened to the ensuing fight and only came clean later, when Roberto and his wife were close to ending their marriage.
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On another occasion, Escobar asked one of his men, alias “El Gordo,” to bring him a cup of coffee and popped an Alka-Seltzer in his mouth so that it started to foam. Escobar accused “El Gordo” of poisoning him and ordered his men to tie “El Gordo” up and point a machine gun at him for ten minutes while he begged for his life.
6. Jeans Soaked in Cocaine
Pablo Escobar employed myriad different cocaine trafficking routes and methods, but one of his most ingenious techniques consisted of soaking jeans in liquid cocaine and legally exporting them to the United States. Upon receipt, the buyers would wash the jeans with a special liquid, extract the cocaine, and dry it. When the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) caught wind of the method — thanks to an informant — Escobar simply switched to soaking the boxes in which the jeans were packed in liquid cocaine. The shipments of jeans would arrive in the United States as usual, and after the DEA had washed the jeans over and over again searching for a trace of cocaine, Escobar’s associates would dig the discarded boxes out of the trash and recover the drugs.
5. Cash-Filled Piñatas
At his children’s birthday parties, Pablo Escobar would stuff the piñatas with wads of cash, and at other family parties he would raffle off paintings and sculptures by famous artists.
According to Juan Pablo Escobar, the landing strip at his father’s country estate, Napoles, “looked like an airport” because on any given weekend a dozen airplanes were parked there. On one occasion, Juan Pablo’s chubby cousin Nicolas was craving a hamburger from a certain restaurant in Medellin, so Nicolas sent a helicopter to get it. One of Juan Pablo’s uncles would also routinely wake up at Napoles, fly to Bogota for breakfast, and then fly back to Napoles for lunch.
In total, Napoles had two helicopter landing pads, ten houses, three zoos, 1,700 employees, 27 artificial lakes, life-sized dinosaur statues, and its own gas station.
4. Smuggled Exotic Animals
In order to stock his zoos at Napoles, Pablo Escobar smuggled exotic animals into the country on his drug planes. Escobar’s pilot would land in the Medellin airport after the control tower had been turned off, keep the motors running while Escobar’s employees lowered the animals into vehicles, and then immediately take off. By the time the authorities arrived, all they could find were crates covered in feathers and hair.
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Later, when Escobar had been exposed as a drug dealer and the police started searching Napoles, they seized twelve of Escobar’s zebras. Unperturbed, Escobar had his men buy twelve donkeys, paint them black and white, and bribe the security guard at the building where the animals were being held to switch them out. He used the same ploy to reclaim his confiscated exotic birds, using chickens, geese, and ducks.
3. Family Betrayal
According to Juan Pablo Escobar, after his father’s death, his aunt Alba Marina stole the hidden money Pablo Escobar had left in his secret stashes. Juan Pablo wrote that his uncle Roberto also betrayed the family and made a deal with the DEA, which consisted of writing a book in which he falsely claimed that his brother had donated $1 million to former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori’s campaign and sustained a close relationship with his chief intelligence officer Vladimiro Montesinos.
2. The Broken Heart that Sparked a Cartel War
There have been several theories about what initially sparked the bloody conflict between Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel and the Cali Cartel. According to Juan Pablo, the war was started by Pablo Escobar’s friend Jorge “El Negro” Pabon, who returned to Colombia from a stint in a US prison only to find that his girlfriend had cheated on him with a man who worked for the Cali Cartel. Pablo Escobar agreed to call Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela — one of the Cali Cartel leaders — and ask him to send the man to Medellin so Pabon could get his revenge, but Rodriguez Orejuela refused. Escobar allegedly ended the conversation by saying “whoever is not with me is against me” and a few months later the Cali Cartel set off a car bomb in the building where Pablo Escobar’s wife and children were sleeping.
1. Pablo Escobar Killed Himself
There have also been numerous accounts of Pablo Escobar’s death and theories about who delivered the fatal shot that left Colombia’s notorious drug lord prostrate on a rooftop in Medellin.
According to Juan Pablo Escobar, the autopsy report mentions three bullet wounds: one in Pablo Escobar’s shoulder, one in his left leg, and one that entered on the right side of his head. Juan Pablo Escobar wrote that he’s certain his father delivered the fatal shot, because Pablo Escobar told his son on numerous occasions that if his enemies surrounded him he would shoot himself in the right ear to avoid being captured alive. In the famous photo of Pablo Escobar’s body on the roof, the drug lord’s Sig Sauer — the gun he always told his son he’d use to kill himself if the need arose — is lying next to Escobar, while his Glock pistol remains in its holster.