Escobar was a brilliant criminal, and he knew that he would be safer if the common people of Medellín loved him. Therefore, he spent millions on parks, schools, stadiums, churches and even housing for the poorest of Medellín’s inhabitants. His strategy worked: Escobar was beloved by the common people, who saw him as a local boy who had done well and was giving back to his community.
In 1976, he married 15 year old Maria Victoria Henao Vellejo, and they would later have two children, Juan Pablo and Manuela. Escobar was famous for his extramarital affairs, and he tended to prefer underage girls. One of his girlfriends, Virginia Vallejo, went on to become a famous Colombian Television personality. In spite of his affairs, he remained married to María Victoria until his death.
Escobar’s first serious run-in with the law was in 1976, when he and some associates were caught returning from a drug run to Ecuador. Escobar ordered the killing of the arresting officers, and the case was soon dropped. Later, at the height of his power, Escobar’s wealth and ruthlessness made it almost impossible for Colombian authorities to bring him to justice. Every time any attempt was made to limit his power, those responsible were bribed, killed, or otherwise neutralized. Pressure was mounting, however, from the United States government, which wanted Escobar extradited to face drug charges. Escobar had to use all of his power and terror to prevent extradition.
La Catedral Prison
In 1991, due to increasing pressure to extradite Escobar, the Colombian government and Escobar’s lawyers came up with an interesting arrangement: Escobar would turn himself in and serve a five-year jail term. In return, he would build his own prison and would not be extradited to the United States or anywhere else. The prison, La Catedral, was an elegant fortress which featured a Jacuzzi, a waterfall, a full bar and a soccer field. In addition, Escobar had negotiated the right to select his own “guards.” He ran his empire from inside La Catedral, giving orders by telephone. There were no other prisoners in La Catedral. Today, La Catedral is in ruins, hacked to pieces by treasure hunters looking for hidden Escobar loot.
On The Run
Everyone knew that Escobar was still running his operation from La Catedral, but in July of 1992, it came out that Escobar had ordered some disloyal underlings brought to his “prison,” where they were tortured and killed. This was too much for even the Colombian government, and plans were made to transfer Escobar to a normal prison. Fearing he could be extradited, Escobar escaped and went into hiding. A massive manhunt was organized, with help from the United States Government. By late 1992, there were two organizations searching for him: the Search Bloc, a special, US-trained Colombian task force, and “Los Pepes,” a shadowy organization of Escobar’s enemies, made up of family members of his victims and financed by Escobar’s main business rival, the Cali Cartel.
End of the Line
On December 2, 1993, Colombian security forces using US technology located Escobar hiding in a home in a middle-class section of Medellín. The Search Bloc moved in, triangulating his position, and attempted to bring him into custody. Escobar fought back, however, and there was a shootout. Escobar was eventually gunned down as he attempted to escape on the rooftop. He had been shot in the torso and leg, but the fatal wound had come through his ear, leading many to believe that he committed suicide, and many others to believe that one of the Colombian policemen had executed him.
With Escobar gone, the Medellín Cartel quickly lost power to its ruthless rival, the Cali Cartel, which remained dominant until the Colombian government shut it down in the mid 1990’s. Escobar is still remembered by the poor of Medellín as a benefactor. He has been the subject of numerous books, movies and websites, and fascination continues with this master criminal, who once ruled one of the greatest crime empires in history.