Pablo Escobar. He is widely hailed as the most infamous drug kingpin in history. He was a cunning man, a dangerous man. He started small, though you wouldn’t guess it based on where he ended up. He was born in Rionegro in 1949, on the first of December. He was one of seven siblings and he spent his early years in Medellin. He attended university but dropped out before attaining his degree. Eventually, he turned to more nefarious means to find success, and boy did that pan out for him.
His early days of crime saw him selling contraband cigarettes, and creating fake diplomas and fake lottery tickets to sell. He even dabbled in motor vehicle theft. It wasn’t until he was in his early 20s that he started working for smugglers. Being in league with smugglers didn’t mean all he was doing was smuggling contraband. During this time he would kidnap people and hold them for ransom.
In 1975 he branched off and started smuggling cocaine by himself. It was around this time that Pablo Escobar established some of the first US smuggling routes. He was on the cutting edge and that put him in prime position. By 1980s the North American demand for cocaine was exploding. It’s estimated that 70 to 80 tons of the stuff were making it to the United States from Colombia, and that was on a monthly basis.
He’s famous for how he dealt with the law, it’s one of the reasons he survived as long as he did. His inventive approach to law enforcement was called Plata o plomo. It translates to “silver or lead.” It meant that the officer, the judge, the official, whoever it was that crossed him had two choices. They could accept a generous bribe and turn a blind eye, or they could be on the receiving end of his lead bullets. Hundreds of people died while Escobar had power, and many others made a good bit of extra coin, to let him continue on his merry way.
He went from piloting his own shipments of cocaine to buying a fleet of planes and helicopters, which wouldn’t be complete without his Learjet. It was rumored he had two submarines to help with transport, too. He bought an island off the coast of Florida to assist with his transatlantic cocaine shipments. This man had the resources, the will, and the following to do whatever needed to be done. We’ve compiled a list of 15 images of the legendary Pablo Escobar that’ll leave you with the chills as you think about this man’s terrifying yet impressive legacy.
15 The Man With The Power
This image shows Pablo Escobar behind a microphone. Not that he would need a tool to amplify his voice in order to be heard. Part of the chill comes from how mundane this looks. How plain. It could be any old family get together. It isn’t, though. Because the man behind that microphone had ordered the deaths of people. He had bribed the police and court officials. He was on his way to running the largest cocaine smuggling ring the world had ever seen. How many everyday people do you come across that look so ordinary, even friendly, but have a much more insidious current flowing through them? You’ll never know.
14 Where Fact Meets Fiction
This image shows a poster advertisement for a Colombian magazine that covers Pablo Escobar’s life. The magazine’s publisher chose to remain anonymous. Within the magazine that this poster advertises, there are blank pages where readers can collect and apply pictures of Pablo Escobar. The missing pictures were sold at other stores around the area. What’s interesting is that the pictures featured in the magazine are real-life photos of Escobar himself, and also photos of actors portraying him. The fake photos are from a 2012 Colombian series called El Patron del Mal. That juxtaposition of "real" and "fabricated" fits nicely with a legacy like Escobar’s. To get where he did, he had to do abhorrent things. But as with all legends, the devil is in the details. How many of the unverified rumors around Escobar are actually true?
This picture shows the impressive plaque denoting Pablo Emilio Escobar’s final resting place. You’ll notice he died on December 2nd, just one day after his 44th birthday. Forty-four may seem young, but it’s an old age for the kind of business he was caught up in. When your nickname is “King of Cocaine” you don’t get to live very long. For a number of years he seemed untouchable. He even sat as an alternate member of the Chamber of Representatives of Colombia through the Colombian Liberal Party in 1982. There are flowers on his monument, likely family or friends mourning the loss of the family patriarch. Did they know how far Escobar had gone?
12 A Man With A Beer
Here he is again, looking normal. In this picture, Pablo Escobar could be attending your neighborhood barbecue. He is completely unassuming. Granted, in this day and age your neighbor probably wouldn’t be sitting in his jeep with an open container in his hand. It was a different time back then, and Escobar was worrying about things far greater than an open container citation. The point is, he manages to blend in again. There is nothing particularly visually striking about Escobar. He’s just a moderately handsome man with an exceptional mustache drinking a beer. He drinks, he wears button downs, he tucks his shirt in, there’s no way to tell just by looking at him that he’s the “King of Cocaine.”
11 Off To The Races
In this image, it looks like Pablo Escobar is enjoying an event with the Ochoa brothers. Escobar and the Ochoa brothers formed the head of the Medellin Cartel. But is Escobar enjoying it? The expression on his face looks like he’s not so happy to be caught on camera. Maybe he doesn’t like the attention this cameraperson is paying him. He looks wary. He’s not quite suspicious, but he’s definitely wondering at the game this photographer is playing. Look how no one else in the photograph is even looking at the person taking the picture. Was it a harmless photo grab of the famous Escobar? Or was it an intel-driven photograph? Based on the look he’s giving to the camera, Pablo Escobar appears to be trying to decide that for himself. Everyone else was too wrapped up in the event to notice.
10 Smiling Prisoner
A photo of Escobar with a prison slate. Who smiles such a winsome smile when they’re having their photo taken in prison? Despite his arrest, he seems to be taking everything in good spirits. Could it be that he wasn’t concerned at all? We talked about his plata o plomo policy. In his earlier days, bribing an arresting officer here and there kept him free. Once he started relying on plomo, well there was no going back at that point. His smile in this photo doesn’t look like the smile of a man using lead to solve his problems. But what do we know? We’ve seen how unassuming Pablo Escobar can look. Why should an arrest that he can fix quickly dampen his spirits? One thing’s for sure, you don’t want to be on the wrong end of that smile.
9 Wanted Man
Here’s an image showing a wanted poster for Pablo Emilio Escobar. It looks like something out of an old Western film. The bureaus behind the wanted poster are offering 100 million pesos just for help and information regarding the capture of four of Escobar’s underlings. Look at Pablo Escobar’s bounty figure. 2.7 billion pesos for information leading to his capture. Those are insane amounts of money. The “King of Cocaine” shouldn’t have expected anything less. With values like that, it’s no wonder he had to go into hiding for periods of time. For a man to be that dangerous, and wanted enough to warrant millions of pesos in order to facilitate his capture, he has to be the worst of the worst.
8 His Island
What’s more intimidating than a drug kingpin? A drug kingpin who can fly. Pablo Escobar was no stranger to making drug smuggling flights into the US himself when he had to. That’s how he started out. It wasn’t long before he expanded, buying more planes and letting underlings fly the shipments in. He would sometimes smuggle drugs into the United States using old plane tires. He was always a thinker, never deterred for long. Alongside his planes, he added a number of helicopters. Always have options, right? The breadth of his operation is very astounding. Eventually he expanded his operation by acquiring most of an island. Of course the land he bought on that island included the airstrip. He didn’t just fly a plane. He bought a fleet and an airstrip on a mostly-private island.
The above photo is taken on one of the islands that Pablo owned, and also features one of his former drug smuggling planes. The area has since been turned into an amusement park.
7 A Quick Visit
The King of Cocaine took a picture outside the White House. In the picture he seems harmless enough. He looks like a loving father taking care of his son. The photograph was taken in 1981 by Escobar’s wife. It wasn't until the late 80s that Escobar achieved the height of his power, controlling 80% of the cocaine distribution and bringing in unfathomable amounts of money. The idea that this man was within a football throw of the United States capitol is a little bit insane. Power is a crazy thing, and this man grew to claim a lot of it. To have a calculating, dangerous man pose in front of the White House is an image many won’t forget.
6 No Smiles
Despite not smiling in the picture, this is a rare moment of tenderness from the Medellin cartel kingpin. This is a photo of the man himself, with his family. His daughter Manuela had recounted a time when the family was away in hiding. Since they were hiding in a house in the mountains, they didn’t have access to a lot of supplies. The house was surrounded by police in some capacity, so they were fairly trapped. Pablo Escobar’s daughter was cold. Instead of letting her feel the chill for a while, he burned two million dollars to give her some warmth. Two million to Pablo Escobar at the height of his power would have been nothing. Two million when he’s on the run and his options are limited is a little more significant. It’s not a case to support this man, but this is the one picture that might take your chills away, rather than give you more.
5 Man Behind Bars
As far as convincing photos go, this doesn’t rank very highly among them. It’s a picture of Escobar behind bars, yes, but it hardly shows a man finally taken into custody. There were many arrangements made, conditions that Escobar imposed surrounding his “Prison term.” One of them was that he was put in a prison of his own design. Another was that he picked the guards, which, of course, would be people that belonged to him. This photo might show an Escobar behind bars, but he was anything but. He was still able to control his business from within his special prison. His antics from the prison finally wore the patience of the government thin. When the government threatened to move him to another prison, Escobar simply walked out of the prison in which he was being held. He sealed his fate with that move. He became a fugitive, no more favorable treatment from authorities for him.
4 The Kill
A year or so after leaving that prison without anyone trying to stop him, Escobar was shot and killed. He was shot on a roof. This image shows the squad responsible for his death, and boy do they look happy about it. Escobar, never particularly striking in his photographs, looks particularly worse for wear, here. It could be the stress of being on the run, or it could be because he was just shot and killed on a rooftop. In either case, to see such elation over a dead man is bizarre. Especially since these men likely had no personal stake in Escobar’s death. The US supplied Colombia with some elite troops to help with the kill.
3 The Hunt
This picture shows authorities rushing the rooftop where Escobar has been chased and shot for the final time. It had no doubt been a long and tireless hunt, searching for this man who had accumulated so much power over the course of his lifetime. Who knows why Escobar chose a roof as his final place to go. Maybe it wasn’t by design that he died on the roof, maybe he was using the age-old art of roof scaling to stay undetected to those down below. If that was the case, he really blew it, because they saw him and they shot him. The rush looks fairly frantic. Maybe, unlike the prior picture, the kill had yet to be confirmed.
2 How Far He’s Fallen
This image shows the King of Cocaine lying with his pants down and his face bloodied in an examination room. The gang's all there. What is it like to be the man that examined Pablo Escobar post-mortem? Probably less terrifying than being the doctor who had to face Pablo Escobar while the man was still alive. He doesn’t look very significant here. Aside from all the people in the room, there’s nothing to separate this man from some non-cocaine dealing person who had an accident. And in some ways that’s the most chilling part about Escobar. How can you seem so ordinary on the outside and be so lethal and cunning on the inside?
1 A Bloodless Face
Pablo Escobar is shown in this image at the end of his days. The blood has been cleaned from his face, but the sneakers of someone in attendance when the picture was taken had not been removed from the image. It’s a far cry from the smiling, younger Escobar we saw in his Medellin jail photo earlier in this list. The flier isn’t printed in English, but you can still make out some words: terrorism, narcotics, homicides, the list goes on. A bad man was put to rest nearly 23 years ago. But as with the heads of the Hydra, whenever one falls, two shall rise to take its place.