The world saw Pablo Escobar as a cold-hearted killer. He was labelled a terrorist, a cocaine trafficker, and a man who dealt in death. To his family, however, Pablo was just a loving husband and father.
No one can agree with this statement more than Maria Victoria Henao. Maria was Pablo Escobar's wife until 1993, when the Colombian narco-terrorist was killed by Colombian law enforcement on the rooftop of a Medellín neighborhood.
This is the story of Maria, the woman who stuck by Pablo's side and loved him endlessly even when the Colombian government put a bounty on his head and sought to kill him.
1. Her Father Was Against Her Marrying Pablo Escobar
When she was 13 years old, Maria met Pablo Escobar through her brother Carlos, who allegedly worked for Pablo's Medellin cartel.
At the time, the drug lord was gaining notoriety and Carlos was hoping that Pablo would be the ticket to his breakthrough.
When Maria and Pablo first met, he won her heart with his charm and generosity. In her book, My Life and Prison with Pablo Escobar, she describes her husband as a romantic person who showered her with attention, gifts and music, the best in Colombia. He sang romantic ballads to woo her.
Maria felt like a fairy tale princess and was convinced that marrying Pablo (who was 26 at the time) was the right thing to do. Her father did not agree with the marriage, because he knew Escobar's machinations in the drug business and thought that Maria would get sucked down with him.
Maria did not care, she loved her husband and bet everything on him. A year later at the age of 16, she gave birth to their first child, Juan Pablo Escobar. Unfortunately, by this time Pablo was showing a different side of himself.
With a small child, Maria had to quickly come in terms with putting up with Pablo's dissolute behavior and heavy drug use.
2. Did Maria Know That Her Husband Was a Drug Dealer?
Maria vehemently insists that she was kept in the dark about her husband's illegal activities.
Despite the controversy surrounding Maria's apparent ignorance of Pablo's drug dealings, she has produced multiple written and recorded statements to support her claim.
In her book, Maria claims that she remained in the dark for many years on the dealings of her husband even as Pablo expanded his cocaine empire.
Stories goes that, she first learned of the drug business when Pablo was taken into custody. When she entered their bedroom after the cops had arrested him, there was a large suitcase on the bed.
Her husband had turned it on its side; it was spilling over with cash and cocaine, three large bags full of white powder.
Maria did not touch the suitcase and did not know what to do or where to turn. She called a cab and went to a quiet hotel where she could think on her next step.
So was Maria honest about her claim or was she trying to evade prison? Some say that she was a gullible girl who didn’t know that her ‘prince charming’ was a criminal.
Others argued that she knew what she was getting into and that years later when she was older, she was already addicted to the lavish lifestyle and could not simply leave. Which is which, only Maria truly knows.
But one thing is certain, a time came when Henao could no longer ignore her husband’s violent line of “work”.. Near the end, when Henao and her children wanted to visit Escobar, they were blindfolded and brought to safehouses by cartel members. Through this perilous period leading to Pablo's death, Henao lived in constant fear of being killed by one of her husband’s enemies.
3. Even Decades After Pablo's death, Trouble Seems to Still Haunt Her
María Isabel Santos Caballero
After Pablo's death, Maria Escobar and her family went into hiding. She changed her name to María Isabel Santos Caballero. For a time, no one knew where they were.
As the years passed and the rest of Colombia went on with their lives, Maria began to feel that it was safe to return to her homeland. Then, one night in 1999, the police learned through an anonymous tip where she was living in Argentina.
They were taken into custody and charged with theft and money laundering. After a 15-month investigation, it was later concluded that there was insufficient evidence to back up any such claim.
Maria later confessed that the prisons in Colombia were worse than those in any other country she had ever visited.
She spent 4 years in prison before finally being released in 2005 after which she made a home for herself and her family in Buenos Aires.
In 2018, Maria and her son were arrested again. Along with former Colombian soccer player Mauricio Serna, the three were accused of acting as intermediaries in Argentina for Colombian drug trafficker José Piedrahita to launder money through real estate and a cafe known for its tango performances.
4. Her Two Children Chose Different Paths
Pablo's son Sebastian marketing his book
Juan Pablo Escobar Henao, who changed his name to Sebastián Marroquín, is a professional architect.
Despite the stigma accompanying his father’s life as a criminal, he has made a name for himself as an architect and has spoken out against his father’s lifestyle.
He has met with many of his father’s victims and is featured in a documentary about the drug lord. Here is a trailer of the documentary.
Additionally, he wrote the book “Pablo Escobar: My Father (2014)” under his birth name. Marroquín has two children, Juan Emilio Escobar and Santiago Montoya.
Unlike her brother, Manuela Escobar did not change her birth name. When a money laundering case exposed their real identity in 1999, she stopped going to school and her mother had to homeschool her for several years.
There isn’t much information about Manuela Escobar as she has decided to stay away from the spotlight.
5. Her Book Lays Bare All The Hardship That Befell Her For Being Pablo's Wife
After her release in 2005, Henao largely stayed out of the spotlight. However, in 2018, 25 years after Pablo's death, she broke her silence about her life with Escobar.
Her book Mrs. Escobar: My Life with Pablo sheds light on both her infamous husband and her relationship with him.
"There are many opinions surrounding my life by people who know nothing about me.
I thought it was my duty towards my children that they learned my side of the story; I also want my six-year-old grandson to know what really happened through me."
Some of Escobar's victims wondered why Henao stayed with him.
Henao revealed that she endured affairs, loneliness, humiliations, insults, lies and kidnapping attempts on her children, but she loved him more.
She was raised in a male chauvinist culture where women followed their husbands without question. She was also afraid that Escobar would hurt her if she left him.
For Henao, it remains difficult to reconcile her love for Pablo Escobar with the terrible things he did.
She says she feels "immense sadness and shame for the enormous pain my husband caused" - not just for his victims families, but for the entire country of Colombia.
In a 2018 interview with Colombia's W Radio, Henao publicly apologized for her late husband's reign of terror.
You might also enjoy reading: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Pablo Escobar