Netflix’s Narcos, which chronicles the rise of infamous drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, has proven to be irresistibly addicting to viewers around the world. Though the violent death of the “King of Cocaine” was far from glamorous, it’s hard to resist a morbid fascination with the insane wealth he managed to acquire in his lifetime. Make no mistake, the Columbian kingpin’s fortune came as a result of his ruthless business tactics which cost of thousands of people their lives. Regardless, he ultimately managed to become one of the world’s richest and most powerful men before his untimely demise.
Forbes richest fugitive
Despite his humble birth as the son of a poor farmer, Escobar would go on to work his way to the top of the Medellín cartel. Just to put what that means into perspective, at the height of Escobar’s leadership, these guys were responsible for about 80% of the cocaine trafficked around the world. During the mid-1980s, their business was pulling in an average of $420 million per week and by 1989, Forbes listed Escobar as the 7th richest man in the world.
According to a book written by Roberto Escobar, Pablo’s brother and the cartel’s accountant, the kingpin literally had more money than he knew what to do with. Due to the fact that they weren’t always able to launder the cash fast enough, it was often stashed away in walls, warehouses, or wherever else they could think of to hide it. Consequently, Escobar reveals that “Pablo was earning so much that each year we would write off 10% of the money because the rats would eat it in storage or it would be damaged by water or lost.” But as the book goes on to explain, a loss of a couple million here and there wasn’t that big of a deal to a guy who routinely spent $2,500 a month on rubber bands to hold his stacks of money together (yes, really).
So what does a guy who’s literally got cash to burn do with all that wealth? Well, on at least one occasion he did just that. During an interview with Don Juan magazine, Escobar’s son, Sebastian Marroquin, revealed that his father once started a fire with $2 million dollars. See, Pablo was a lot of things, but a dedicated family man seemed to be one of them. He and his wife, Maria Victoria Henao, had both Sebastian and a daughter named Manuela. Apparently, at one point when they were on the run, Manuela was so cold that she became hypothermic. So Pablo did what any good dad would do and started a blazing fire with a couple of million dollars worth of bills.
Haciendas and hippos
Before the law started to catch up to him, life was admittedly a lot more fun for Pablo and the family. Among Pablo’s mansions was Hacienda Nápoles, a sprawling estate in Puerto Triunfo. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Escobar spared no expense when it came to constructing his own little piece of heaven. The mansion featured its own airport, sculpture garden, and even a private zoo complete with elephants, giraffes, and hippos. The hippos went on to outlive their owner and still roam the grounds of the estate to this day.
If hippos and ostriches weren’t his guests’ cup of tea, then Pablo would simply steer him towards the part of the mansion that stashed his own private collection of classic cars and bikes. If they were feeling feisty, they could even take a few laps around his go-kart track or watch a little bullfighting in the estate’s private arena.
Well, the fun could only go on for so long before the law was forced to do something about Pablo’s blatantly illegal antics. Fortunately for him, he had so much money that he could even serve time in style. When the government insisted that he’d have to pay for his many crimes, he decided to make them an offer they couldn’t refuse. Sure, he agreed, he would do a little prison time… as long as they’d have the courtesy to allow him the choice of where exactly to serve it. The Columbian government agreed and in 1991, Escobar began serving out his “sentence” within the walls of what was known as ‘La Catedral.’
A prisoner’s paradise
La Catedral, which means “the Cathedral,” was about as much a prison as Disneyland is a detention hall. Under the terms of his agreement, Escobar was allowed to design and build his own private prison as well as select who worked there. The joke was that the “prison” was the spa resort of most people’s dreams. It featured its own casino, nightclub, soccer fields, and even a compound for his family. Oh, and did we mention that the authorities weren’t allowed within 3 miles of it? Handy.
To the surprise of no one, Escobar kept running his business during his “prison” days. He was even allowed to receive visitors, but kind of screwed things up for himself when he murdered one of them. The murdered guest happened to be a member of a rival cartel and things pretty much went downhill from there. Fearing things would get a little tricky as a result of the bloodshed, Escobar managed a daring escape from his prison by simply walking out its front door. From that point, he pretty much spent the rest of his life on the run until he met his end during a shootout in 1993.