Pablo Escobar became one of the most feared men in the world during the 1980s and '90s. While running his deadly Medellín Cartel, he was responsible for smuggling almost all of the cocaine that entered the United States and amassed a huge personal fortune that included billions of dollars and all sorts of properties, including a zoo.
But exactly what happened to Pablo Escobar to end his reign of terror in Colombia? The drug lord was able to avoid arrest for many years through a variety of methods, including direct negotiations with the government to incarcerate himself. He also waged a powerful public relations campaign to appeal to the people in Colombia and sway their support. When he died, he was mourned by well over 20,000 Colombians.
On the other hand, he ruthlessly bribed and killed politicians, judges, police, and anyone else who got in his way. This eventually led the government in his home country to decide that he needed to be apprehended. After a long manhunt, a special forces team killed him during a climactic chase in 1993, but the drug trade didn't die with him. Just like the rest of his life, Pablo Escobar's death was mired in controversy and drama, and the truth is sometimes even stranger than fiction.
Pablo Escobar was killed during a frantic firefight with members of the Colombian police on December 2, 1993. They finally found the location in which he was hiding and surrounded the building. By the time they reached the room where he was supposedly living, the drug lord had already fled and was attempting to escape across rooftops with his bodyguard.
Escobar opened fire on the officers, prompting a gun battle between the two sides. He died following a fatal gunshot wound that went through his ear, but also suffered from a variety of other wounds.
The chaotic nature of the firefight that led to Escobar’s death means it has never been possible to definitively say who delivered the fatal shot. Without the means to positively determine who killed him, there has been speculation over the death.
Some believe the shot that killed him, entering through his right ear, may have been an execution-style killing from close range rather than from a firefight. In one retelling at least it was Escobar's brother, Robert, "who delivered the coup de grace, shooting Escobar in the head with an M-16."
Los Pepes was a group of civilian vigilantes who set out to kill Pablo Escobar and everyone close to him. Naming themselves Los Pepes as an acronym for People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar, the group had unofficial but sometimes close ties to the Colombian National Police, in particular the Search Bloc division dedicated to bringing Escobar to justice and shutting down his drug-running.
According to writer Mark Bowden, Los Pepes were "some extralegal muscle... who didn't mind crossing the lines of legality and morality that Pablo so blithely ignored." The group itself was most likely funded by a rival cartel, and it's estimated they did heavy damage on Escobar's properties as well as his associates.
Some believe the gunshot ultimately responsible for killing Escobar may have been self-inflicted. Realizing there was no way to escape from immediate capture or injury from the pursuing police officers, the theory postulates that Escobar would have chosen to commit suicide rather than face the humiliation of jail time. But Escobar's son Pablo asserted he had absolutely no doubt the elder Escobar killed himself.
He also claimed the pistol found near body of his father was further proof, as Pablo told him that it was the weapon he would use to end his life. "My father's not a person to be imitated," Juan Pablo said in an interview. "He showed us the path we must never take as a society because it's the path to self-destruction, the loss of values and a place where life ceases to have importance."