Maria Victoria Henao (left) and Pablo Escobar (right). (Photo by Getty Images).
Maria Victoria Henao, the wife of the late drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, once lived a life of luxury and excess. Now she lives a life on the run.
Born in 1961 and married young, Henao was already a widow by the age of 32. Her marriage to Escobar lasted 17 years, despite his criminal activities, and was by all accounts a happy one. To the world, he was a cold-hearted killer, but to his family, he was just a loving husband and father. His loss left a gaping hole in their lives–and also exposed them to grave danger.
This is the story of Maria, her marriage to history’s most notorious drug dealer, and how she’s fared since his death.
Maria Victoria Henao Early Life
Not a lot is known about intensely-private Maria’s early life. What we can say for sure is that she was born to Carlos Henao Vallejo and his wife Leonor Zuleta in Palmira Valle Del Cauca, Colombia, in 1961. She grew up beside her brother, Carlos Mario Henao Vallejo, and sister, Pastora Henao Bayen, and is said to have enjoyed dancing (something she still does in her spare time today).
In 1974, at only 13 years old, Maria met Pablo Escobar through her brother Carlos, who worked with him. Soon, they fell in love and decided to get married.
Marriage to Pablo Escobar
At just 15 years old, Maria married the man she describes as her “soulmate.” In her new book, My Life and Prison with Pablo Escobar, Maria describes how Escobar wooed her with gifts and romantic ballads: “He made me feel like a fairy princess and I was convinced he was my Prince Charming,” she says.
Their relationship wasn’t all sunshine and roses, though. Due to Carlos’ involvement with Escobar, Maria’s family was well aware of his criminal activities and vehemently opposed the union. As a result, the couple was forced to elope, and only a year later, at 16 years old, Maria gave birth to their first child, Juan Pablo Escobar, without the support of her parents and siblings. Their daughter, Manuela Escobar, was born seven years later.
Was Maria Aware of Her Husband’s Drug Business?
It can be assumed that due to her brother’s business relationship with Pablo, Maria was aware of his drug activities before they ever even got married. Still, in her book, Maria claims that she was kept in the dark as her husband ratcheted up cocaine production.
Whether she chose to turn a blind eye or she honestly believed in her husband’s innocence is unclear–but it appears that up until his arrest in 1977, Maria believed Pablo was in the real estate business. After he was busted for trying to smuggle cocaine into Ecuador, he feigned naivety, saying that it was his friend who had been responsible for the smuggling. He had been framed.
Despite her innocence, Maria recognized that her husband was not the man she thought he was. Recalling the day she found out Pablo had arranged for the assassination of Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, she says, “I knew that day we were in a huge mess. My life, the life of my children is going to be difficult.”
Still, she loved her husband and believed it was her duty to be a good wife and mother. She had no choice but to ride it out.
Pablo Escobar: Loving Dad and Husband?
On the one hand, Escobar was a loving family man. He adored his wife and doted on his children (especially his daughter, who was, by all accounts, a “daddy’s girl”). “[He] was affectionate and sweet,” Maria recalled in her later years. “A great lover. I fell in love with his desire to help people and his compassion for their hardship. We [would] drive to places where he dreamed of building schools for the poor. From [the] beginning, he was always a gentleman.”
On the other hand, the drug kingpin was a notorious cheater. The fact that Pablo spent so much time away from his family on drug business made it easy to cheat, and it’s said that Escobar had dozens of extra-marital affairs with women he met in various places–most notably, journalist Virginia Vallejo. Involved for over five years, Vallejo alleges seeing Escobar “some 220 times, around 80 of them surrounded by an army of friends, followers, employees or bodyguards.”
Was his wife aware of these, and other, dalliances? Of course. His affairs are said to have been common knowledge. In addition, she and her family were under constant surveillance from the media and threatened by both Escobar’s enemies and government agencies.
So, why did she stay?
In her book, Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar, Vallejo suggests that Maria was addicted to the lavish lifestyle that she had with Pablo. Perhaps, Maria also knew that it would be almost impossible for her to take care of herself and her children without the support of her husband. Or, maybe, she just loved him so much that she was willing to overlook it all.
The Death of Her Husband & Life on the Run
On December 2, 1993, Pablo was murdered by a group of U.S.-backed Colombian officers on a rooftop in Medellín. It is said that in an error in judgment, Escobar made a phone call to his wife that police were able to trace and use to locate him. His son, Juan, disputes this theory, saying that he believes his father took his own life.
In the years immediately following Pablo’s death, life got complicated for Maria and her children. Under constant fear of retaliation from her husband’s former associates, Maria wanted to flee Colombia. Unfortunately, the police had raided their house and seized all of the family’s assets, leaving them broke. With little money, and no countries eager to take them in, it was difficult to gain sanctuary. Eventually, after months of effort, she was able to secure entry into Mozambican for all three in 1994.
Though she longed for a stable home, Pablo’s reputation followed the family everywhere they went. Maria was forced to constantly flee from place to place to keep her family safe, often changing her name in the process. Her children, too, changed their names: Juan became Sebastian Marroquin and Manuela became Juana Manuela Marroquin Santos.
Maria’s Life After Pablo’s Death
After changing her name to Maria Isabel Santos Caballero, Escobar’s widow was finally able to create a home in Argentina. Once there, she and her family maintained a very low profile–despite their cautions, however, Maria and her son were arrested in 1999 after their whereabouts were revealed by a television show.
The charges brought against them were theft and money laundering. “I am a prisoner in Argentina for being Colombian. They want to try the ghost of Pablo Escobar because they want to prove that Argentina is combatting drug trafficking,” Maria said.
After 15 months, they were both released due to insufficient evidence. Since then, Maria has resumed her quiet life out of the spotlight. Her son works as an architect and lecturer and authored a popular book titled Pablo Escobar: My Father. Her daughter has never mentioned her father in public and has cut all ties with the family.
Pablo Escobar lived on the edge and has secured his place in organized crime history with the likes of Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. But it came at a price, both for him and his loved ones.