As Pablo Escobar's wife, Maria Victoria Henao lived in constant fear of the drug kingpin's world of violence. And yet she stayed with him until his brutal death in 1993.
According to Maria Victoria Henao, she met the “love of her life” when she was just 12 years old. She described the 23-year-old man as “affectionate,” “sweet,” and “a gentleman” — not the first words most people would use to describe the infamous cocaine kingpin in history, Pablo Escobar.
Still, just a few years later, the young Henao married the much older Escobar in 1976. Despite their age difference and her family’s disapproval, she was determined to be with her “Prince Charming.”
“He was a great lover,” Henao once said. “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.”
Ultimately, Henao stayed with Escobar until his brutal death in 1993. But their story was a complicated one, especially since she wasn’t exactly interested in being his partner in crime. Near the end, Henao had grown to hate just about everything in her husband’s world — the drug trafficking, the violence, and especially his multiple affairs with countless women.
To this day, Maria Victoria Henao maintains that she truly loved Pablo Escobar. But he also inflicted enormous pain on her — and their entire country of Colombia — during their 17-year marriage.
How Maria Henao Became Pablo Escobar’s Wife
Born in Palmira, Colombia in 1961, Maria Victoria Henao met her future husband Pablo Escobar at a very young age. Her parents disapproved of the couple’s relationship from the beginning. They distrusted Escobar, the son of a watchman, who zoomed around their neighborhood on his Vespa.
But Henao was convinced she had fallen in love. “I met Pablo when I was just 12 years old and he was 23,” she wrote in her memoir, Mrs. Escobar: My Life with Pablo. “He was the first and only love of my life.”
According to Henao, her future husband worked hard to seduce her. He gave her gifts, like a yellow bicycle, and serenaded her with romantic ballads.
“He made me feel like a fairy princess and I was convinced he was my Prince Charming,” she wrote.
But their early courtship was far from a fairytale. Henao later recounted that her much older boyfriend left her “paralyzed with fear” when he kissed her.
“I was not prepared,” she later said. “I did not have the proper tools to understand what that intimate and intense contact meant.” And when their relationship turned sexual, Henao became pregnant at 14 years old.
She was too young and inexperienced to realize what was happening to her. But Escobar completely understood — and quickly took his future wife to a back-alley abortion clinic. There, a woman lied about the procedure and said that it was something that would help prevent future pregnancies.
“I was in intense pain, but I couldn’t say anything to anyone,” Henao recounted. “I would just pray to God that it would be over soon.”
Despite the trauma of the forced abortion, Maria Victoia Henao agreed to marry Pablo Escobar just a year later in 1976.
“It was a night of unforgettable love that remains tattooed on my skin as one of the happiest moments of my life,” she said of their wedding night. “I wanted time to stand still, for the intimacy we were enjoying to last forever.”
She was 15. Her husband was 26.
What It Was Really Like Being Married To The “King Of Cocaine”
By the time Maria Victoria Henao married Pablo Escobar, her husband had moved on from the petty crimes of his youth. He was in the early stages of building his drug empire. About a decade later, he was responsible for 80 percent of all cocaine sent to the United States as the kingpin of the Medellín Cartel.
Meanwhile, Henao stood silently by his side. “I grew up being molded by Pablo to be his wife and the mother of his children, not to ask questions or challenge his choices, to look the other way,” she later wrote.
For the first few years of their marriage, Henao claims that her husband didn’t tell her what he did for a living. But of course, she soon realized that he was away for long periods of time on “business” and that he was quickly raking in a suspiciously large sum of money.
Initially, Maria Victoria Henao tried to look the other way and simply enjoy her husband’s newfound wealth. In public, Pablo Escobar’s wife luxuriated in the high life, enjoying private jets, fashion shows, and world-famous artwork.
But in private, she was pained by her husband’s involvement in a brutal world of crime. And she was especially tortured by his affairs.
As their family grew — Henao eventually gave birth to two children — Escobar slept with countless other women. At one point during his marriage to Henao, he even built his own “bachelor pad” at their house so he could meet his mistresses right under his wife’s nose.
“The gossip about his affairs was constant and, I must admit, deeply painful for me,” she said. “I remember I used to cry all night, waiting for dawn to come.”
But of course, Escobar’s crimes stretched far beyond infidelity. As his wealth and power grew, his cartel assassinated Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara in 1984, killed a presidential candidate, and blew up a commercial airline.
By that point, Henao could no longer ignore her husband’s violent line of “work” — especially as life for the family became more regimented. Near the end, when Henao and her children wanted to visit Escobar, they were blindfolded and brought to safehouses by cartel members. Meanwhile, Henao lived in fear of being killed by one of her husband’s enemies.
By 1993, it soon became clear that Escobar’s days were numbered. Escobar eventually told Maria Victoria Henao that he wanted her and the children to move to a safehouse under government protection.
“I cried and cried,” she recalled. “This was the most difficult thing I’d ever had to do, leaving the love of my life right when the world was coming down on him.”
In December of that year, Pablo Escobar was killed on a rooftop in Medellín after being gunned down by Colombian police.
The Aftermath Of Pablo Escobar’s Death
While the world celebrated the death of Pablo Escobar, the drug lord’s family — his wife, son, and daughter — quietly and fearfully mourned. As Colombian police stormed Medellín and rounded up what remained of Escobar’s cartel, Maria Victoria Henao and her two children packed up their lives and fled.
After Germany and Mozambique denied them asylum, the family eventually settled in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The trio then changed their names. Maria Victoria Henao often went by “Victoria Henao Vallejos” or “Maria Isabel Santos Caballero.” (Today, she often goes by “Victoria Eugenia Henao.”)
But life in Argentina presented new challenges for Pablo Escobar’s widow. In 1999, Maria Victoria Henao and her son Juan Pablo were both arrested on suspicion of money laundering and imprisoned for several months. Upon her release, Henao told the press that she’d been arrested because of who she was, not because of what she’d allegedly done.
“I am a prisoner in Argentina for being Colombian,” she said. “They want to try the ghost of Pablo Escobar because they want to prove that Argentina is combatting drug trafficking.”
After her release, Maria Victoria Henao mostly stayed out of the spotlight for nearly two decades. However, in recent years, she has broken her silence about her life with Escobar. Her book, Mrs. Escobar: My Life with Pablo, sheds light on both her infamous husband and her own enigmatic character.
To Henao, her love for Pablo Escobar remains difficult to reconcile with the terrible things he did. She says that she feels “immense sadness and shame for the enormous pain my husband caused” — not only for their family 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.
“I ask for forgiveness for what I did in my youth,” she said, adding that she was not a member of the cartel. “I wasn’t having such a good life.”