STANDING at the altar of a small Colombian church, 15-year-old Victoria Eugenia Henao shook with nerves as she whispered her wedding vows in a secret ceremony.
The young bride, clad in green polyester trousers and an orange jumper, was marrying Pablo Escobar – a man 11 years her senior who would soon become the country's most powerful drug lord.
Pablo – once a flash young man from a poor family – rose to notoriety as the ruthless head of Colombia's Medellin drug cartel, amassing an estimated fortune of £2.5billion.
He is thought to be responsible for some 4,000 deaths, including police officers and government officials – with his life and crimes dramatised in the Netflix hit series Narcos.
And living alongside him was his long-suffering partner, Victoria.
Affairs, murder & drugs
During their 17-year marriage, she endured numerous affairs, the murder of one of his mistresses, and the constant fear they'd be killed by one of his many enemies.
Now, for the first time, Victoria – who met the cocaine king when she was just 12 – has spoken out about what life was really like being married to one of the world's most brutal crime lords.
In her book, Mrs Escobar: My Life With Pablo, released last August, Victoria reveals Pablo forced her to have an abortion at 14, and that she went into labour with her first child while at school.
She also describes how her love hid cameras in their house so he could secretly film women in the bathroom.
'I was 14 and wasn't ready for sex'
When Victoria first laid eyes on her future husband, she was growing up in a well-respected middle class family in Colombia's Envigado district, near Medellin.
Pablo was a 23-year-old who showed off on his Vespa scooter and showered her with gifts – including a bright yellow bicycle.
He serenaded her with ballads, making her feel like a “fairy princess” and that he was her “Prince Charming.”
When she was 14 – the legal age of consent in Colombia – the couple had sex for the first time.
“I wasn’t ready,” she writes. “I didn’t yet feel sexual desire. I lacked the tools to understand what that intense, intimate contact meant.”
Three weeks later, Victoria began to feel “strange” and Pablo, suspecting she was pregnant, took her to a house in a poverty stricken suburb of Medellin where a woman told her to lie down. She then inserted several tubes into her uterus, telling Victoria to remove them when she started bleeding.
For the next few days she lay in bed, crippled with stomach pains and bleeding profusely in what she now believes was an abortion.
Unforgettable wedding night
Despite the early abuse, Victoria was so infatuated with Pablo she was prepared to defy her parents, run away and walk down the aisle with the “love of my life”.
On March 29, 1976, the couple were secretly wed in Santisima Trinidad church in Palmira in front of Victoria’s grandmother and aunt, with Pablo dressed in jeans and a light blue shirt.
That evening, Pablo carried her across a flower-filled patio to a room she called “the nook” to consummate the marriage.
“It was a night of unforgettable love that remains tattooed on my skin as one of the happiest moments of my life,” she says. “I wanted time to stand still, for the intimacy we were enjoying to last for ever.”
Went into labour at school
Victoria settled into a life of domesticity, continuing her studies at school in between cooking, cleaning and doing the laundry in the couple’s modest Medellin apartment.
Within weeks of the marriage, she was pregnant again.
She noticed signs that she was going into labour one morning but struggled into school because she had an English test and "didn’t want to get a bad mark".
After the test, she felt her waters break and walked two blocks to her parents’ home, making it to the hospital just half an hour before their son Juan Pablo was delivered.
The couple would go on to have a daughter, Manuela, seven years later.
'I cried while he spent time with mistresses'
Pablo had been smuggling contraband such as perfume for several years but switched to cocaine in the late 70s.
In the next decade, he built up his powerful cartel in Medellin, amassing a huge fortune and smuggling 15 tons of the drug a day.
Almost as soon as they tied the knot, Pablo started to spend long periods away from home on "business" – although Victoria claims she had no idea what his work entailed.
"In those first years, I never thought that his activities were particularly dangerous or wrong," she says. "They simply weren’t a topic of conversation. In my world people didn’t talk about drugs, definitely not cocaine, and much less the Medellín Cartel."
But his young bride was painfully aware of affairs with a string of mistresses.
“The gossip about his affairs was constant and, I must admit, deeply painful for me,” says Victoria. “I remember I used to cry all night, waiting for dawn to come.”
Victoria opted to turn a blind eye.“I decided not to follow him, track his phone calls, or check his shirts for lipstick,” she says. “He who seeks shall find – and I preferred not to find anything.”
Flat for his mistresses behind the stables
As the drug money poured in, Pablo moved his family to the luxurious Hacienda Napoles, a beautiful 7.7 square mile estate in the Antioquia region.
As well as a huge house and stables, Pablo built a racing track, bull ring and a fully stocked zoo – complete with elephants, giraffes, hippopotamuses and ostriches – which he opened up to the local children for free.
There, Victoria says, he lived a double life – splitting his time between his family and friends and his mistresses.
“To meet with his lovers, Pablo had the nerve to build an apartment camouflaged behind the stables, very close to the main house,” she reveals.
“He also built several cabins in more remote areas, which they used to escape to, even when we were there.”
Bedding lovers under his wife's nose
On one occasion an associate flew into the Hacienda with a plane full of a dozen "gorgeous women" – not expecting Victoria to be home.
Pablo swore they were not there for him but "so the boys could have a little fun".
But his behaviour was often even more shameless. At one dinner with friends at a farm in the Colombian countryside, a power failure left the party in darkness and, as Victoria carried on chatting by candlelight, Pablo disappeared.
She later discovered that Pablo had asked the host to cut the power – so that he could bed a lover who was waiting in one of the bedrooms.
She hated drug-taking
Pablo loved to party and, on the rare occasion Victoria accompanied him, she found it an unsettling experience – and she was frequently confronted with one or other of his lovers.
Despite being married to the 'King of Cocaine', she also abhorred drug-taking and fled one gathering after finding "numerous women of all ages snorting cocaine off the counter" in the bathroom.
To facilitate his womanising away from the home, Pablo bought a penthouse apartment in Medellin, complete with an ice rink and bowling alley.
Secret cameras for perving on women
He installed hidden cameras in all the bedrooms and bathrooms, to spy on female guests in their private moments, and a secret room where he could see everything that happened in the apartment.
When he and his driver, Jeronimo, were alone in the apartment they would shut themselves in and watch the footage back together.
Almost every night, throughout the first decade of the marriage, Victoria would be left to tuck the children into bed while Pablo headed out to the city's nightclubs where he lavished beautiful women with champagne and cocktails before inviting them back to party until the early hours.
He hired bands to provide music while his bar tender, Eduardo, mixed his favourite Alexander cocktails – a concoction of gin, sweet cream and crème de cacao.
Pablo, who never went to bed before dawn, was obsessed with sleeping in his own bed and by 5am he would head off to join his long-suffering wife in the marital home.
Hookers on holiday
Even on family holidays, the womanising continued.
On one occasion Pablo flew the whole family – including his mother, cousins and siblings – to Rio de Janeiro for a break.
But at night, the women were left to mind the children while the men partied with strippers and prostitutes in the Brazilian city’s numerous bars.
While many of Pablo’s women were one night stands, some lasted longer and often overlapped.
Journalist and broadcaster Virginia Vallejo had a romantic relationship with Pablo in the early eighties, but she was not alone.
At the same time he was having affairs with three Colombian beauty queens, a volleyball player from Caldas and Wendy Chavarriaga Gil.
Mistress murdered by new lover on Pablo's demand
Pablo met Wendy – “a dark-haired 28-year-old, 6ft tall with green eyes and a gorgeous body” – in 1981 and their affair lasted several years,
"The thing that hurt me most was knowing that my husband seemed to have fallen for her hard," says Victoria.
On this occasion, Victoria threatened to leave but Pablo talked her round.
"Despite his constant affairs, he managed to remain as romantic as ever," she says. "The thoughtful husband who brought me yellow flowers every time he cheated, the passionate man I used to see when we were alone."
The affair with Wendy finally ended when she fell pregnant and he forced her to to have an abortion.
Wendy went on to have a fling with Escobar’s hitman John ‘Popeye’ Valesquez – but she was also an informer.
One night, as she lay on bed with her new lover, the phone rang and a recording of her evidence to the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) was played.
At the end of the call, Escobar told his henchman: “You or her, love or death.” Valesquez walked back to the bed and shot Wendy twice in the head, killing her instantly.
Wendy Chavarriaga Gil was killed after informing on former lover Escobar
Drug wars and a luxury prison
At the height of its power, the Medellín Cartel brought in more than £55 million a day – £21 billion a year.
While she remained ignorant of the source of the wealth in the early part of her marriage, claiming she was never told about the drugs, Victoria enjoyed the high life it brought, flying around the world to fashion shows on private jets and collecting artworks by Salvador Dali.
But, in April 1984, the brutal and dark side of her husband’s lucrative business was laid bare when Escobar ordered the murder of the minister of justice, Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, in Bogota.
His killing sparked a narcotics war and a warrant for Pablo’s arrest was issued, as the US government sought his extradition.
After that Escobar spent much of his time on the run until, in 1991, he struck a deal with the Colombian authorities.
He agreed to serve a five-year sentence if – such was his sway with the powers that be – he could build his own prison in Medellin.
The result was La Catedral, a luxurious mountaintop facility with a sauna, waterfall and a football pitch and guards hand-picked by Escobar himself.
'Leaving the love of my life is the hardest thing I've done'
A year later, however, news of the luxurious jail leaked and, fearing he would be moved, Escobar escaped, taking the whole family on the run with him.
In August 1993 the family were holed up in a house near Medellin.
“While we were there, I woke up constantly throughout the night, gripped by fear and the horrible conviction I was going to open my eyes to see a rifle barrel a few inches from my face,” says Victoria.
After weeks of hiding, Pablo told Victoria she and the children were moving to a safe house under government protection.
“I cried and cried,” she says. “I’d got married at 15 in the Catholic Church, thinking it was for life. I was deeply in love with Pablo.”
Victoria says she was “enormously pained that I had to leave my children’s father in order to save them” but she understood she had no choice.
“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.”
Pablo wept as he hugged his children goodbye.
Just 75 days later, in December 1993, he was killed in a shootout on a rooftop in Medellin, apparently shot in the ear by the Colombian National Police, although many believe he shot himself rather than face capture.
Victoria eventually fled to Argentina and changed her surname to Marroquin. In 1999, she and son Pablo – now named Sebastian Marroquin – were convicted of money laundering and jailed for 18 months.
Today, Victoria, who is in her late 50s, says the “ghost" of her husband continues to haunt her.
“I now feel immense sadness and shame for the enormous pain my husband caused, even as I mourn the agonising consequences his actions have had for my children and me,” she says.
“People see me not as a woman, but as the continuation of my husband’s evil.
“The past continues to pursue us, and Pablo’s ghost won’t leave us alone.”
Mrs Escobar: My Life With Pablo, published by Ebury, is available now
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