Capturing Pablo: an evening with Javier Pena and Steve Murphy


Source: Kyler Russell

Luke Price

Narcos stars Javier Pena and Steve Murphy came to Marathon Music Works to share the true story of Pablo Escobar on Sept. 14. Contrary to what avid Narcos fans might believe, Pena and Murphy were anything but rock stars. It made Thursday night all the more memorable.

During the talk, Pena and Murphy explained to the crowd that at one time,Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria was responsible for 80% of the world’s cocaine production. At the height of its use in the 1980s, cocaine was pouring into America and other nations from Central and South America. Escobar was a fledgling drug runner at this time, gaining repute (or disrepute) among fellow narcos in his hometown of Medellín, Colombia. Within a few years, he had become the kingpin of the world’s largest international cocaine business. His total empire is valued anywhere between $8 billion and $30 billion, making him the seventh richest man in the world.

Given Escobar’s immense power and wealth, one naturally expects the individuals responsible for taking him down to be demigods; Pena and Murphy are anything but that. Small town policemen from Texas and Tennessee born in the 1950s, these servicemen possessed humility and approachability despite boasting careers that inspired countless books, movies and TV shows throughout the last 30 years.

Much of the drama in Narcos aside from the manhunt for Escobar is owed to creative license, yet the show’s account of the search for Escobar itself is rather accurate. The narcopolitical climate in Colombia at that time was a serious issue, as corrupt law enforcement and an outnumbered military facilitated a very real and lethal narcoterrorist presence.

Pena and Murphy were ordered to ride through the streets with their weapons drawn at all times. Pablo’s sicarios, or hitmen, had mastered the drive-by tactic in which one thug would drive a motorbike while his partner on the back would fire a fully automatic submachine gun. This detail is one of several elements of the story around Pablo’s Medellín cartel that Narcos gets exactly right, according to Murphy and Pena.

Another element in which the show is faithful to reality is Pablo’s empire and his luxurious lifestyle. The former Drug Enforcement Agency agents recalled raiding many of Pablo’s mountain villas, only to find deserted estates, each more lavish and expansive than the last.

The death toll left in the wake of Escobar’s regime was as immense as it seems in Narcos, totaling approximately 50,000 casualties. This number includes narcos, their family and friends, military, law enforcement and any citizens unfortunate enough to be caught in the crossfire. Several groups of warring cartels vied for dominance of the international cocaine business and aided the DEA and Colombian authorities in apprehending other cartels. Murphy and Pena’s stories of losing friends and fellow officers gave the story far more emotional weight, as they offered a glimpse of the true death and destruction the Netflix series often sensationalizes.

Movies and shows fail to accurately portray real events. There was far more to the rise and fall of Escobar than catchy sayings, dramatic faceoffs and heated dialogue. There were billions of dollars, millions of hours and thousands of lives sacrificed to take him down. Hearing about these sacrifices from two of the men responsible for it all was like seeing the series from an entirely new lens.