Imagine being the son of possibly the most notorious drug lord ever to wander the earth. Worst still, envisage believing your father is an English businessman only later to find out that in fact, he adopted you and was actually working undercover for MI6 and the British Intelligence Service to gain information from him about the most infamous cartel to have ever formed in Colombia.
“I learned that my biological father was Pablo Escobar, the most notorious gangster in the history of the world. I had met him only fleetingly, unaware of our connection – or that there were times he was prepared to kill to win me back.” (Page 7)
Phillip Witcomb was 24 in 1989 when he finally learned the truth. At an early age, he understood that he was adopted and from Colombia, but until then he was under the impression that his parents, Pat and Joan, never knew his true background.
Back in 1965, Pat was in charge of an operation to recoup money stolen from De La Rue, a banknote printer in charge of Colombia’s currency. Little did he know that the actions of his team that day would change everything.
It was the day that a young woman would end up dying and Escobar’s son would finish the day being handed over to a priest at a Bogota orphanage.
What was known of Pablo Escobar at this time? In truth, in 1965 he was just a sixteen-year-old lad who had fallen in love with Maria Luisa Sendoya and had a child with her. At such a young age, for she was only thirteen, and outside of wedlock this brought shame onto Maria’s entire family and for that reason was therefore sent away to spend time in isolation until her child was born.
“At that age he had three passions; football, smoking marijuana and girls.” (Page 28)
By 1966, no longer a naive boy, Escobar was raiding banks in broad daylight in Medellin, with a rifle in his hand and a smile on his face. He was already known locally for petty street crimes, selling fake lottery tickets, and contraband cigarettes but he frequently told anyone prepared to listen that he wanted to be a millionaire by the time he was twenty-two. It was no surprise then when he became involved in more serious crimes, including being part of the gang that would go on to hold up the ‘new armoured vehicles that had been seen on the streets of Colombia.’ The very same armoured vehicles that Pat Witcomb used to transfer the De La Rue banknotes around in.
Just a few years later, Pat would find himself coming face to face with a young Pablo Escobar when a business meeting was set up to discuss a working agreement that would be beneficial to all parties.
“Keeping Pablo Escobar on side – and with him the main smuggling operation in Medellin… De La Rue would be on the front line with the cocaine traffickers. They would be able to track the money. They would be able to provide the US with the intelligence it desired so much. They would achieve the goals set out by Sir Arthur all those years earlier. “(Page 103)
It was during the very same meeting that Pat would also agree to let Pablo meet his son. Would that be a mistake?
“It was never my intention to deny this boy his heritage. It is right that he should know about his father.” (Page 96)
Would Roberto and Pablo develop a relationship? Would Pat and Joan be forgotten about? Would Pat’s operation but the whole family in jeopardy?
My Thoughts on Son of Escobar: First Born
When I was asked to review this particular title I really didn’t know what to expect. Would I enjoy finding out more about Pablo Escobar and his cartel or was it another book that unfortunately would not live up to the hype?
Speaking about his past and how he found out about his parental history Roberto Sendayo Escobar makes a compelling case which, on the surface, is very believable. A man, feeling distraught for the actions of his team, adopts a boy and tries to give him the best life possible while protecting him from a heinous individual. However, when you start to delve further into the facts, some appear to be quite dubious.
Probably the most questionable fact, that several people have flagged recently, is Roberto’s actual age. Throughout the book, he is very clear on dates, and it is easy to follow because he has written his tale chronologically. He does state that his adoptive parents had to doctor his birth certificate in order to fast track his British residency application but this in itself throws into question whether it was even plausible for Pablo Escobar to be his biological father.
In the newsreel linked above it states that Roberto comes to England at the age of nine. In the book, he arrives in England in 1970 so he would have been born 1962/63 while also stating that Pablo Escobar was sixteen in 1965. That would mean his biological dad fathered him at the age of twelve or thirteen. He also suggests that his biological mother was around three years younger, which would place her at just nine or ten. The age of consent is fourteen in Colombia and on Page 28 of the book it is highlighted that Pablo turned sixteen on the 1st December while Maria was thirteen, a year under the age of consent. If he was sixteen when Roberto was conceived that would have been the year 1965 making him just five when he arrived in England trying to pose as a nine-year-old. Is this possible?
He highlights that people remarked frequently about his size and the fact that he was small for his age, attributing this to the necessary need to change his date of birth in order to get British residency. If he really was so much smaller than his peers I do have to wonder how he managed to take so well to the game of Rugby, a sport not normally known for its gentleness.
Speaking about rugby being one of the main sports at St. Hugh’s he says, “I took to it, mainly because it entailed smashing the complete living daylights out of everyone.” (Page 238)
Of course, I do not want to imply that smaller individuals cannot play the great game, but I would wonder at his ability to hurtle into people a couple of years older than himself with the ability to take them out if he really was as small as his narrative makes out.
It seems that even journalists could be confused about this. I have managed to find one article, written in August 2018 stating that Roberto is fifty-three while another article written in August 2020 says he is fifty-four. Of course, I appreciate that journalists may have got their facts slightly incorrect but there does seem to be an issue surrounding his true age, causing people to, quite rightly, question the validity of his claims.
I also don’t want to question the actions of a father, but I am not sure I would want to place my child in harm’s way as Roberto suggests Pat did during their time in Colombia. He mentions being taken on package pick-ups or the fact that his school run was used as a postal service for passing goods around. These are dangerous men and even if one was indeed his father, I am not sure you would want your child involved in such activities.
“I could only guess at what was inside that box but it struck me that it was another successful pick-up for what must surely have been the world’s most extravagant courier service.” (Page 147)
On the other hand, Roberto describes vividly a helicopter ride that he and his father Pat went on together, which was also used to collect goods. This trip would be something an impressionable young child would always remember. Perhaps Pat just didn’t see the potential risks.
The other fact widely disputed is whether Pablo Escobar, at this time, would have had any influence over the people he worked for.
During Roberto’s tales, he reflects back to 1971 where he mentions that his adopted father Pat, wanted to ‘get closer to the main man in that operation – Pablo Escobar’ (Page 150) but sources state that Pablo himself didn’t start his own cocaine smuggling business until 1975, so why would Pat want to do business with someone who wasn’t in charge?
Sebastian Marroquin, Pablo Escobar’s accepted first born son, makes a valid point on this subject. Why would someone do business with a sixteen-year-old that was not yet head of a cartel? Perhaps, on the flip side, the young Escobar was working his way up, and therefore Pat Witcomb saw something in him, but would a criminal gang really allow someone of such a young age and without any experience really run an operation involving money laundering with outsiders that could earn millions.
“If I hadn’t had my own memories – and the photos I took at the time, which cemented the recollections in my mind – I would have thought it was too unlikely to be true.” (Page 237)
Sadly, there are many out there unable to place any truth on this narrative. Even his old school friends are claiming that it is a work of fiction rather than fact which really doesn’t bode well for anyone else hoping to read a true tale.
Whether Son of Escobar is fact or fiction, I cannot categorically say. I also hope that this doesn’t put people off reading the book because it is a somewhat interesting read, albeit, lacking in places. I did feel that threads could have been expanded further and more details added, after all, we are now all aware of Pablo Escobar’s crimes. The lack of depth to the story did leave me frustrated because I wanted to know more. However, I do appreciate that this book is not about Pablo but Roberto and his coming to terms with his supposed parentage.
For those that want to know more about the criminal mastermind specifically, I would probably say this book is not necessarily for you, but if you are interested in Colombia and how a drugs cartel cleaned its dirty money then, as I previously have mentioned, it is quite an interesting read.
Finally, for anyone wondering whether Roberto Escobar reveals where Pablo Escobar’s fortune is hidden – he does provide clues, and apparently he is in the process of writing a second book, which will go into far more detail about its potential location.
Have you read Son of Escobar? Perhaps there are other non-fictional works on Escobar and the Colombian Cartel that you would like to recommend others read.
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