The Story Behind Pablo Escobar's Smiling Mugshot

The notorious Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar's sole mugshot is as fascinating as his life story. It's transcended its original usage to become part of Escobar's mythology — and part of Colombian culture. It's even featured prominently on t-shirts and other souvenirs, as well as murals across the country. Some people even make their living selling Escobar memorabilia, reports the BBC.  

One explanation for the photo's popularity is that Escobar, like many folk heroes, is as despised as he is loved in his country, even years after his death. He amassed a mind-boggling amount of wealth and, as a result, was considered untouchable by authorities. Equal parts glamorous outlaw and violent drug lord, Escobar nevertheless became a mythical figure among the people of Colombia. His arrest briefly punctured that image but he soon made those who dared to defy him pay the ultimate price. His mugshot might have even been considered a warning of what was to come. 

Pablo Escobar knew he would be free and others would pay with their lives

It was May 1976 and Pablo Escobar had just been caught while transporting cocaine when the infamous mugshot was taken, per Crime and Investigation UK. He had already had a reputation for bribing law enforcement with the caveat that they would be killed if they didn't accept the terms of the deal. But things went differently that day — and that's when things got crazy. 

In Escobar's mugshot, he is looking straight ahead with a wide grin on his face. It's not a smirk ... he's basically taunting the photographer. This is the face of a man who does not have a single worry in the world. And he apparently had very good reason for his confident mien. 

First, several judges decided to handle the case like it was a hot potato, handing it off to each other with none wanting to preside over it. Then, the arresting officers who brought in Escobar were killed, which left the courts no choice but to cut Escobar loose. The drug kingpin was free to continue his criminal ways. Ultimately, it all came to an end in December 1993 when he was killed by law enforcement, per Biography.