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Son of Escobar: 'He had to tell me my real father was a drug lord and my life was in danger'

The first biological son of Pablo Escobar, who was adopted by an intelligence agent as an infant, has shared the story of his unusual life in a new book released this week.

Philip Witcomb as a child in Colombia
Philip Witcomb as a child in Colombia

A NEW BOOK released this week was sparked by a conversation in a Madrid apartment in 1989, when an adoptive father revealed that his son’s biological father was Colombian drug trafficker Pablo Escobar.

Born as Roberto Sendoya Escobar, artist Phillip Witcomb, who is known by his adoptive name, always knew that he was adopted – but he didn’t learn who his biological father was until he was in his twenties, when he found out he was the first son of Pablo Escobar.

The painter has detailed the story of his adoption by a British intelligence agent and how he learned that he was the son of the Colombian druglord in his new book, Son of Escobar: First Born.

The book reveals codes left to Witcomb by his adoptive father that could lead to Escobar’s hidden fortunes.

Escobar, the leader of the infamous Medellín Cartel, established the first cocaine smuggling routes from Colombia into the US, cementing himself as the wealthiest known criminal in history.

In a shootout following a mission by Colombian Special Forces and an MI6 agent to infiltrate one of Escobar’s safe houses which left many dead, the MI6 agent adopted an infant who was left behind.

The child was the young Roberto Sendoya Escobar, Escobar’s biological son, who was given the name of Phillip Witcomb by his adoptive father.

Birth/baptism certificate for Roberto Sendoya Escobar. Source: Ad Lib Publishers

Born in Colombia, educated in England, and currently living in Mallorca, Witcomb began writing his story in 1993 when his life was changed by a series of losses which “broke” him.

His adoptive father died in January 1993, followed by his first wife that July. In December of the same year, Pablo Escobar died in a shootout in Colombia.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Witcomb said that he suffered with mental health struggles.

“I got depression and ended up in a hospital. When I came out of that in 1994, I started to recover, and part of my therapy was to get all this out of my head and start writing,” he said.

The process of writing the book came in pieces, interrupted by bouts of illnesses.

“It’s taken a long time. If you read this book in three or four days, just remember, we’re talking about over twenty years to get this out of my head, and then two years of hard work with my editor to turn it into a book you can actually read.”

Already a successful artist, Witcomb said that painting is another form of therapy for him.

“Everything I’m doing in my life is therapy to help me with my mental health and the issues which I’ve gotten from the extraordinary life I’ve had.”

His unusual life began as a child in Colombia, embedded in a lavish lifestyle and without any knowledge of the real nature of his adoptive father’s job.

“I had a really weird childhood in Colombia – if you look back at the life of this child, you think, crikey, he had a really strange life,” Witcomb said.

“I guess I was spoiled. I didn’t know anything about money; I just got whatever I wanted.”

16 Philip Witcomb with his adoptive parents Joan Witcomb and Patrick Witcomb in Bogotá, 1968. Source: Ad Lib Publishers

“Whenever I went anywhere, we were surrounded in bodyguards. I spent a lot of my time with my adoptive father because I was safer with him than I was at home because my real father had tried to kidnap me.”

Witcomb said that his childhood was filled with exciting moments with his adoptive father, such as accompanying him on helicopter rides, but that he knew “nothing” about the intricacies of his career.

“We just thought he had an interesting and exciting life. We knew that he was head of a security bank and transportation business in Colombia.”

Beyond his role as a businessman, Witcomb’s father, Patrick Witcomb, was working undercover for British intelligence forces to counter the Colombian drug cartels.

After attempts by Escobar to kidnap Witcomb as a child, he was sent to live in the UK as a means to protect him – but the move to a British boarding school was a sharp adjustment for a child accustomed to living in luxury.

6 A phone booth Witcomb used to call home during his school days in England. Source: Ad Lib Publishers

“It was horrible. Absolutely horrific. If you imagine my situation – I’m spoiled and protected. My godfather is a billionaire, one of the richest men in the country. My real father is one of the richest men in the world. My adoptive father runs one of the top companies in the world. Money, chauffeurs, fancy cars, the private clubs – we’ve got all this stuff, and I’m a kid wandering around in the middle of this world,” Witcomb said.

“And then they send me to a school in England, where it’s damn cold, and there are these strange people telling me what to do. And then on top of that, I rebelled and wouldn’t do as I was told, being the spoiled child. And then they started beating me with sticks – caning.”

As a young adult, Witcomb’s life shifted when his adoptive father brought him to his apartment in Madrid to slowly begin to reveal the truth about his parentage.

“It was a long conversation that started in 1989 in Madrid in his apartment, where he had to tell me that my real father was a drug lord and my life was in danger again and that there would be security surrounding me.”

Without Google and the internet at his fingertips in the late 1980s, the revelation was not as immediately impactful to Witcomb as it would later come to be, because his knowledge about Pablo Escobar was limited.

“Technology started to get a bit better in the 90s, and Dad tells me more, and I was able to look this guy up in libraries and stuff. It took a while, until about the mid-1990s, when I started to process properly and could find out who he was.”

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23 April 2020 Phillip Witcomb in April 2020. Source: Ad Lib Publishers

A few years later, Witcomb’s adoptive father passed away – and left behind a secret code that leads to Escobar’s hidden fortunes, Witcomb said.

“Over the years, secretly and unbeknownst to my Colombian family – they’ll all be saying it’s a load of rubbish, because they didn’t know – my adoptive father infiltrated the gangs and helped Pablo Escobar hide millions  and millions of dollars privately.”

“Not the cartel money, that they’ve already found and everyone has been looking for. This is another load of money which Pablo Escobar was tucking away for himself privately,” Witcomb said.

“On his [Patrick Witcomb's] death, he wanted to tell me where it was. So he gave me this code, which I’m supposed to have had the brains to work it out, and obviously I haven’t,” Witcomb laughed.

The code is included in Witcomb’s new book to give readers the chance to crack it for themselves.

Son of Escobar_Book Jacket Source: Ad Lib Publishers

“The five lines of code relate to five places in the world where, I’m pretty sure, he’s hidden the money. It’s not in cash anymore, it’ll be in bullions and emeralds and that sort of thing.”

Witcomb is already working on a second book, in which he plans to dive deeper into the code and his attempts to solve it.

Writing down the story of his life brought him a sense of relief, but was also a surreal experience, he said.

“It was a bit surreal, it was quite weird. I ended up looking at this little boy and thinking, ‘oh, how sad, what a shame’, and I’d forgotten it was me sometimes.”

“Writing a book is a big deal. It’s very difficult, and you make millions and millions of mistakes along the way,” Witcomb said.

“It’s something really strange, because if you have never written a book, it’s a daunting challenge and a real mountain to climb… Especially bearing in mind that I’m writing in my second language, English. I speak it well, but writing is a different ball game.”

“Now it’s done, it’s a brilliant relief.”

Son of Escobar: First Born is out now, published by Ad Lib Publishers.

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