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May Wilkerson May Wilkerson

Pablo Escobar’s Main Hitman Freed From Prison After 22 Years

The Medellin cartel’s chief assassin was behind thousands of deaths during the 1980s cocaine wars. Now free, he has his sights set on Hollywood. And staying alive.

5 Substance

Photo via

While in prison, Velasquez kept busy working as a government informant, and writing an autobiography. Photo via

Jhon Jairo Velasquez, known as “Popeye,” has been released from top-security prison in Colombia after serving 22 years for murdering hundreds of people while working for notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar in the ’80s. Escobar ran the Medellin cartel, which shipped billions of dollars-worth of cocaine to the US and Europe; Velasquez, 52, was his main hit man.

Escobar was killed by police in 1993, around the time Velasquez was caught and imprisoned. The prolific assassin once bragged that he had killed 300 people with his own hands—including his own girlfriend (a former lover of Escobar’s)—in addition to the 3,000 murders he helped plan. These include some of the most infamous cartel-related crimes, such as the 1989 assassination of presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan. (This was the only crime Velasquez was ultimately convicted of.)

He has been released from prison early for “studying” and “good behavior” (including ratting out other drug war criminals) after completing about three-fifths of his sentence.

So what’s up next for someone whose resume includes murder-for-hire?

He’s apparently got his sights set on Hollywood. While in prison, he penned an autobiography about his life with Escobar and he hopes a film company will buy the rights. His other main hope is to survive. Having worked as a government informant while in prison, Velasquez is at risk for being killed by a cartel hit man doing the same kind of job he used to carry out on Escobar’s behalf.

In interviews prior to his release, Velasquez said he believed his chance of being killed by former rivals was about 80%, and he was thinking of moving abroad.