Meet the Real DEA Agents of Narcos Who Took Down Pablo Escobar

Steve Murphy and Javier Pena share what it was really like investigating the Colombian drug lord

By Winsome Walker Jul 19, 2019 5:40 AMTags
NarcosEric Charbonneau/Netflix

Any fan of the wildly popular crime series Narcos knows the names Murphy and Pena.

Real-life former DEA agents Steve Murphy and Javier Peña played an instrumental role in the pursuit and 1993 takedown of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, as depicted in the Netflix drama.

Murphy and Pena met in Bogota, worked as partners on the investigation and served as consultants on Narcos. They're also still friends to this day.

In their speaking tour "A Conversation On Narcos"—which returns to Australia this month—the pair tell the true story of pursuing Escobar and the Medellín Cartel, plus answer questions about the Cali Cartel of Narcos season 3 and Kiki Camarena from Narcos: Mexico.

The pair's work on the Netflix series and their live show shares a common through-line: to avoid glamorising the so-called "King of Cocaine", who is considered the wealthiest criminal in history.

"There was an agreement we had with [showrunner] Eric Newman when we first agreed to do the show Narcos," Tennessee-born Murphy told E! News. "We didn't want anybody to glorify Pablo, and he promised us then that he wouldn't ever do that. And he's lived up to his word."

E! News caught up with Murphy and Pena to separate fact from fiction and find out what their families really think of their portrayal in Narcos.

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Since you're returning to Australia for the speaking tour we had to ask: Is there any connection between Pablo Escobar and Australia?
Murphy: I don't remember direct connections. But the man was responsible for 80 percent of the world's cocaine. So if cocaine was a problem in Australia back during his time, I'm pretty sure that's where it would have come from.

Some called Escobar a ‘Robin Hood' figure at one point in his life. How do feel about that characterisation?
Pena: He was no Robin Hood. Escobar killed thousands and thousands of innocent people who were at the wrong place at the wrong time, including women and children who had nothing to do with his war. Yes, he gave money to people but in return he expected something from them like hideouts, information and the extreme of hiring sicarios to kill for him. Escobar should never be glamorised. We put the estimate of him killing between 10 to 15 thousand innocent people.

Murphy: It's one of the things that upset us the most. So what we say instead of him being a Robin Hood is he's a master manipulator. He manipulated those people.

Daniel Daza/Netflix

What moment were you most afraid for your life while pursuing the Medellín Cartel?
Pena: What I was afraid most of were the car bombs. Escobar was placing about 10 a day and you never knew where he was placing them. He put several right outside the base we were staying at [in Medellín]. Many police officers were killed because of those bombs.

Murphy: For me, it was flying in on the helicopters when we were doing raids. The bad guys were shooting at you from the ground, and they didn't want us shooting from the helicopters because they were afraid that the shell casings that were being ejected might get into the rotors of the helicopter and cause it to crash.

In season 2 we saw Escobar hiding out in his luxurious custom-built prison. What was the prison really like?
Murphy: We all knew he was living a joke when he was in his custom-built prison. In our show, we take people on a tour through his prison with photographs that we took after he escaped. We were there the very next day. He had a two-room suite. He had a jacuzzi tub. He had a big walk-in closet where he could hang all his fancy clothes. He had all modern appliances, custom cabinetry. He had all the latest electronics gear, the big televisions, the latest stereo systems, all that stuff. He even had professional artwork hanging on the walls inside his prison cell.

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Another wild moment in the series is Escobar travelling around the city in the boot of a taxi. What was the most extravagant way you heard about him evading capture?
Well, we had heard that he was riding around in his taxi cab. Medellín is a city of two million people and there were a lot of taxi cabs there. But eventually we also heard that he was disguising himself as a woman, and he'd be in the back of the taxi. I'm not sure about the riding in the trunk—that might be Hollywood—I don't remember ever hearing that. The telephones that he was using were basically radio telephones. You could pinpoint his location on the telephone, but if he was in a taxi cab he was mobile. So by the time we would get to wherever we thought he was, he could be five miles down the road.

What scene from Narcos season 1 or 2 felt the truest to life while watching it back?
Pena: The scene when they killed the presidential candidate, Luis Carlos Galán.

Murphy: For me, watching the final episode [in season 2] where Pablo was killed. They show I was on the roof there—I was not. That was a straight-up Columbia National Police operation. But it brought back the euphoric feeling of man, they finally captured this guy, he's finally no longer a threat to anybody. And we were so excited about it because we all knew that everybody in Colombia was safer as soon as he was killed.

You both come across as gun-slinging heroes in the series. What did your families think of your portrayal in Narcos?
Pena: My brother did not know the accurate history of the search and did not realise all of the dangers that were involved. My father knew more about the search as we would talk often but he was deceased when the show came out. I think he would have loved it.

Murphy: I have four children, two boys and two girls. They're all grown now and have their own families. But it was funny because I didn't tell them everything that was going on. And when the first season came out, my oldest son called me. And he's like, wow Dad, you never told me you did all this. There's a lot of Hollywood in the Narcos series. A lot of embellishment. But there's a lot of truth in there too.

A Conversation On Narcos With Steve Murphy & Javier Pena tours Perth, Hobart, Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne from July 19. For more information visit livenation.com.au and deanarcos.com.