On Tuesday morning, two excavators worked in unison in what seemed like a ballet of destruction. The task: dismantle the former Miami Beach home of Colombian Pablo Escobar, the infamous drug trafficker of the 1980s.
The mansion at 5860 North Bay Rd. is being demolished by its current owners, Chrisitan de Berdouare, founder of the restaurant chain Chicken Kitchen, and his wife, television journalist Jennifer Valoppi, who plan to build a more modern home on the site.
The owners said their intention was to do away with the negative reputation associated with the former owner.
“We’re demolishing the house of the devil,” de Berdouare said. “Pablo Escobar was one of the biggest murderers and criminals in the world.”
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Escobar, former boss of the organized crime organization known as the Medellín Cartel, became one of the richest and most dangerous criminals in the world in the early 1980s, a status he held until his death in 1993 at the hands of the Colombian armed forces.
“Many people forget what life was like in Miami in the ’80s, everybody consumed cocaine, there were shootings in the streets,” said Valoppi, who had a priest bless the property when she and her husband purchased it. “There was a very negative energy inside the house; it has a very obscure history.”
During the last week, a company of professional “treasure hunters” hired by the owners used metal detectors and electrical magnets to search the house to determine if hidden valuables remained on the property.
It’s common knowledge that Escobar had accumulated a large fortune, and he made a habit of hiding his earnings in secret compartments inside the walls of his homes and inside his furniture. He sometimes even buried the compartments in the floor.
On Tuesday, de Berdouare showed off his findings: a white or cream-colored package, approximately one foot long, wrapped in plastic with metal seals on the ends.
De Berdouare said that the “suspicious” cylinder was found under an old stove in the garage. He described the consistency of the object as “a white paste.”
Miami Beach Police Department officials said the package was examined last weekend and police concluded that the package did not contain cocaine or ecstasy.
The owners also said that they found a safe hidden under a removable marble tile directly under the main staircase. However, according to de Berdouare, someone emptied the safe “within the last 30 days.”
“Four of our workers saw it and didn’t tell us anything because they thought we already knew of its existence,” de Berdouare said. “The safe was 10 inches wide and 18 inches in length ... we don’t know what it had inside or if it was empty.”
The complete demolition of the mansion will take about two to three weeks and will cost $35,000. Only a large tree will remain on the 7,336-square-foot property. The remaining space will be used for a new home that will have ample windows and a modern design supervised by de Berdouare, who bought the home in 2014 for $9.65 million.
The structure had four bedrooms, a pool, six bathrooms and a garage, and was built in 1948. The terrain also includes a 150-foot dock with views of the bay and downtown Miami.
Escobar bought the rose-colored mansion in March 1980 for $762,500, according to Miami-Dade County public records. Escobar’s name is on the title of the house and in the paperwork transferring the property to the current owners.
However, it’s not clear if the boss of the Medellín Cartel lived in the house or if he even visited. Jim Shedd, former Drug Enforcement Agency investigator, told the owners that it’s very probable that the mansion served as a hiding place for Escobar’s minions and as a place to unload tons of cocaine.
In 1987, authorities in the United States confiscated the property, along with $20 million in property the Colombian mobster owned across Florida.
Attorney Roger Schindler later bought the home from the U.S. government in 1990 for $915,000. The mansion had been abandoned after a fire destroyed part of the house “a few years ago,” according to the current owners.
The owners said it was vandalized and graffiti can be found on its inner walls along with some broken glass.
Former Miami prosecutor Mark Schnapp, who worked on legal cases against the Medellín Cartel, said the mansion’s demolition marks the end of one of the city’s most violent eras.
“Drugs are still heavily trafficked through Miami, but in a certain way, this puts a close to an epoch,” Schnapp told el Nuevo Herald. “It’s hard to explain. We invested a lot of time investigating and processing these criminals and to see the property being torn down is very significant.”
Interest in the life of the Colombian narc has remained high thanks in part to the success of television series such as Escobar, El Señor del Mal (2012) and Narcos, recently nominated for two Golden Globes.
A documentary about the life of Sebastian Marroquin, one of Escobar’s sons who is exiled in Argentina, has also contributed to keeping his father’s infamous memory alive.
“I’m not interested in a single rubble of this property,” Marroquin tweeted on Tuesday. “Who received retributions from the sale money? Nobody!”
Once the demolition is complete, the owners will again survey the property to make sure nothing is left. The new home will be under construction for two to three years.
“We want to give way for something new and beautiful, for one of the best properties in Miami Beach,” Valoppi said.