Jhon Jairo 'Popeye' Velasquez, the hitman of notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar has died of cancer.
Drug lord Pablo Escobar's (left) with his former chief hitman Jhon Jairo 'Popeye' Velasquez
Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar's former chief hitman Jhon Jairo 'Popeye' Velasquez has died of cancer today at the age of 57.
Velasquez served a life sentence after admitting to killing 300 people and ordering the deaths of 3,000 more as he violently enforced Escobar's legendary reign of terror.
The heartless assassin - who once described killing as 'like a day at the office' - was jailed in 1993 - the year Escobar was gunned down by police in his home town of Medellin - but was released in 2014.
Velasquez then went into hiding for several years fearing reprisals from his victim's families and members of the Medellin Cartel he helped to convict in return for a lighter sentence. He was arrested again in May 2018 on suspicion of extortion and conspiracy and had been back behind bars since then.
Colombia's National Penitentiary and Prison Institute (INPEC) confirmed that Velasquez died in the early hours of the morning in the National Cancer Institute in the capital Bogota.
He had been diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus which had spread to his lungs, liver and other organs and had been hospitalised since December 31.
The killer had been held at the maximum-security Valledupar prison in the northern Colombian department of Cesar.
Velasquez was the leader of the hitmen of the Medellin Cartel run by Escobar until his death in 1993 when he was shot dead on a roof top in his home town in Colombia by a specialist police unit.
Escobar had previously been found guilty of terrorism, drug trafficking and murder and served time behind bars before escaping and going on the run.
Velasquez helped plan the homicide of former presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan, who was shot to death in 1989, and the bombing of Avianca Flight 203 which killed 107 people in 1989.
He referred to himself as 'Pablo Escobar's trusted assassin' but tried to paint himself as a reformed character after his release from prison in 2014.
He said: 'I'm also a victim of Don Pablo. I was not responsible for the assassinations. I was a professional killer and nowadays I have reconsidered it. I am a repented and reformed man.'
As Escobar's head hitman, 'Popeye' executed - either personally or on his orders - thousands of people deemed to be a threat to his cocaine trafficking empire, including policemen, journalists, politicians and judges, while innocent civilians were also inevitably caught up in the carnage.
After meeting Escobar through a childhood friend when he was 18, Vasquez's first 'contract' was to kill a bus conductor in Medellin who had enraged Escobar after he didn't help a friend's mother who fell as she got off the bus and died.
The cold-hearted killer, who was paid £25,000 for the hit, later said: 'I made some enquiries, found the guy and killed him. I felt nothing. That idea that a person cannot sleep for thinking about dead people doesn't apply to me.
'Neither did I need to take drugs, or smoke, or take pills to calm myself down. The deeds that I have done don't deprive me of sleep.'