Monsters and Dust

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The Man With a Thousand Faces


Every child in the world knows the Bogeyman, but no one has ever seen him. He is inhuman because he will never be revealed in daylight. He lives in closed closets and in nightmares, and his image is created through imagination and language. The Bogeyman’s horror is his lack of form.

Until his capture in the U.S. in 2008 for drug smuggling, murder, money laundering, and RICO charges, Juan Carlos Ramírez-Abadía, a Colombian drug smuggler and the most notorious leader of the murderous North Valley Drug Cartel, was known as the Man with a Thousand Faces. The nickname evokes the dozens of multi-headed gods and monsters in ancient myth: Chimera, Hydra, Brahma, or Sheshnag, to name a few; or a fractured vision from a bad trip. Ramírez-Abadía was a contemporary monster. Between the mid 1980’s and the mid 1990’s, he smuggled thousands of kilos of cocaine and murdered or ordered the murders of at least 15 people. He was worth over $1.8 billion in his prime. Hundreds of people worked for him, and just as many were hunting for him — he was considered one of the most evasive criminals in history.  People from every corner of the drug trade were terrified of him, but even if they met him, saw his strange face, and survived, they weren’t likely to recognize him again because he habitually changed his face through plastic surgery. Like the Bogeyman, Ramírez-Abadía was known to the people he terrorized through rumors and nightmares.

When Ramírez-Abadía became involved in drug smuggling in the mid 1980’s, he was known for his vanity. He began altering his features through plastic surgery in his twenties, starting with minor rejuvenating procedures before moving to rhinoplasty, chemical peels, cheek implants, and jaw implants. As he developed a global profile, Ramírez-Abadía took impeccable care to erase his tracks, using encryption software to transmit information over email, refusing to talk on the phone, and fracturing his immense drug operation into independently functioning cells. As he destroyed the traces of his actions, he destroyed the continuum of memory of his face. When he was eventually captured in 2007, willing informants and witnesses who had known him for years were unsure if it was him.