A Mysterious Chapter in Music History
The extraordinary tale of Carlos Lehder, a notorious figure in the drug trade, takes a bizarre turn into the world of rock and roll. Lehder, known for his eccentricities and complex personality, held Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones and Ringo Starr of The Beatles captive on his private Bahamian island for about a month.
The Rise of Carlos Lehder
Lehder’s journey from a Colombian drug lord to an unlikely music impresario is as intriguing as it is unsettling. Born in Quindío, Colombia, with German ancestry, Lehder’s mercurial nature and contradictions were well-known. His admiration spanned from John Lennon to Adolf Hitler and Che Guevara, and unlike his peers, he indulged in the very drugs he peddled.
The Strategic Acquisition of Cayo Norman
In 1978, Lehder’s strategic thinking led him to acquire Cayo Norman, a key Bahamian island that facilitated the Medellín Cartel’s cocaine shipments to the United States. This island, capable of handling up to 3,000 kg of cocaine per hour, was central to Lehder’s operations and his subsequent wealth accumulation.
A Captive Audience: Wood and Starr’s Unwilling Performance
The Unlikely Meeting in Paris
The story takes an extraordinary twist in Paris, 1979, where Lehder met Ronnie Wood. Wood, then planning a beach getaway with his then-girlfriend Josephine Karslake, was unwittingly drawn into Lehder’s orbit. An invitation to stay at Cayo Norman soon morphed into a coercive situation, as Lehder’s domineering personality left little room for refusal.
The Bahamian Ordeal
On reaching Cayo Norman, Wood and Starr found themselves in a luxurious yet tense environment. Lehder had constructed a private recording studio, making it clear that their stay was not a leisurely visit but an enforced performance. Their days were spent playing music under Lehder’s watchful eye, interspersed with substance use, a stark contrast to their usual glamorous lifestyle.
The Aftermath and Legacy
Release and Return to Normalcy
The musicians’ stay ended in mid-January 1980 when Lehder, under cartel pressure, released them. Lehder’s eventual downfall came with his 1987 arrest and extradition to the United States, leading to a 33-year prison sentence. He was released in 2020 and currently resides in Berlin, Germany.
Starr and Wood’s Colombian Connection
Despite their harrowing experience, both Starr and Wood later visited Colombia – Starr with his All Starr Band in 2015 and Wood with The Rolling Stones in 2016, perhaps a testament to their resilience and enduring love for music beyond their forced sojourn with Lehder.