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"Uncovering Pablo Escobar's Hidden Town: Actor Kyle MacLachlan's Rural Adventure Resembles 'Scarface' in Hollywood"
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“Uncovering Pablo Escobar’s Hidden Town: Actor Kyle MacLachlan’s Rural Adventure Resembles ‘Scarface’ in Hollywood”


Kyle MacLachlan is hunched over, sporting a vibrant raincoat, while Lana Del Rey’s music plays softly in the background. He abruptly raises his head, exposing a heap of white substance on a mirror alongside a straw. His nose and upper lip are coated in powdered residue, after which he dons a pair of black shades and grabs a microphone before exiting.

If you’ve been keeping up with the acclaimed actor on social media lately, you may have seen this type of content. Don’t worry, MacLachlan hasn’t entered a midlife crisis cocaine phase (it was actually corn starch). Instead, he’s been making a series of humorous and slightly bizarre videos to promote his new podcast, Varnamtown.

Described as “a real-life Twin Peaks in North Carolina”, this years-in-the-making project is not just another jump-on-the-bandwagon celebrity podcast. Made in collaboration with Joshua Davis, a New York Times Bestselling journalist, it delves into strange goings-on in the titular sleepy backwater fishing town in Brunswick County, North Carolina. Think S-Town meets odd angling-based scam tale The Paddlefish Caviar Heist, albeit more playful.

Lynn Betz, a mutual friend who had relocated to Varnamtown, informed MacLachlan about the small town in the 1980s. It had a population of approximately 300 at that time and had struck a deal with notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar. This arrangement allowed Escobar to utilize the town as a hub for his drug operations. MacLachlan, intrigued by this information, visited Varnamtown and met some of its characters. He was determined to unravel the truth behind this deal and stated, “We must dissect this and uncover the truth.”

Davis was contacted by MacLachlan, who recognized the significance of this untold narrative. According to Davis, the story had received little attention in the national media and had only been noticed by those in Brunswick County. However, a DEA agent informed them that in his first year there, he had seized more drugs than the entire Washington DEA office had in seven years. This realization prompted the question, why is this not receiving more attention?

Varnamtown became the busiest port of entry for illegal drugs in the US, as Escobar and his crew realised that operating from somewhere small and discreet was better than the bright lights of ports such as Miami. “The influx of cocaine was coming into south Florida but when the DEA cracked down on that they started looking for other places,” says Davis. “They had learned their lesson: Florida is heavily populated so why not go somewhere that’s not?”

When Kyle MacLachlan and the actor Davis showed up, the locals were initially curious about why he was in Varnamtown. However, as the event unfolded, a variety of unique personalities and unbelievable tales emerged. At the center of it all was Dale Varnam, also referred to as “crazy Dale,” who boasted about being the one who facilitated the Escobar transaction.

Varnam, a commonly used last name in the town, resides in a unique and sprawling residence known as Fort Apache. According to Davis, he has constructed an entire full-scale town within the confines of his property. The setup is unusual and includes a mixture of Hollywood memorabilia and grand murals depicting illegal activities. The compound features a main street, jail, pharmacy, and bar, but it is mostly occupied by chickens. Additionally, there is a notoriously aggressive turkey deemed an “attack turkey” by the DEA. Kyle and I experienced a sense of being chased by this bird.

Telling stories … Kyle MacLachlan and the podcast audio crew in Varnamtown.View image in fullscreen

In other locations, the two hosts of the podcast interview people from the community, previous drug dealers – one of whom constantly reveals his true identity by mistake while being recorded – law enforcement, and various individuals involved in the event. Another aspect focuses on two brothers who were once close friends but became divided. Davis comments on the “Shakespearean” level of betrayal caused by the sudden surge of cocaine and how it still deeply affects him.

MacLachlan acknowledges the similarities between Twin Peaks and the small town in the show, with its unconventional residents and mysterious occurrences. He notes the friendly and cordial atmosphere among the characters, despite their roles as law enforcement and criminals, and mentions the presence of eccentric individuals in the town.

The concept of an entire community being involved to varying degrees in one of the largest drug operations in the United States may seem unlikely, but for many residents, this arrangement provided stability and protection during a time of need. According to MacLachlan, Dale saw it as a chance to bring much-needed financial resources to a struggling town. The shrimp industry was struggling, and Dale believed that by involving those around him, he could improve the community’s economic situation. However, those who did not support him did not benefit from this arrangement.

The sum of money given for unloading a single shipment of drugs was equal to six months’ salary for certain individuals. According to MacLachlan, there was a significant number of people who were grateful for the chance to earn a livelihood. This was an unprecedented opportunity for some of them.

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Some residents used the money to purchase a house or fund a business, but the influx of cash had negative consequences. According to Davis, the money was distributed widely, even reaching local law enforcement who were bribed. The large sums of money used to bribe officials caused discontent among some individuals. One resident, acting alone, attempts to disrupt the entire operation which leads to chaos with arrests, betrayals, and an informant who betrays hundreds of people.

As fear heightened among the residents, Varnam’s compound also grew in size. According to Davis, there was a massive wall surrounding it and when the DEA came to look into Varnam, they found armed guards with powerful weapons and surveillance cameras throughout the property. It was reminiscent of a rural version of Scarface. However, upon closer inspection, it was revealed that the cameras were simply spray-painted plastic pieces connected to useless electrical wiring. Similar to the fake jail and pharmacy located within Fort Apache, it was all a facade.

Davis and MacLachlan have been tasked with distinguishing between myths and facts amidst the abundance of wild characters and tales. They have essentially reconstructed the DEA inquiry and will share their findings. The duo has been astounded by the intense emotions and drama within the small but close-knit community. Varnamtown is filled with unique characters, perhaps more per capita than any other place Davis has visited.

Varnamtown is now accessible on audio streaming services.

  • On February 16, 2024, this article was updated to exclude a mention of Joshua Davis as an Emmy award-winning journalist.

Source: theguardian.com