In the early 1980s, Griselda "La Madrina" Blanco was one of the most feared drug lords of the Miami underworld.
Known as “La Madrina,” Colombian drug lord Griselda Blanco entered the cocaine trade in the early 1970s — when a young Pablo Escobar was still boosting cars. While Escobar would go on to become the biggest kingpin of the 1980s, Blanco was perhaps the biggest “queenpin.”
It’s unclear how closely she was linked to Escobar, but she is said to have paved the way for him. Some believe that Escobar was Blanco’s protege. However, others have disputed this, claiming that the two were deadly rivals.
What is known for certain is that Griselda Blanco first made a name for herself as a trafficker in the 1970s. And then in the 1980s, she became a major player in the Miami drug wars. During her reign of terror, she made countless enemies throughout Colombia and the United States.
And she would do anything to eliminate them.
From shopping mall shootings to drive-by motorbike hit squads to home invasions, Griselda Blanco was one of the deadliest women in the entire Colombian cocaine trade. She was believed to have been responsible for at least 200 murders — and potentially upwards of 2,000.
“People were so afraid of her that her reputation preceded her wherever she went,” said Nelson Abreu, a former homicide detective in the documentary Cocaine Cowboys. “Griselda was worse than any of the men that were involved in [the drug trade].”
Despite her brutality, Griselda Blanco also enjoyed the finer things in life. She had a mansion on Miami Beach, diamonds purchased from Argentina’s First Lady Eva Peron, and a fortune in the billions. Not bad for someone who grew up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Cartagena, Colombia.
Who Was Griselda Blanco?
Born in 1943, Griselda Blanco started her life of crime at an early age. When she was just 11, she allegedly kidnapped a 10-year-old boy, then shot and killed him after his parents failed to pay a ransom. Soon, physical abuse at home forced Blanco out of Cartagena and onto the streets of Medellín, where she survived by pickpocketing and selling her body.
At age 13, Blanco got her first taste of turning crime into a big business when she met and later married Carlos Trujillo, a smuggler of undocumented immigrants into the United States. Though they had three sons together, their marriage didn’t last. Blanco would later have Trujillo killed in the 1970s — the first of her three husbands to meet a brutal end.
It was her second husband, Alberto Bravo, who introduced Griselda Blanco to the cocaine trade. In the early 1970s, they moved to Queens, New York, where their business exploded. They had a direct line to the white powder in Colombia, which took a hefty chunk of business away from the Italian Mafia.
This is when Blanco became known as “The Godmother.”
Blanco found an ingenious way to smuggle cocaine into New York. She had young women fly on planes with cocaine hidden in their bras and underwear, which Blanco had specially designed for that purpose.
With business booming, Bravo returned to Colombia to restructure the export end. Meanwhile, Blanco expanded the empire in New York.
But in 1975, everything fell apart. Blanco and Bravo were busted by a joint NYPD/DEA sting called Operation Banshee, the largest at the time.
Before she could be indicted, however, Blanco managed to escape to Colombia. There, she allegedly killed Bravo in a shootout over missing millions. According to legend, Blanco pulled a pistol from her boots and shot Bravo in the face, just as he fired a round from his Uzi into her stomach. However, others believe it was Pablo Escobar who killed her husband.
Whichever account is true, Griselda Blanco’s autopsy would later reveal that she indeed had a bullet scar on her torso.
The Rise Of A “Queenpin”
Upon the death of her second husband, Griselda Blanco earned a new title: the “Black Widow.” She was now in full control of her drug empire.
After the bust, Blanco still sent cocaine to the United States while running her business from Colombia. In 1976, Blanco allegedly smuggled cocaine aboard a ship known as the Gloria, which the Colombian government had sent to America as part of a bicentennial race in New York Harbor.
In 1978, she married husband number three, a bank robber named Dario Sepulveda. That same year, her fourth son Michael Corleone was born. Having taken the “Godmother” mantle to heart, she apparently thought it fitting to name her boy after Al Pacino’s character from The Godfather.
She then set her sights on Miami, where she would later earn her notoriety as the “Queen of Cocaine.” An early pioneer of the Miami-based cocaine trade, Blanco used her tremendous skills as a businesswoman to get the drug into as many hands as possible. And for a while, it paid off.
In Miami, she lived lavishly. Homes, expensive cars, a private jet — she had it all. Nothing was off-limits. She also hosted wild parties frequented by all the major players of the drug world. But just because enjoyed her newfound wealth didn’t mean that her violent days were behind her. According to some sources, she forced men and women to have sex with her at gunpoint.
Blanco also became addicted to smoking large amounts of unrefined cocaine called bazooka. This likely contributed to her increasing paranoia.
But she did indeed occupy a dangerous world. In Miami, there was increasing competition among various factions, including the Medellín Cartel, which was flying in planeloads of cocaine at the time. Soon, conflict erupted.
Griselda Blanco’s Role In The Miami Drug Wars
From 1979 to 1984, South Florida turned into a war zone.
The first shots were fired on July 11, 1979. Several of Blanco’s hitmen killed a rival drug dealer at the Crown Liquor store in the Dadeland Shopping Mall. Then, the hitmen chased liquor store employees throughout the mall with their guns blazing. Luckily, they only wounded the workers.
But massive damage had been done. Like something from The Joker’s playbook, the assassins had arrived in an armored delivery van with the words “Happy Time Complete Party Supply” emblazoned on the side.
“We called it a ‘war wagon’ because its sides were covered by quarter-inch steel with gunports cut into them,” recalled Raul Diaz, a former Dade County homicide detective.
With the “war wagon” ending up in the hands of the police, Blanco would have to find a more efficient getaway vehicle for her hitmen. Often, they ended up using motorbikes during assassinations, a technique she is credited with pioneering on the streets of Medellín.
By the early 1980s, 70 percent of America’s cocaine and marijuana came through Miami — as bodies quickly began to pile up throughout the city. And Griselda Blanco had her hands in all of it.
In the first five months of 1980, Miami saw 75 murders. In the last seven months, there were 169. And by 1981, Miami was not only the murder capital of America but the entire world. In a time when Colombian and Cuban dealers regularly killed each other with submachine guns, most of the city’s homicides were due to the “cocaine cowboy” drug wars of the era. But if it weren’t for Blanco, this time period might not have been quite so brutal.
Blanco struck fear into the hearts of countless people, including her fellow drug lords. As one expert put it: “Other criminals killed with intent. They would check before they killed. Blanco would kill first, and then say, ‘Well, he was innocent. That’s too bad, but he’s dead now.'”
Blanco’s most trusted hitman was Jorge “Rivi” Ayala. He later recounted that when Blanco ordered a hit, it meant that everyone in the vicinity was to be killed. Innocent bystanders, women, and children. Blanco did not care.
“La Madrina” was merciless. If you did not pay on time, you and your family were eliminated. If she did not want to pay you, you were assassinated. If she perceived that you had slighted her, you were bumped off.
Ayala was a willing killer for Blanco, but he drew the line with children. In one case, he stopped his psychotic team members from murdering the young kids of two drug dealers they had just killed.
Despite this, Ayala inadvertently ended up killing one of Blanco’s youngest victims. The Godmother had sent Ayala to take out another one of her hitmen, Jesus Castro. Unfortunately, Castro’s two-year-old son, Johnny, was accidentally shot twice in the head when Ayala shot up Castro’s car.
Then, in late 1983, Blanco’s third husband was in the firing line. Sepulveda kidnapped their son, Michael Corleone, and returned to Colombia with him. But he did not escape “La Madrina.” She allegedly had hitmen dressed as policemen gun him down as her horrified son watched.
She might have gotten her son back, but the assassination of Sepulveda soon initiated a war with his brother, Paco. For Blanco, it was just a problem to be solved. But before long, some of Blanco’s former supporters decided to take Paco’s side — including an important supplier.
The Fall Of “La Madrina”
At the height of her power in the 1980s, Griselda Blanco oversaw a billion-dollar organization that transported 3,400 pounds of cocaine into the United States per month. But Blanco’s past was fast catching up with her.
In 1984, Jaime, the nephew of her slain second husband, Alberto Bravo, patrolled her favorite shopping malls waiting for his chance to kill her.
Despite the number of people who wanted to take her out, she escalated the violence further when she had drug supplier Marta Saldarriaga Ochoa killed. Blanco did not want to pay the $1.8 million she owed her new supplier. So in early 1984, Ochoa’s body was found dumped in a canal.
Luckily for Blanco, Ochoa’s father did not pursue Blanco. Instead, he pleaded for the killing to stop. This was especially shocking since it came from a man whose family had helped found the Medellín Cartel with Pablo Escobar.
Meanwhile, “La Madrina” remained the focus of not only her growing number of enemies but also the DEA.
In early 1984, the heat got to be too much for Blanco and she decided to move to California. While there, she was able to lay low and avoid both Bravo’s nephew and the DEA. But by November, Bravo’s nephew was arrested because he was a potential threat to the DEA’s arrest of Blanco.
With the nephew out of the way, the DEA was finally able to move in on Blanco. And in 1985, she was arrested at the age of 42. She was later sentenced to nearly 20 years in jail for narcotics trafficking.
Allegedly, however, this was not the end of her cocaine business, and far from the end of authorities’ investigations into her dealings. The Miami-Dade District Attorney’s office, for one, wanted her convicted of murder.
Such concerns aside, Blanco began a new chapter of her life in prison.
When news of her imprisonment was broadcasted on TV, Charles Cosby — an Oakland crack dealer — decided to contact Blanco. Cosby was apparently enthralled by the Godmother. After much correspondence, the two met at FCI Dublin Federal Women’s Prison.
The two became lovers, thanks to the help of paid-off prison staff. If Cosby is to be believed, Blanco entrusted most of her drug empire to him.
A Desperate Plot From Prison
With “La Madrina” behind bars, her enemies turned their attention to her son, Osvaldo. In 1992, Osvaldo was shot in the leg and shoulder by one of Pablo Escobar’s men and would later bleed to death in hospital.
But the real blow for Blanco came in 1994 — when her trusted hitman Ayala became the star witness in a murder prosecution against her. This apparently caused the Godmother to have a nervous breakdown. Ayala had enough on her to send her to the electric chair many times over.
But, according to Cosby, Blanco had a plan. He later claimed that Blanco slipped a note to him. On it was written “jfk 5m ny.”
Perplexed, Cosby asked Blanco what it meant. According to him, she said that she wanted him to organize the kidnapping of John F. Kennedy Jr. in New York and hold him in exchange for her freedom. The kidnappers would receive $5 million for their trouble.
Allegedly, the kidnappers came close to pulling it off. They managed to surround Kennedy while he was out walking his dog. But as the story goes, an NYPD squad car passed by and scared them off.
Blanco was definitely bold enough to conceive of such a plan. But even if she did, it never ended up working out in the end.
The Death Of “La Madrina”
With the kidnapping plan having collapsed, time was running out for Blanco. If Ayala testified against her, she would surely be put on death row.
But remarkably, a phone sex scandal between Alaya and secretaries from the Miami-Dade District Attorney’s office threw a major wrench into the case. Alaya was soon discredited as the star witness.
Blanco had avoided the death penalty. Later, she accepted a plea bargain. And in 2004, “La Madrina” was released and sent back to Colombia.
Despite her stroke of good luck, she had made too many enemies at that point to be welcomed back home with open arms. In 2012, 69-year-old Griselda Blanco met her own brutal end.
Shot twice in the head outside a butcher’s shop in Medellín, Blanco was assassinated in a motorcycle drive-by shooting — the same murder method she’d pioneered years before. It was unclear who killed her.
Was this one of Pablo Escobar’s associates from decades earlier with a grudge? Or an angry family member of someone she had killed? Blanco had so many enemies, it is too difficult to determine.
“It’s some kind of poetic justice that she met an end that she delivered to so many others,” said Bruce Bagley, author of the book Drug Trafficking in the Americas. “She might have retired to Colombia and wasn’t anything like the kind of player she was in her early days, but she had lingering enemies almost everywhere you look. What goes around comes around.”