Colombian drug lord Griselda Blanco was known as “La Madrina” (“The Godmother”) after she successfully pioneered a Miami-based cocaine drug trade for nearly five decades from the 1950s to the early 2000s. The murderous matriarch stood only 152 centimeters (5’0″) tall. But she was feared by many and even dubbed the “Female Tony Montana” due to her lavish lifestyle.
Blanco is remembered for many things—her power, her bloody tactics, her coldheartedness, and her ability to amass a staggering net worth of $2 billion in a field that has always been dominated by men.
Born in 1943 in Cartagena, Colombia, Blanco was surrounded by poverty from birth. The shantytown where she grew up had such a high murder rate that children would pass the time on the streets by digging holes for the bodies that littered the roads.
At age 11, she went with a group of friends to a nearby wealthy village and kidnapped a 10-year-old boy from a rich family. The boy was held hostage as Blanco tried to obtain ransom money from his family. When it was clear that the family was not willing to give up the cash, Blanco was handed a gun and she shot the boy between the eyes. Violence was present from the beginning of her life, and it followed her into adulthood.
DEA Agent Bob Palombo explained, “I don’t think the fact that she was a female trying to prove something had anything to do with her violent behavior; I just think it was inherent to Griselda Blanco. This goes back to her life, the way she was brought up. She was just a violent person.”
Blanco ran away from home at age 14 to escape abuse at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend. She survived by earning money as a pickpocket and a prostitute. In the mid-1970s, she immigrated to Queens, New York, with her second husband, Alberto Bravo.
There, they started their own network of cocaine dealing. Her client list included Hollywood stars and top athletes. The huge success of their narcotics empire put her on the FBI’s radar, and eventually, she moved to Miami.
When Blanco hit Miami, the timing was just right and she soon had a monopoly. By the late 1970s, at the height of her game, she was earning around $80 million a month. Everyone wanted to work for her, and the DEA estimated that she had 600 people on her payroll.
DEA agent Bob Palombo told Maxim, “She mesmerized people. She could woo you with her acumen and make you a loyal follower.” Blanco was able to live a life of comfort and luxury. However, with great riches came powerful enemies.
Business was going so well for Blanco that it was only a matter of time before her rivals started to invade her territory. One of those rivals was Pablo “The King of Cocaine” Escobar. He had become the biggest threat to her business even though she had given him a leg up from the start. Jennie Smith, author of Cocaine Cowgirl, explained, “[Escobar] wasn’t afraid of her. Everyone else was, but he wasn’t.”
In 1975, Blanco and Escobar were at war and they wanted each other dead. So began a deadly game of assassins as they both deployed members of their own drug cartels to kill the other.
In this drug war, Escobar had the upper hand. When the FBI was closing in on Blanco, Escobar was on his way up. It was just a waiting game until he would come out on top.
The actual number of murders for which Blanco is responsible has been disputed over the years. Many have pegged the potential victim count as between 40 and 240, although she was only convicted of three murders. The details of the slayings that put her behind bars had all come from her former hit man Jorge Ayala.
One of the most shocking was the murder of two-year-old Johnny Castro who was in the car with his father Jesus “Chucho” Castro. Blanco had ordered the killing of Chucho because he had disrespected her son.
Ayala told the police, “At first, she was real mad ’cause we missed the father. But when she heard we had gotten the son by accident, she said she was glad, that they were even.”
In 1985, she was captured in Irvine, California, by the DEA and sentenced to three concurrent 20-year sentences. She would only have to serve 10 years as the case collapsed due to technicalities.
Blanco clearly loved her reputation as “The Godmother.” She even named her third son, Michael Corleone, after the third son of Mafia don Vito Corleone in her favorite movie, The Godfather.
Blanco’s former hit man, who would later become a witness against her, revealed that he accepted a $50,000 payment for killing a man for her while three-year-old Michael was in the room with her. Blanco never hid her criminal ways from her sons. She was determined that they would follow in her footsteps and inherit her multibillion empire.
However, things didn’t work out as planned. Michael’s father and his older brothers were all killed before he reached his 16th birthday. It wasn’t long before his mother was sentenced to decades behind bars, so he was left in the care of his maternal grandmother and other legal guardians.
Blanco’s three husbands were all murdered. The blame was pointed in her direction, earning her the name “The Black Widow.” Her first husband was Carlos Trujillo, with whom she had three sons. They were all killed under suspicious circumstances after they were deported to Colombia following prison sentences in United States.
She then married Alberto Bravo, and the pair went into business together. In 1975, she confronted Bravo in a Bogota nightclub parking lot as she believed that he had stolen millions of dollars from the profits they had made in business together.
The married couple was locked in a deadly gun battle. She was holding a pistol, and he had an Uzi submachine gun. It ended with Bravo dead along with six of his bodyguards. Blanco walked away with only a minor gunshot wound to the abdomen.
Blanco’s third husband, Dario Sepulveda, was the father of her youngest son, Michael Corleone Blanco. In 1983, Sepulveda kidnapped Michael during a custody disagreement. Blanco then paid to have Sepulveda murdered in Colombia, and Michael was returned to her.
When you have to transport 1,540 kilograms (3,400 lb) of cocaine into the United States a month, it pays to be a bit creative to avoid detection. According to Miami New Times, “She revolutionized smuggling by developing her own line of underwear with secret compartments to stuff drugs into.”
She invented the underwear with hidden pockets so that her cocaine mules could get the drugs into the US. In Medellin, Colombia, she opened her own manufacturing facility that developed custom-made bras and girdles that were perfect for drug smuggling.
Another one of her inventions was deadly. In 1979, she coordinated a shoot-out at Dadeland Mall in Miami. Three gunmen drove up to the target in a fully equipped “war wagon” and sprayed 60 shots. Two men were killed, and a store clerk was injured. It was the first grisly drive-by of its kind, but it was copied by many cartels after Blanco died.
When they finally busted Blanco, it was a big deal for the DEA. Miami Attorney Sam Burstyn told Maxim, “She was our John Gotti.” Blanco was not happy about sitting behind bars, so she cooked up an elaborate plan to regain her freedom.
According to the New York Post, she intended to send her foot soldiers in the cartel to kidnap John F. Kennedy Jr. A promise of his safe return would be negotiated if she was allowed to walk free. Nothing ever came of Blanco’s elaborate plan. With her behind bars, it was business as usual—and then some—for her rivals on the outside.
The safest place for Blanco was behind bars. Miami homicide detective Nelson Andreu explained to the Miami Herald, “It’s surprising to all of us that she had not been killed sooner because she made a lot of enemies. When you kill so many and hurt so many people like she did, it’s only a matter of time before they find you and try to even the score.”
Most of the information about Blanco’s web of illegal drugs, murder, and extortion came from her former hit man Jorge Ayala who became the key witness in the investigation. Blanco was looking at the death sentence in the state of Florida if she were found guilty of murder.
But the case took a shocking U-turn that saved her life. Ayala had begun a phone sex relationship with two of the secretaries at the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office who also cashed money orders that he sent them.
The phone sex scandal brought Ayala’s credibility as a witness into question. With the key witness now useless, the state didn’t have enough evidence. It’s strongly believed that Ayala purposely sabotaged himself as a witness so that he wouldn’t be murdered by one of Blanco’s henchmen. Although one of her most loyal soldiers had turned against her, he had also saved her.
Blanco created the method of killing her enemies while on a motorcycle. Her henchmen would ride up on motorbikes, shoot the intended target, and then zoom off before anyone really knew what was going on. It was such a successful method of killing that many of her rivals also adopted the technique.
After Griselda Blanco was released from prison, her youngest son revealed that she had become a born-again Christian. Then, on September 3, 2012, Blanco went to the butcher’s shop in Medellin with her pregnant daughter-in-law. They bought $150 worth of meat.
A middle-aged man got off a motorbike, walked up to Blanco on the street, and shot her twice. Then he walked back to his motorbike and drove away. One witness at the scene said, “He was a professional. It was vengeance from the past.”
As Blanco lay dying on the ground, her daughter-in-law placed a Bible on her chest. Blanco was 69 when she died. She had finally fallen victim to the same fate that she had forced on so many others.
Cheish Merryweather is a true crime fan and an oddities fanatic. Can either be found at house parties telling everyone Charles Manson was only 157 centimeters (5’2″) or at home reading true crime magazines.