A Colombian Woman Terrorized 1970s Miami And Reportedly Ordered The Murders Of 200 People

Griselda Blanco doesn’t at first appear to be your typical megalomaniacal drug baron. In fact, she looks like she could be someone’s eccentric auntie. But appearances can be deceptive. After all, Blanco was one of the most ruthless crime lords ever known. She was, for instance, potentially responsible for the deaths of more than 200 people and for flooding both New York and Miami with cocaine. Her ruthless ascent to power reads like something straight from Machiavelli.

Blanco was born in 1943 and grew up in a poor area near Colombia’s port city of Cartagena. And these were mean streets indeed. In fact, murder was reportedly so common in this area that grave-digging was a favorite pastime of local children. But even considering this gruesome activity, the young Blanco displayed an aptitude for violence that surpassed her peers.

A case in point? When Blanco was only 11 years old, she and her friends kidnapped a 10-year-old boy from a well-off area of town. Then, when the ransom money for the boy did not come, Blanco reportedly shot him in the forehead. After that, she took to robbery and prostitution. And from there, she migrated easily into organized crime at around the age of 13. Furthermore, it was here that she met one Carlos Trujillo.

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Trujillo became Blanco’s first husband, but he was also her first business partner. In fact, Trujillo had a knack for counterfeiting identity cards, and the pair made a killing smuggling illegal immigrants into the United States. But despite them having three children together, the marriage and partnership soon crumbled. Later, Trujillo also became the first former lover to be whacked by Blanco’s assassins.

Blanco’s next business partner-cum-spouse was Alberto Bravo, a fellow Colombian who was building an empire in a relatively new area of drug trafficking: cocaine. The pair brought their business to New York, where they got rich selling huge quantities of the drug to the city’s elite. At first they imported small quantities of coke hidden in suitcases, but eventually they were moving it straight from Colombia with their own pilots.

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With this supply line working day and night, Bravo and Blanco were pulling in millions of dollars every day. Of course, that kind of wealth didn’t go unnoticed. The DEA and NYPD went after her with “Operation Banshee,” and Blanco, along with 30 of her henchmen, were indicted on drug charges in 1975. However, the cocaine lynchpin proved an unpredictable character.

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Indeed, she gave officials the slip and escaped to Colombia. It was there, moreover, that she had a showdown with her husband. Resentment had been growing between the pair for some time, and Blanco suspected that he was squirreling away millions of dollars from their venture for himself. So it was that they met in a nightclub parking lot outside of Bogotá.

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They weren’t alone, however; both were accompanied by armed bodyguards. Recriminations were made, including Bravo accusing his wife of rising above her station. It was a big mistake. Hidden in her boot, Blanco had a pistol – which she suddenly produced to fire multiple shots at point-blank range into her husband.

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Little did Blanco know, however, that her husband was packing an Uzi. A firefight ensued in which six bodyguards were slain and Blanco was shot in the gut. And although she survived, her husband did not. From then on, Blanco had another name to supplement her “Cocaine Godmother” moniker: Black Widow.

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With her marital complications settled, Blanco set her sights on Miami. Known as a “Virgin City,” it was ripe for exploitation by crime bosses like Blanco. An underground network of Cuban refugees had already laid the foundation for the city’s burgeoning cocaine trade, and so the Godmother was primed to move in – ruthlessly. On her arrival, she immediately set about purging rival dealers.

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And she did so with frightening rapidity. Any number of trivial offenses – from late payments to the mere fact that she didn’t like the look of you – could place people on Blanco’s hit list. Worse, she instructed her hired goons, led by one Jorge “Rivi” Ayala, to eliminate all witnesses to the murders, even women and children.

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Meanwhile, Blanco and her entourage would indulge in coke-fueled bacchanalia at her plush penthouse. By now, Blanco’s displays of wealth were nothing short of obscene: she owned diamonds that were previously the property of Eva Peron and had an imposing bronze sculpture made in her own likeness. Visiting dealers, incidentally, would reportedly rub the statue for good luck.

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With all the drugs and money flying around – Blanco was reportedly pulling in $80 million a month – it’s perhaps unsurprising that things went to Blanco’s head. Beset by drug-induced paranoia, she would hole herself up in her mansion for days, watched over by her German Shepherd, charmingly named Hitler. But another rash move on Blanco’s part would step up the pressure even more.

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In 1979 Blanco ordered a hit on a Colombian dealer named German Jimenez Panesso. Her henchmen caught up with Panesso at a Miami mall, gunning him and his associate down as well as injuring two bystanders. As one medical examiner said at the time, it was “a replay of Chicago in the 1920s.” But the assassins had left behind an important clue: their van, which was stuffed to the gills with firearms.

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This “war wagon” – so named by detectives for its tank-like customization – provided a link for both the authorities and other crime bosses to tie Blanco to the murders. One such enemy was Alberto Bravos’ nephew, Jaime, who sent hired Colombian gunmen to Miami to hunt Blanco down. Beset on all sides, the Godmother retreated to California in 1984.

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But she could only run so far. Just one year later, a DEA team led by agent Bob Palombo tracked Blanco down in Irvine, where she was living with her mother and youngest son (whom she had named Michael Corleone in tribute to the iconic Godfather protagonist). And when Palombo – who had been on Blanco’s tail for decades – slapped the cuffs on her wrists, he sealed the deal with a kiss on his nemesis’ cheek.

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After she had finally been caught, it looked like Blanco and her murderous reign were finished. But the Godmother of Cocaine was incorrigible. As news reports of her incarceration spread, Blanco came to the attention of a young and ambitious coke dealer named Charles Cosby. Sensing a kindred spirit, he reached out to Blanco in jail through a mutual friend.

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When Cosby and Blanco finally met in the low-security prison where she was being held, the chemistry was instantaneous. And after some passionate kissing, she furnished him with enough cocaine to revive her business from the outside. Following that encounter the pair struck up a romance of sorts, but then it wasn’t long before Blanco proposed one last hare-brained scheme.

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The plan was astonishing: kidnap John F. Kennedy’s son, JFK Jr., and ransom him in exchange for Blanco’s freedom. Blanco felt as if the walls were closing in; by 1994 her business had come under renewed scrutiny, and even her old enforcer “Rivi” was now collaborating with the authorities against her. This wild stunt was her attempt to thwart her enemies and elude prosecution once and for all.

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Surprisingly, Blanco’s henchmen managed to get within spitting distance of JFK Jr. But ultimately the plot failed. Then, under increasing pressure from the authorities, even Cosby turned against Blanco – testifying against her in the court case. So, in 1995, she was indicted for three murders. Still, though, there was one more twist to the tale: a sex scandal involving Cosby, Rivi and the state attorney’s secretary meant that the case had to be dropped. Blanco was subsequently deported.

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Back in Colombia, then, Blanco was surrounded by her old enemies. But, incredibly, it would be decades before she finally got her comeuppance. In 2012 Blanco was leaving her local butcher’s back in Medellín when a motorbike-riding gunman shot her down. Ironically, this was the method of assassination that Blanco is said to have pioneered. The most successful female drug baron in history was dead, her long reign of terror having ended in a moment.

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