In the world of drug traffickers, several men stand out as almost mythical figures – Pablo Escobar and Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to name two of the most famous.
But do you know who gave Pablo Escobar his start? Do you know who was the first narco trafficker to send cocaine into the United States? The first to perfect the widely used drug “mule”?
Griselda Blanco may not be as well known as some of the famous male drug lords, but she was just as bloody, cruel, and ambitious. The “Black widow,” the “Godmother,” or “Cocaine Cowgirl” – whatever name you choose to call her, Griselda Blanco shaped the drug trade with her innovative and bloody tactics.
Griselda Blanco Started Killing As a Child
Griselda Blanco was born in Cartagena, Colombia in 1943 but moved to Medellin soon after due to the violence and the abuse that her mother suffered. In Medellin, she grew up in a neighborhood known as Comuna 13, one of the roughest parts of the city.
There, surrounded by crime and violence, she learned from those around her.
By the time she was just eleven years old, she had already gathered together a gang of pickpockets who managed to support themselves through theft. But Griselda wasn’t satisfied with petty crime.
She soon hatched a much more ambitious plan – to kidnap a wealthy boy and demand a ransom from his family.
Griselda and her group carried out the first part of the plan – kidnapping the boy – but when the family didn’t pay the ransom, Griselda simply killed him. At the age of eleven, Griselda already showed the kind of cold calculation that would go on to define the rest of her sordid career in the drug trade.
She left home at 14. By her late teens, she married her first husband, Carlos Trujillo, a man who sold fake passports. She had three children with him – Uber, Dixon, and Osvaldo. She was with him for ten years before he seemingly died of cirrhosis.
Was it really the disease that killed him? Given Griselda’s penchant for violence, others pointed their fingers at Griselda herself. It wouldn’t be the first time she was accused of killing her husband.
Griselda Blanco’s Rise to Power
Just months after Trujillo’s death, Griselda married a narcotrafficker named Alberto Bravo. She had started out as a mule for his growing drug empire. But after just a few months she became his wife.
But this was no typical marriage. As Alberto’s wife, Griselda continued to smuggle drugs across the border for him. And she quickly proved to be innovative when it came to the drug trade.
One of her first realizations was that women made perfect mules because they largely went unnoticed. Or better yet, if they flirted with the border patrol, they could easily carry drugs through to the United States no matter how much attention was placed on them.
She also came up with the technique in which her mules would hide drugs in their underwear. The method became so successful for her that she eventually went on to create her own lingerie factory in the United States.
But there was yet another innovation of hers that was far deadlier – motorcycle hitmen. As she watched her husband’s drug trade grow, she came to the conclusion that buying up rival operations was the quickest way to expand into new territory while eliminating competition.
So, she started buying out competitors. But what if they refused? She simply had them killed in a drive-by shooting from the back of a motorcycle. This was one of the first times that hitmen on motorcycles were used to execute victims. And it was the Black Widow’s idea.
Becoming “La Viuda Negra”
At a certain point, the US authorities began to trail Griselda Blanco and her husband, forcing them to flee back to Colombia. It was soon after they returned, however, that Griselda gained one of her most famous nicknames – “La Viuda Negra,” or “Black Widow.”
It’s unclear the motives for her crime, but one day in a club in Medellín, she shot and killed her husband, Alberto. In return, he shot her in the abdomen, but she survived.
The murder of Alberto, coupled with suspicions that she had murdered her first husband as well, made “the Black Widow” a seemingly fitting name.
But her run of husband killings didn’t end there. A few years later she married for the third time and had her fourth child – Michael Corleone, who she named after The Godfather movies, which were her favorite.
At this point, Pablo Escobar was running the drug trade in and around Medellin, and so Griselda Blanco and her new husband, Dario Sepúlveda, moved to Miami. There, they set up a thriving drug empire of their own that was every bit as violent as Esobar’s.
Unfortunately for Darío, even he wasn’t immune to that violence. At one point, he decided he wanted to give Michael a better life than the one in Miami with his mother. So, he kidnapped four-year-old Michael and attempted to flee.
However, he was tracked down by hitmen to a region of Colombia called Antioquia, where he was shot down. Michael was then returned to his mother. I guess that’s what you get for marrying the “Black Widow.”
Griselda Blanco Is Captured
Once Griselda was reunited with her son Michael back in Miami, she doubled down on her network of criminal activities. She became one of the most famous (and feared) figures in the Miami underworld.
It didn’t matter how old her victims were, or whether or not they deserved to die. During this time, she ruled through violence and an iron fist.
But eventually, the law caught up with her. As she felt the snare closing in on her, she fled Miami for Irvine, California, taking Michael with her. For a while, she lived there with her mother while her three eldest sons took over the sordid family business back in Miami.
But the DEA had not lost the trail. And by tracking the activities of her sons, they finally managed to apprehend the Black Widow herself on the morning of February 17, 1985.
By the time she was caught, Griselda’s list of crimes was long. She easily could have been put away for life had it not been for some irregularities that occurred during the trial. Because of these, she received only 20 years for the murders of a handful of Cuban drug traffickers.
But even being in prison didn’t put an end to Griselda’s criminal activity. After striking up a romantic relationship with a younger man named, Charles Cosby, the two of them decided to kidnap John F. Kennedy’s son and hold him for ransom.
Knowing that the Kennedy family was one of the richest in America, they hoped to extract millions from the operation. Charles eventually thought better of it though and turned on Griselda, becoming an informant for the FBI.
The Black Widow’s Last Days
The planned kidnapping had little effect on her sentence. In 2004, after two decades in prison, Griselda Blanco was released and deported to Colombia. There, she lived out the remainder of her days
These days were filled with fear and paranoia – at least according to those who were close to her. She apparently never wanted to sleep alone, and had nightmares filled with scenes of violence that she herself had perpetrated over and over again.
As is perhaps fitting for a woman who left behind such a bloody trail of corpses throughout her life, she died at the hands of hitmen riding on the back of a motorcycle – the very innovation that she had begun decades earlier.
As violent a death as it was, anyone who knew her didn’t find anything surprising about it. As one police investigator put it, “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.”
It’s perhaps a fitting epitaph for one of the most dangerous and bloodthirsty drug lords that ever lived.
From her first taste of blood at the young age of eleven to her rise through the ranks of the growing cocaine trade, Griselda Blanco is an example of how someone can rise to the top through sheer ruthlessness and ingenuity.
But that ruthlessness did not come without consequences.
By the time she was finally murdered, she had spent years behind bars and had been reduced to a paranoid old woman. Of course, the suffering she experienced was nothing compared to the violence she meted out during her lifetime.
For her victims, the Black Widow’s legacy will continue to linger for years to come.