During the 1970’s and early 80’s, the illegal drug trade in Miami took a profound change in direction, a change that directly impacted the city. As the rich “elite” of Miami spread the gospel of cocaine, the prices dropped and cocaine quickly took the lead as the drug of choice for most users in the United States. This lead to a “boom” in sales that resulted in an endless stream of money funneling into Miami. The amount of money involved and its impact on the city of Miami is often underestimated. For instance, the construction of most of Miami’s high rise buildings was financed from the excess money as drug smugglers poured their money into legitimate businesses. One of the Miami smugglers was particular notable, not only because of the level of violence and cruelty that they employed, but because this criminal, known as the Godmother, was a woman.
The money made by the cocaine empire was vast. Entire communities were built in and around Miami financed with drug money. Local businesses boomed. Whereas a typical bank would process $12 million in funds per day, some Miami banks were processing close to a billion dollars each day. The Miami Federal Reserve Bank processed as much money in a year as all the Federal Reserve Banks in the United States – combined! Nobody profited more from this explosion than Griselda Blanco.
Griselda was born on February 15, 1943 in Cartagena, Colombia. Born to a poor family, Griselda suffered much abuse at the hands of her alcoholic mother and by the age of 11, was a child prostitute learning the ropes on the mean streets of Colombia. By her early teenage years, Griselda had already rumored to have kidnapped, robbed, and shot a child from the richer end of her slum.
Known as the Godmother, the Black Widow, and the Cocaine Queen of Miami, Griselda Blanco pioneered the Miami-based cocaine drug trade and underworld. Griselda met her first husband, Carlos Trujillo in the 60’s and they soon emigrated to Queens, New York. Together they had three children (Griselda had a fourth child with another man). Trujillo introduced Griselda to Alberto Bravo, a drug trafficker from the infamous Medellin group. Trujillo eagerly taught Griselda how the drug trafficking scheme worked and together they built a thriving drug business in the New York area. By the late 60’s, her first husband, Trujillo, would die at Griselda’s hands when an offending remark resulted in Griselda placing the barrel of a loaded gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger.
Free from any business partner, by the early 70’s, Griselda started her own trafficking network in New York. Business was good but she was forced to flee to Miami in 1979 after being indicted in New York on drug related charges. It was in Miami that Griselda developed her reputation for being bloodthirsty, ruthless, and sexually deviant. She quickly rose to the top of Miami’s drug trade. Much of the violence that occurred during this time, known as the Cocaine Cowboy Wars, was accredited to Griselda and her gang. Her business philosophy was simple – anyone that she owed money to would be killed and anyone that failed to pay back monies she was owed would be killed. By the early 1980’s, her drug empire was netting over $8 million dollars off of 3,400 pounds of cocaine smuggled per month. She was one of the richest residents of Miami.
Several ingenious techniques and business methods were introduced by Griselda. Upon her move to Florida, she quickly initiated a group called The Pisteleros. The men in this group operated as paid assassins and were put together from the best hired guns gathered from throughout the United States. To carry her drugs, Griselda invented a form of lingerie that allowed her female mules to carry the drugs under their clothes – undetected. Griselda is also given credit for the “motorcycle assassin” method (see ironic news update below) in which one motorcycle carries a passenger on the back who “sprays” victims with machine gun fire as they drive by. Griselda even attempted to fool her own killers (contracts from Colombia were taken out on Griselda too) by sending an empty coffin, purported to contain her body, back to Colombia.
In 1979, Griselda orchestrated the Dade County Shopping Mall Massacre in which four people were killed. Griselda summoned two drug dealers to the mall to discuss an outstanding debt she owed them. Griselda had a “war wagon” on the scene readied to take out the drug dealers and hence, by default, eliminate her debt to them. The armored war wagon was something the police had not seen up until that time. Featuring heavy armor and bullet proof glass, the vehicle provided the assassins the means to knock off their targets while remaining invulnerable to their (or the police’s) return fire. After the shooting, the war wagon was abandoned and police discovered a cache of weapons unlike any they had seen before.
Griselda ordered hits with ease and sometimes on a whim. She began ordering female strippers (Griselda was known to be bisexual) for participation in grand orgies. She would then have them executed for her own amusement. In 1982, Griselda was angered that another drug dealer, Chucho Castro, would not meet with her. She ordered a hit on him. Assassins tailed Chucho in a bland, white van. When the opportunity arose, they pulled alongside the van and opened fire. Chucho fled, sped up and across a gas station parking lot where he successfully evaded the assassins. Unfortunately, Chucho’s two-year old son was asleep in the back seat and was struck in the heat by an errant bullet. He was killed instantly.
Knowing that he could not publicly reveal the death, Chucho took his son’s body home and placed it in a bathtub full of ice. Chucho and his wife mourned the loss throughout the entire night. The following day, they left his body at the steps of a local mosque, wrapped in a white sheet and clutching three red roses in his hands (one rose for each year of his life). Jorge Ayala, one of the hit men who lead the murders and later turned government witness, said in a sworn statement that Griselda had wanted Chucho killed because he had disrespected her son by kicking him in the buttocks.
Nearly a year after the murder of the Chucho baby, Griselda ordered the killing of Alfred and Grizel Lorenzo, a husband and wife drug dealing team from south Miami. Assassins entered the home and after a brief chat with Alfred, executed him in his living room. They proceeded to the kitchen area where they found his wife, Grizel, preparing a meal. They shot her dead while her three young children watched TV in another room. The assassins then debated whether or not the children should be killed also. The orders were specific – no one in the household should be left alive. After much discussion, the lead assassin (Jorge Ayala) determined that the children should be spared. When police arrived on the scene, they found the children cuddling the bullet riddled body of their mother. It was later discovered that when Griselda confirmed the killings, she was angered that the couple’s children had been left alive.
Sometime around 1982, Griselda began sampling her own product and her crimes grew even more bizarre and vicious. As she gained weight, she was known to have forced men to have sex with her at gunpoint. She stole $1.8 million from her best friend and then tortured, beat, and shot her before dumping the body in a Miami canal. By 1984, she moved her operations to Irvine, California, and took with her a $7 million dollar crack cocaine addiction. The quantity of drug consumed by Griselda was so great, persons around her noted that it had begun to affect her mind. It may have well resulted in her downfall too.
On February 17, 1985, Griselda was arrested for a cocaine trafficking charge in New York by DEA agent, Bob Palumbo. Police gathered enough evidence and were finally able to initiate the arrest after a former member of her crew agreed to testify against her in return for a reduced murder sentence. While in jail, Florida officials were able to build a murder case against her too. On October 1, 1998 (ten years after her New York cocaine trafficking arrest), Griselda agreed to a plea bargain arrangement in the murder of Chucho Castro’s baby boy and the Alonzo family. Police had hoped that Griselda could be put away for life but a scandal at the Miami Dade state attorney’s office scuttled their efforts. It was discovered that Jorge Ayala had engaged in phone sex with the prosecutors’ secretaries and had sent money and gifts in return. After a lengthy investigation, three secretaries were fired and a veteran prosecutor resigned from office. Her charges were then reduced to second degree murder and she was given three concurrent 20 year sentences. Under the arrangement, she only served six years of the sentences. Griselda was released from prison on June 6, 2004 at the age of 61 and immediately deported to Colombia.
How many people Griselda killed or ordered to be killed is unknown but authorities estimate between 40 and 200 people were executed. Three of her four sons went into the same business and were arrested on similar charges as Griselda. The sons were deported back to Colombia and all three were assassinated within days of their arrival. Griselda’s youngest son, Michael Corleone (named after the lead character in the Godfather movie), runs a successful gangster record label in Miami. Much of Griselda’s wealth has never been recovered including $1 million dollars that was transferred into an overseas account by DEA agents during an undercover investigation. Griselda was photographed as late as 2007 in Bogota, Colombia in an infamous picture sent to the creators of the Cocaine Cowboy 2 Movie (a movie that chronicled her life and legacy). Her precise whereabouts are unknown.
On September 3, 2012, it was reported that Griselda Blanco, the Queen of Cocaine, was shot to death in Colombia. According to reports, Griselda was gunned down in a drive-by. Two men on motorcycles opened fire on the 69-year-old as she exited a butcher shop in the western section of Mdellin. Reports indicate she died from two head shot wounds to the head. Ironically, the motorcycle drive-by method is said to have been developed and popularized by Griselda over three decades ago.