Griselda Blanco, the notorious narco boss responsible for 250 killings, who also murdered several of her husbands and served as ‘godmother’ to young Pablo Escobar, is the subject of a new Netflix series premiering today, January 25.
Colombian actress Sofia Vergara will portray the formidable woman.
Griselda Blanco, one of the most infamous drug lords during a period of terror in Colombia, remains a dark symbol of one of Medellin’s and Colombia’s worst eras. This was a time when the brutal force of drug trafficking severely impacted and tried to intimidate and subdue the country’s society.
The real-life story of Griselda Blanco exceeds that of television fiction. Known as the ‘Black Widow,’ her criminal behavior brings back memories of a dark past that Colombia has not fully overcome. Her life is a vivid portrayal of terror and violence in their most raw form.
The origins of the monster
Griselda’s origins are as obscure as her life. She was born in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, in 1943. Her mother became pregnant by her employer, a rich man who did not want to recognize the child. Griselda and her mother moved to Santa Marta shortly after her birth, where she lived a difficult childhood. When she turned eleven, they relocated to Medellin. While her mother was working and trying to feed the family, Griselda had already joined a gang, and was committing petty theft on the dark streets of the city.
There she suffered abuse and violence at the hands of her stepfather, which undoubtedly shaped her dominant and unempathetic personality. Daily mistreatment moulded her into a woman with an elusive, antisocial and violent character. While she was still very young, her gang decided to strike a major blow, kidnapping a nine-year-old boy, the son of a wealthy family. When the parents did not pay the ransom demanded, Griselda showed her leadership by shooting the child dead. Thus began the legend of “la patrona”.
At the age of 14 she left home, fed up with the abuse. Soon she showed her full potential for criminal activity. According to Ivan Gallo, author of a biography of Griselda Blanco, while still a fifteen-year-old she was a fearsome delinquent, admired and envied by the criminal underworld of Medellin.
A few years later she married Carlos Trujillo, a visa forger much older than her, with whom she had three children. Trujillo, who suffered from alcoholism, eventually died of cirrhosis. It would only take Griselda a few months to remarry, this time to Alberto Bravo, a small-time drug dealer who introduced her to the world of cocaine. Soon she stood out as a pioneer in the trafficking of this drug, when still only a few narcos were dedicated to it.
The couple moved to New York, where they sold, at ten times the value, cocaine shipments they bought from nurses at a clinic in Medellin. The front was the import-export company Bravo ran with his brother. They soon expanded their operation and teamed up with a couple of cocaine dealers who would eventually become the Medellin Cartel.
The first “mules”
During the 1970s, Griselda became “la patrona,” the real criminal boss of the group that trafficked cocaine from Colombia to the United States. She was the one who created a new method of bringing drugs into the country, through what later became known as “mules”, recruiting prostitutes whom she used for criminal purposes.
Back then, airport controls were not as strict as they are today, allowing carriers to smuggle drugs in the backs of their clothes or in their shoes, rather than ingesting them as is often done now.
In this way, she gained prestige in a criminal world full of men. According to her biographer, she gained their respect by brutality, but also by “using her intelligence”. By the mid-1970s, she was already in control of the entire drug trafficking network.
The “black widow”
Griselda was involved in the death of her second husband, who was shot dead in the streets of Medellin, shortly after she learned that he was stealing from her. Two shots to the head ended his life. She soon entered into her third marriage, this time with Dario Sepulveda. With him, she had another son, the one closest to the drug boss, whom she named Michael Corleone, after Francis Ford Coppola’s film about the Italian-American mafia.
Shortly thereafter, she settled in Miami, where she trafficked a ton and a half of cocaine per month. Parallel to her drug trafficking business, she created a gang of gunmen who were known for their extreme violence. They were the ones who created the system of the two guys approaching their victim on a motorcycle, shooting him at close range and then fleeing easily, a modus operandi that would do so much damage a few years later in Colombia, during the reign of the Medellin cartel.
At that point, she met the young Pablo Escobar, who had recently begun trafficking marijuana and stealing marble tombstones from cemeteries. Griselda offered him a job, admiring the young man’s skill in shady business.
Her husband did not agree with the violence of his wife’s business and wanted to separate and take his son Michael Corleone with him. In the style of a Ford Coppola movie, Griselda had a group of hitmen, dressed as policemen, search for her husband. When they found him, they executed him in front of the son, who was returned to his mother.
Ironically, when Griselda received the body in Miami, she cried inconsolably, her biographer says.
The fall of Griselda
Her extremely violent behavior and the rapid growth of her wealth attracted the attention of the United States authorities. Although she managed to escape several police operations, she was finally arrested in 1985 and sentenced to 20 years.
While in prison she continued to manage the organization and also met her fourth husband, Charles Cosby, a small-time trafficker who introduced himself by writing her letters expressing his admiration. He began to manage the business from the outside, under her supervision, but he made several mistakes and Griselda tried to have him killed. The hitmen failed and Cosby turned to the American police, where he told details of his wife’s crimes.
After 19 years in prison, Griselda regained her freedom in 2004 and was deported to Colombia. Now over sixty years old, she settled in Medellin, where she led a retired life. Her many years of criminal activity had earned her many enemies. In 2012, a pair of hitmen on a motorcycle, like the ones she had created, waited for her as she was leaving a butcher’s shop in the Belen neighborhood and shot her twice in the head. According to police information she died instantly. She was 69 years old.