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Griselda Blanco: So Long and Thanks for All the Cocaine

Griselda Blanco was killed outside a butcher shop in Colombia yesterday when two men on a motorcycle put two bullets into her head. Despite the location, this was unlikely a beef about beef (zing!), and probably had more to do with the scores of people...

Griselda Blanco (aka La Madrina, the Godmother, the Black Widow, Cocaine Cowgirl, Queenpin) was killed outside a butcher shop in Medellín, Colombia at 3 PM Monday when two men on a motorcycle fired two shots into her head with a revolver. Despite the location, this was unlikely a beef about beef (zing!), and probably had more to do with the scores of people she ruthlessly murdered throughout the 70s and 80s. Yes, in addition to smuggling tons of cocaine from Colombia into the United States and amassing a personal fortune that would make dot com boomers blush, she is allegedly responsible for ordering upwards of 200 homicides in Colombia, Florida, New York, and California.


Miami-Dade County Police victim list of Griselda Blanco’s organization

For decades, law enforcement and the media have credited Blanco with pioneering the undeniably badass motorcycle assassin technique in Colombia and importing it to South Florida, where it was used liberally. Police say she is single-handedly to blame for Miami devolving into the homicide capital of America in the 1980s.

Her sinister exploits were memorialized in two documentaries I directed, Cocaine Cowboys (2006) and Cocaine Cowboys II: Hustling with the Godmother (2008). (You can buy them both by clicking on those links, btw. No pressure.)

Born in the poverty-stricken Medellín mountains—like her childhood friend Pablo Escobar—she grew up during La Violencia, Colombia’s vicious civil war, and didn’t waste any time breaking into the murder business. As legend has it, at age 11 she kidnapped a young boy for ransom. When his wealthy valley parents failed to pay, she killed him.

Later in life, years of prostitution and counterfeiting preceded a series of, shall we say, failed marriages. Her ‘Black Widow’ sobriquet was earned by murdering (or ordering the murder of) multiple husbands. It was her relationship with these men, her notorious temper, and her early connection to Escobar that gave her an advantage in the otherwise male-dominated cocaine trade.

Miami News, June 21, 1972

Miami News, June 30, 1973

Blanco used her feminine insight to her advantage. She opened a women's underwear factory in Colombia that manufactured undergarments with secret compartments so that mules could smuggle cocaine into the US as passengers on commercial airlines.


Miami News, June 4, 1976

By the mid-1970s she’d established herself in Queens, New York as a significant smuggler. She was allegedly behind the 1976 scheme to transport at least 6 kilos of cocaine to Miami aboard the Tall Ship Gloria, sent by the Colombian government to commemorate America’s Bicentennial in a race to New York Harbor. An apt metaphor for the Colombian cocaine invasion that befell America in the decade to follow.

In 1975, Blanco was among the defendants in the first major federal cocaine trafficking indictment (out of the Southern District of New York). Shortly thereafter, as a fugitive, she fled to Miami, where her business exploded and she purportedly became a cocaine billionaire. In making her fortune, she killed a LOT of people. The media compared south Florida to Dodge City and Chicago during the prohibition era. Blanco was behind public assassinations in broad daylight at busy shopping malls, as well as the bayoneting (seriously) of a rival cocaine kingpin as he exited a flight in a Miami airport terminal.

During this time, 25 percent of corpses in the morgue had wounds from automatic gunfire, and there were so many bodies that the medical examiner was forced to rent a refrigerated van from a Miami-based Burger King to house the overflow.

Following the bloody Cocaine Wars in Miami, Blanco fled to California, where she was finally arrested by DEA Agent Bob Palumbo, who’d been chasing her for ten years.


Jorge ‘Rivi’ Ayala

She served her federal drug sentence in a Dublin, California prison, while Miami-Dade Sergeant Al Singleton and his untouchable CENTAC 26 team raced against time to build a capital murder case against her. They found their case in Jorge ‘Rivi’ Ayala, a handsome, charming, Colombian-born, American-raised enforcer, who was once Griselda’s favorite hitman. As Singleton put it, “Griselda was our John Gotti and Rivi was our Sammy ‘The Bull’ Gravano.”

Meanwhile, Blanco had supposedly hatched an escape plot involving hired henchmen kidnapping JFK, Jr. in Manhattan and holding him hostage in exchange for her release.

In 1994, before she could act on her master plan, Singleton met Blanco at FCI Dublin with a small motorcade. She must’ve assumed they were with INS because it wasn’t until she was in the car that she asked where they were headed. The officers explained they were extraditing her to Miami-Dade County where she’d been indicted for three first-degree murders. Each charge carried a possible death sentence. She vomited in the car.

Lucky for her, her once dear friend and ally, the same guy who’d created the murder case against her, blew it up (much like he’d once done to the South Florida home of a Blanco enemy). Too suave for even the secretaries at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office to resist, Rivi—who is currently serving three consecutive life sentences in a Florida prison—was implicated in a “phone sex” scandal that so humiliated prosecutor Katherine Fernandez Rundle she chose to plea bargain with the Godmother to avoid further embarrassment.


In 1998, Blanco pled out to three second-degree murder charges and received a 20-year sentence. While she was in prison, two of her four sons were murdered in Colombia. By 2004, she was a free woman.

Blanco was released from a Florida prison and deported to Colombia, where she lived quietly in a comfortable home in a Medellín neighborhood described by some as the ‘Bel Air of Colombia,’ an exclusive gated community complete with armed guards.

Despite being shot in the head yesterday, Blanco was, in many ways, a survivor. She endured the Cocaine Wars, eluded American authorities for years, served her time in prison, outlived Pablo Escobar, the cartels, and, ultimately died a free woman. Or as free a woman as someone like Griselda Blanco could possibly be.

She is survived by her sons Dixon Trujillo, who reportedly resides in Colombia, and Michael Corleone Sepulveda, who lived in Miami before his recent arrest on cocaine charges. She’s also survived by hundreds (possibly even thousands) of her victim’s loved ones, at least one of whom held a long-standing grudge that culminated yesterday outside a butcher shop in Medellín.

Billy Corben is the co-producer and director of Cocaine Cowboys, The U, and the upcoming Broke for ESPN 30 for 30 Vol. II, among other films. He also runs The Billy Pulpit.