Griselda Blanco: The Cocaine Kingpin Who Killed All Her Husbands

The Colombian drug lord's family is now suing Netflix and star Sofia Vergara for unauthorised use of her image in the streaming drama ‘Griselda’.
Griselda Blanco's mugshot
Griselda Blanco's mugshot. Photo: Metro Dade Police Department

Colombian cocaine boss Griselda Blanco was a force of nature. The mother of four rose the ranks in a male-dominated industry, knocked off all three of her husbands, killed hundreds of people and amassed staggering personal wealth while living lavishly at the head of a massive drug empire.

It follows, then, that Netflix has a new six-episode drama series coming out, starring Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara as the “cocaine cowgirl” herself. But who is the woman Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Schlessinger says had people murdered simply because she “didn’t like the way they looked at her”?


Blanco was born in 1943 into poverty in the Colombian city of Cartagena, to an alcoholic sex worker mother. Her family relocated to Medellin, where, at the age of 11, Blanco kidnapped a young boy with wealthy parents. When the parents didn’t take the kidnapping-for-ransom seriously, Blanco shot the boy dead. 

She became a sex worker and pickpocket at age 12, and by 13, she was living with a pimp and forger named Carlos Trujillo. They married, had three children, but their relationship soured over business. Blanco had him whacked. 

Blanco’s next marriage, this time to Alberto Bravo, a coke trafficker, brought her in the late 60s to Queens, New York. There they set up their smuggling empire, disguised by Bravo’s clothing import company. Blanco opened a woman’s underwear factory in Colombia that added secret compartments into the garments, so mules could smuggle coke into the US undetected. Blanco figured female couriers would elicit less suspicion.

The coke business was booming in the 70s, and Blanco was established as a major player. Bravo and Blanco reportedly employed 1,500 dealers and flew in kilos of gear directly into the US in concert with childhood friend Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel. 

She became addicted to basuco, a cocaine paste. Perhaps out of paranoia, she kept a staffed Learjet on standby at all times, in case she needed to escape. In 1975, she used it to flee to Colombia when she learned she would be indicted as one of the defendants in the first and largest major federal cocaine trafficking case.


Back in Colombia, she accused Bravo of stealing millions from the business, and shot him multiple times with a pistol hidden in her ostrich-skin boot – but not before Bravo got some licks in himself, firing off his Uzi, with one bullet striking Blanco in the stomach. Bravo died; Blanco lived. She took full control of the empire.

In 1978, she married killer ​​Dario Sepulveda. They had a son, naming him Michael Corleone Blanco, inspired by The Godfather. They moved to the US, this time to Miami – her face so worn from drug use that US officials didn’t clock her – where her business went stratospheric. Blanco was now making obscene money; she earned a reported fortune of $1.5 billion at her peak. 

Blanco’s foot soldiers murdered rivals and nuisances at will, even in daylight. Miami was a battlefield, Blanco’s personal war game. One Colombian cocaine rival was literally bayoneted after he deplaned in Miami. “She liked to be at war,” Blanco's top hitman Jorge Ayala later testified.

Blanco was off her chops: She would force men and women to have sex at gunpoint. She’d host debauched orgies at her Miami mansion, where she kept a German shepherd guard dog named Hitler. She had eight strippers killed because she suspected they’d slept with her then-third husband, Sepulveda. 

In one noteworthy hit, Blanco and her men drove an armored van with the words “Happy Time Complete Party Supply” on it to a shopping mall and opened fire, shooting their machine guns indiscriminately, killing two drug dealers and injuring four bystanders. The assassins became known as the “cocaine cowboys”.


She had her killers ride up to targets on motorbikes, shoot them, then ride off. It’s a technique used now all over the world. At the peak of the bloodshed in Miami, 25 percent of the victims in the morgue had automatic gun wounds; the medical examiner had to rent a refrigerated van from Burger King to deal with the excess bodies. 

In 1983, Sepulveda left for Colombia, taking Michael Corleone with him. Blanco had Sepulveda popped by an assassin as he sat in his car next to his son.

Following the Miami carnage, Blanco slipped away to California, where DEA agent Bob Palumbo finally apprehended her in 1985, after 10 years of trying. Blanco was charged with conspiring to manufacture, import, and distribute cocaine. She was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

During her sentence, she was charged by the state of Florida for three counts of murder. In 1998, Blanco pled guilty to the lesser charge of three counts of second degree murder, and received an additional 20 years, to run concurrently with her previous sentence. She was ultimately released at the end of her sentence in 2004.

Blanco was deported to Colombia, where she lived a relatively quiet life. Still, she murdered an awful lot of people in her pomp, whether directly or on command. In 2012, at age 69, she was shot twice in the head in Medellin outside a butcher's shop. The culprits? Two men on a motorcycle. 


"She might have retired to Colombia and wasn't anything like the kind of player she was in her early days, but she had lingering enemies almost everywhere you look. What goes around comes around," professor Bruce Bagley, head of the University of Miami's department of international studies and author of the book Drug Trafficking in the Americas, told the Guardian.

Griselda was created by Eric Newman, Doug Miro, Ingrid Escajeda and Carlo Bernard. Newman and director Andrés Baiz reunite for Griselda following their former hits, Narcos and Narcos: Mexico.

In January, Blanco’s children – now grown-up – filed a lawsuit against Netflix and Sofia Vergara for unauthorised use of her image. They are seeking damages in excess of $50,000, though Newman seems unperturbed. “I dealt with similar suits from Pablo Escobar, his family, during the making of Narcos,” he told Today. “I tend not to think much about them. It just feels a little bit unsurprising.”

Griselda is out now on Netflix.


This article was updated for clarity. It was originally published on October 4, 2023.