The new VH1 reality television show Cartel Crew chronicles the lives of young men and women who grew up surrounded by the international drug trade. Among them is Michael Corleone Blanco, son of the infamous Griselda Blanco, known by such monikers as “The Godmother,” or “La Madrina” in Spanish, “The Cocaine Queen” and “The Black Widow.” Starting in childhood, Griselda truly lived a life of crime, and eventually became a high ranking member of the dreaded Medellín Cartel. She is estimated to have had a net worth in the billions and was allegedly responsible for the murders of over 200, before being assassinated herself in 2012. She has been immortalized in documentaries and films and is considered to be one of the key figures who helped turn the Colombian cocaine trade into a global business generating billions in revenue. Here are 10 facts you need to know to understand who she was and why people are still talking about her.
1. Griselda Grew Up In The Most Dangerous City In The World
Though she was born in Cartagena, Colombia in 1943, by the age of 3 Griselda Blanco Restrepo and her mother had moved to Medellín, which would be dubbed “The Most Dangerous City” by Time magazine at the height of the ‘80s cocaine trade. According to a profile in Maxim, at the age of 11 Griselda kidnapped and murdered a boy from a wealthy family, and also indulged in pickpocketing and prostitution.
2. The Cocaine Queen Moves to Queens
In the early 1970s, Griselda moved to Queens, New York with her second husband Alberto Bravo, and her three sons from her first marriage. With their connections in Colombia, Blanco and Bravo began importing massive amounts of cocaine into the city. "Griselda Blanco was the first to use multiple sources of supply so that she could always keep the cocaine pipeline full," DEA agent Steve Georges told the Sun-Sentinel newspaper in 1989. "She also was the first to pool the shipments and consolidate the loads. This was how the Colombian cartel evolved.” Their business became so big that in 1975 the couple was indicted along with 39 other people as part of joint NYPD/DEA task force named Operation Banshee, but by then they had already fled back to Colombia.
3. They Called Her The Black Widow For A Reason
According to legend, Griselda earned her nickname “The Black Widow” by killing all three of her husbands. According to the The Guardian newspaper reported she got into a gunfight with second husband Alberto Bravo over millions in missing profits, which resulted in his death. Her third husband, Darío Sepúlveda, Michael Corleone Blanco’s father, was killed in Medellín by gunmen dressed as police officers. This was allegedly at Griselda’s behest, according to the Miami New Times.
4. Griselda Was A Key Player In The Miami Drug Wars
In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Southern Florida witnessed an explosion of drug-related violence, dubbed by the press as Dadeland Mall shooting of 1979, which left two dead, and was ordered by Blanco, according to The Sun-Sentinel newspaper. In 1982 she ordered the murder of former associate Jesus Castro, which resulted in the death of his 2-year-old son. She is also credited with pioneering and perfecting the motorcycle drive-by shooting.
5. It’s Good To Be The Queen
With millions in drug money at her disposal, Griselda lived the good life. Among her favorite possessions were a set of pearls once owned by Argentinian first lady Eva Peron and a tea set once used by England’s Queen Elizabeth II. According to The New York Post, she also liked to throw coke-fueled orgies, where she sometimes forced men and women to have sex at gunpoint.
6. Prison Couldn’t Slow Her Roll
In 1985, police caught up with Griselda in California, arresting her on drug charges dating back to 1975. While in custody, prosecutors charged her with three murders, but the case later fell apart. During her incarceration, Griselda reportedly continued to run her drug operation.
7. She Tried To Kidnap A President’s Son
In an interview with Maxim magazine , Blanco’s former lover Charles Cosby claims she planned to have henchmen kidnap John F. Kennedy Jr. and hold him for ransom in exchange for her freedom. The plot, however, never came to fruition and those close to her deny Cosby’s claims. In 2004, Griselda was released from prison and deported to Colombia.
8. At Her Height, She Was Worth $2 Billion
It’s estimated that by the late-‘70s, Griselda was making $8 million a month as a result of her cocaine business. With these proceeds, she allegedly invested in substantial real estate holdings in the U.S. and her native Colombia. In 2012, the website Celebrity Net Worth came out with a list of “The 20 Richest Drug Dealers of All Time” , with Blanco coming in at #9, with an estimated net worth of $2 billion.
9. Everybody Loves A Bad B*tch
Though infamous in law enforcement circles, the story of Griselda Blanco wasn’t widely known until the release of the 2006 documentary Cocaine Cowboys, which extensively covered the history of the Miami Drug Wars. The follow-up, Cocaine Cowboys II: Hustlin' With the Godmother, dealt exclusively with La Madrina’s exploits. The film Cocaine Godmother premiered on the Lifetime channel last year and improbably starred Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones as the Colombian femme fatale. Meanwhile, HBO is currently developing another Blanco biopic starring Jennifer Lopez .
10. What Comes Around Goes Around
In September 2012, Griselda was leaving a butcher shop in Medellín, when an unknown motorcycle assassin shot her twice in the head. She was 69 years old and had been living quietly in Colombia since being deported there from the United States 8 years earlier. Many found it ironic that she died in a similar vein to so many of her victims, with Cocaine Cowboys filmmaker Billy Corben telling the Miami Herald it was a case of “live-by-the-motorcycle-assassin, die-by-the-motorcycle assassin.”
Tune in to Cartel Crew every Monday at 9/8c.