Who Was Griselda Blanco?
Born in Colombia in 1943, Griselda Blanco engaged in criminal activity at an early age and soon found success by trafficking cocaine. Blanco's street smarts and ruthless streak helped her rise to a top level in the infamous Medellin Cartel, garnering her such nicknames as the "Queen of Cocaine" and "Black Widow." Following years of investigations, Blanco was arrested by federal agents in 1985 and spent nearly two decades in prison. She was gunned down in Colombia in 2012, at age 69.
Early Turn to Crime
Griselda Blanco Restrepo was born in Cartagena, Colombia, on February 15, 1943. Raised by an abusive mother, Blanco turned to a life of crime and prostitution at a young age. She soon became involved with Colombia's infamous Medellin Cartel, helping to push Colombian cocaine throughout the United States, specifically to New York, Miami and Southern California. Members of the cartel were able to smuggle large quantities of cocaine across the border using special undergarments that Blanco had presumably designed and manufactured.
The 'Queen of Cocaine'
In the mid-1970s, Blanco left Colombia for New York. By this time, the infamous drug trafficker was running a massive narcotics ring, her standing in the industry rising to a level that would match other kingpins like Pablo Escobar. However, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was on Blanco's trail, as part of a wide-ranging investigation termed "Operation Banshee." In 1975, after authorities intercepted a reported 150 kilograms of cocaine, Blanco and more than 30 of her partners were indicted on federal drug conspiracy charges. Blanco had already fled to Colombia by that point, but it wasn't long before she returned to the U.S., this time settling in Miami.
Throughout her time in the United States, Blanco's continued involvement in the Colombian drug trade led to her participation in several other crimes, including driveby shootings and other murders motivated by drugs, money and power. By the late 1970s, detectives had linked her to dozens of murders, including a 1979 drug-rival shooting in a Miami liquor store, but she always managed to evade authorities.
In the 1980s, Blanco was living comfortably in a newly purchased home in Miami. By this time, the infamous drug trafficker had become a millionaire, and had taken on various nicknames, including the "Godmother," "Queen of Cocaine" and "Black Widow." However, her luck finally ran out in February 1985, when she was captured by DEA agents in Irvine, California.
Conviction and Prison Time
Blanco's trial, which began in New York in June 1985, ended with a conviction on one count of conspiracy to manufacture, import into the United States, and distribute cocaine. Despite being accused of several Florida slayings, she escaped murder charges, and was sentenced to 15 years behind bars.
In 1994, Blanco, now a federal prison inmate, was transported back to Miami on three murder charges. In a strange turn of events, however, the case was thrown out: The star witness in the case, a former hitman for Blanco named Jorge "Rivi" Ayala, had become romantically involved with a secretary in the Florida State Attorney's Office, causing prosecutors to worry about the credibility of Ayala's testimony on the stand. Some speculated that Ayala botched the case on purpose, fearing that he could be killed by members of Blanco's cartel if he testified.
Blanco ended up pleading guilty to the three murder charges, and following a deal with prosecutors, she received a 10-year sentence. In June 2004, she was released from prison and deported back to Colombia.
Death, Legacy and Screen Portrayals
On September 3, 2012, at age 69, Blanco was murdered in Medellin, Colombia. According to reports, two gunmen on motorcycles shot Blanco after she exited a butcher shop. At the time, some authorities went on record with "conservative" estimates that she was responsible for 40 deaths, though others pegged that number far higher, at around 200 victims.
Blanco's story was a source of fascination for writers and artists even before her death. She was profiled in Richard Smitten's 1990 book, The Godmother, and was prominently featured in Billy Corben's 2006 documentary Cocaine Cowboys, as well as its 2008 sequel.
In 2016, it was announced that HBO was developing a film about Blanco's life, with Jennifer Lopez attached to star. The following year, Lifetime also threw its hat into the ring with a biopic titled The Cocaine Godmother, with Catherine Zeta-Jones on board as the titular character.
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