You could tell she had been a real beauty in her younger days. The dimples on her cheeks only appeared when she smiled or smirked. Despite her five-foot frame, she walked with a commanding presence. At 69 years old, she had grey hair, a wide oval face, and that small flab under her neck that so many women try to avoid with old age. Her brown eyes, however, remained sharp and alert.
On September 3rd, 2012, two gunmen on motorcycles drove by and shot her in the head, twice, as she stepped out of a butcher shop in Medellin, her hometown. She was a widow and a mother of four.
La Madrina; The Godmother; The Godmother of Cocaine; The Queen of Cocaine; Cocaine Cowgirl; and most commonly La Viuda Negra, The Black Widow, were all nicknames given to Griselda Blanco. The difference being that while Black Widows are non-aggressive and only attack in self-defense; Griselda was vicious towards her enemies and often attacked for personal gain.
Carlos Trujillo was Griselda’s first husband. At the age of 14, she observed and learned from her husband’s business in fabricating immigration documents and smuggling people into the U.S. They had three children together: Dixon, Uber, and Osvaldo. She had another son with a different man later on. Trujillo introduced Griselda to her future husband, Alberto Bravo. Bravo was a drug trafficker for an infamous drug cartel in Medellin. After Trujillo passed away from cirrhosis, Griselda married Bravo and was introduced to her future of cocaine. There are still rumors that she had Trujillo killed after a business dispute, but nothing was ever proven.
In the early 1970s, Alberto Bravo and Griselda Blanco moved to Queens, New York. The couple allegedly began making millions thanks to their connections in Colombia. They were putting their Cuban competitors out of business and controlled a large share of the market. They were building an empire together.
The Godmother invented creative ways to smuggle cocaine into America. She owned lingerie shops in Medellin where she used special bras and girdles with secret pockets to hold the cocaine. She’s considered a pioneer in the drug trade industry. “It was a novel beginning for what would grow to be a massive, vicious criminal element. Coke was being brought into this country in bras, girdles, the soles of shoes, even birdcages,” commented U.S. Attorney Mercado. As her business flourished, her reputation for being a ruthless leader and cold-blooded killer spread throughout New York. She had enough money to buy out judges, law enforcement, and news publications. By the time Griselda was 32 years old, she had built a cartel that trafficked hundreds of kilos of cocaine in the U.S.
Griselda loved living an extravagant lifestyle. Many powerful drug lords would rub a bronze statue of her for good luck whenever she hosted lavish parties in her Miami mansion. She would spend millions of dollars a night on strippers, drugs, alcohol, and other entertainment for her guests. Griselda had a grand jewelry collection of all types of stones and gems. It was even rumored that she bought a pink diamond that belonged to the first lady of Argentina, Eva Peron. She was referred to as the Queen Pin, and she certainly lived like one.
Operation Banshee. To most of us, these words mean nothing. To Bob Palombo, devoted husband and father of two, they meant everything. Palombo is a highly respected Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officer who devoted 11 years of his life chasing Griselda. He was assigned to her case in New York in 1974. Palombo suspected that she had fled to Colombia when Blanco and 30 of her minions were charged with federal drug conspiracy; it was considered to be the biggest cocaine case in history. He was reassigned to Miami during one of the bloodiest drug trade wars to continue chasing Griselda.
Thanks to an informant, a Colombian named Gerry Gomez with connections to Griselda, Palombo was able to get close to her children. Gomez began to move money for Griselda’s sons and the DEA kept building their case against them. Then, the unexpected happened. Griselda called Gomez.
Palombo recalls: “All of a sudden Gomez gets a call from Los Angeles, and it’s Griselda herself. She orders Gomez to pick up $40,000 from a guy in Miami, then fly to L.A. the next day and pick up a half-million dollars from her. Gomez was to meet her in the Marriott hotel in Newport Beach. Griselda and her sons apparently wanted to test Gomez’ money-laundering capabilities”. Palombo kept on her trail and finally tracked her down to Irvine, a city in Orange County, California. Palombo was given orders from D.C. to find and arrest her before she could slip away.
On February 20, 1985, six DEA agents and a back-up team stormed a suburban bungalow where Griselda, her mother, and her youngest son, Michael, were living. Griselda was propped up on her bed reading the bible when Palombo kicked open the door. “Griselda had a bewildered look on her face,” he recalls.
Palombo felt relief wash over him. As Griselda stared at him, he walked over to her, gave her a kiss on the cheek, and booked her. She was transferred to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York where she faced charges of conspiracy to import cocaine. A .38-caliber handgun wrapped in a turban was found under the bed within arm’s reach when the room was searched just minutes later.
Griselda was not pleased. She flew to Bogota, Colombia to meet her husband Alberto Bravo. Millions in profits had gone missing and he was not returning her phone calls.
Griselda stepped out of her limo into a parking lot of the nightclub where Bravo was waiting. She had a pistol tucked in her ostrich-skin boot. They argued and the confrontation got heated. Furious, Griselda drew her pistol and shot her beloved husband point-blank several times. Alberto managed to return the favor and she was shot in the stomach. He died of three bullet wounds, but The Black Widow survived.
The following year, Griselda found love again. She married drug trafficker Dario Sepulveda and had another baby boy. She named him Michael Corleone, like the character played by Al Pacino in the Godfather, one of Griselda’s favorite movies.
Griselda returned to Miami with a mission. Business was booming in Miami and she knew she needed to take part in it.
By the late 1970s, Colombia was producing three-fourths of the world’s cocaine supply. By 1980, it was estimated that 70 percent of all cocaine entered through South Florida, bringing in about 20 billion dollars per year. Between 1977 and 1989, vicious drug gangs scrambled to eliminate each other’s competition. The homicide rate tripled and Miami was christened “Dodge City.” It was the result of the growing violence in South Florida linked to the Medellin Cartel fighting to take over the cocaine business.
Griselda was one of the main contributors to this industry and was said to reap rewards of about $80 million a month. To her, this was not enough; competition was bad for business, so she ordered over 400 murders in Colombia and the U.S. Griselda was ruthless with her enemies.
Griselda had revolutionized the drive-by method. This mob style execution became the new favorite way to deliver death. The motorcycle assassins, sent on murderous missions by their Cocaine Cowboy employers, had to first pass initiation. The process was not a simple task but if accomplished, proved your loyalty to Griselda. After killing the victim, you had to chop off an ear or finger. Then you would drain all the blood from the body (draining it in a tub seemed the most popular method). Afterwards, you would fold the body in a box and ship it to their family with a note or perhaps a picture of another family member.
Sergeant Al Singleton of Miami’s Metro-Dade homicide squad once described a van that had been used by Griselda’s men in a drive-by shooting: “This was a real war wagon…it was made of reinforced steel. Bulletproof vests came down and abutted against the rear of the door, and six inch gun ports were drilled in the sides and back of the van. There were machine guns, two M-1 rifles, shotguns, automatic pistols, and thousands of round of ammunition.” The side of the van read “Happy Time Complete Party Supply.”
Griselda had officially declared war in Miami, and the Queen always paid her debts.
In 1982, one hundred million dollars worth of cocaine was seized from Miami International Airport. This seizure, along with the rapidly rising homicide rate, was a wake-up call to U.S. law enforcement that something needed to be done.
On October 2, President Reagan delivered a radio address to the nation on federal drug policy and the administration’s strategy for the prevention of drug abuse and trafficking. Ten days after President Reagan’s announcement, Griselda ordered a hit on Jesus “Chucho” Castro. Castro used to work for Griselda, but was now one of her competitors. Miguelitto Perez was the designated hit man.
Perez pulled up next to Castro in a van and whipped out his pistol. He began shooting and Castro kicked back his seat and stepped on the gas. He survived but his two-year-old son, Johnny, who was in the passenger seat, did not. Johnny was shot twice in the head. Castro took his child’s body home and cleaned him up. He filled a bathtub with ice and held his son’s hand all night until he finally decided what to do. Police found his body wrapped in a blanket with a couple of roses and his passport on his chest two days later in front of a church.
Jorge Ayala, another one of Griselda’s favorite hit men, who later testified against her, admitted that she was extremely upset that Castro survived. He stated, “But when she heard we had gotten the son by accident, she said she was glad; that they were even.”
Four months later, Griselda had ordered the murder of the whole Lorenzo family. Alfred Lorenzo and his wife Grisel owed her money and were late in their payments. Ayala and Perez had orders to collect the money or kill them. Alfredo Lorenzo was bound, tied, and shot in his children’s bedroom. His wife was also tied up in a different office and shot nine times. Their three children sat in another room while Perez watched them. Their lives were spared, and when police arrived, they found the three children trying to wake up their dead, bloody parents.
Leaving a long trail of bodies behind her, Griselda knew the pressure authorities were putting on her in Miami. She decided to go to California with her youngest son, Michael.
Michael Corleone’s father, Dario Sepulveda, was another renowned drug trafficker who had connections to Pablo Escobar and the Ochoa brothers. They had a rocky relationship, and soon Griselda learned that Sepulveda was cheating on her. hey fought over custody of five-year-old Michael. Sepulveda resorted to extreme measures and kidnapped Michael to Medellin. When Griselda learned of this, she became furious. The Black Widow put a price on his head and her contacts in Colombia began to plan his murder. Sepulveda was in the car with his son when two men disguised as police officers stopped him. They gunned him down and Michael was reunited with his mother back in California. However, Sepulveda had many friends and family in the business, and when they heard of his death, they were outraged. Griselda made new enemies and they all vowed to get revenge.
Griselda was a mother of four. She welcomed her three eldest sons into the family business, spreading them out to rule over three different cities.
Her eldest son Dixon Trujillo Blanco represented her in San Francisco, moving 660 pounds of cocaine per month. Uber Esnyder Trujillo Blanco reigned in Miami. He handled about 440 pounds of cocaine per month. Osvaldo Trujillo Blanco ruled over Los Angeles moving 1,100 pounds of cocaine per month.
While Griselda was in jail, she found a new lover, Charles Crosby. Crosby was a small town dealer from Oakland, California. He began his relationship with Griselda and after 45 days of working with her, he became a millionaire. They would send letters back and forth expressing their love to one another. Griselda came to trust Crosby.Crosby often collaborated with Dixon and was even trusted to take care of Griselda’s youngest son, Michael Corleone. He spent a lot of quality time with him and acted as his stepfather.
Osvaldo took after his mother and her flamboyant lifestyle. His top-of-the-line cars and millionaire mansions attracted a lot of attention from authorities, and he was the first of the brothers to be arrested in 1985. After serving 10 years in prison, he was deported to Colombia. Five months later, Osvaldo was killed in Medellin.
Dixon was the first to learn about his brother’s death. He could not contact his mother in jail because he suspected the DEA was close on his trail. He passed the information on to Crosby and urged him to tell his mother.
Crosby picked up the phone with a heavy heart. When the truth finally settled in, Griselda let out a bloodcurdling scream and dropped the phone. She was not allowed to attend her son’s funeral, but instead wrote a letter that the priest read out loud at the ceremony: “To the cowards whoever killed my son, the ground will shake beneath your feet. This deed will not go unpunished.”
From jail, Griselda ordered the death of her son’s killers. In order to speed up the process, Dixon and his men began to hand out $100,000 to people in the streets in order to help them find the killers. Dixon managed to follow the trail back to Barrio Pablo Escobar, a neighborhood named after an upcoming ruthless cocaine dealer. When word spread that Dixon was looking for them, one of the killers committed suicide. The other was found alive. He was tortured and killed, while Griselda continued to mourn over her son’s death from prison.
Griselda was on trial at the time and Uber kept contacting his mother in jail from L.A. under the name Gloria. The DEA followed the trail and found Uber. He was arrested and Dixon followed shortly after. They were both sentenced to 10 years in prison. Dixon was released in 1992 on parole and returned to Colombia soon after. He was murdered a couple of months later. Uber served his 10-year sentence and was deported to Colombia. He was murdered in the year 2000.
Michael Corleone married in 2005 and had two sons. In May 2011, he was arrested for allegedly trying to purchase 20 kilos of cocaine. Michael continues to live proudly under his mother’s shadow to this day.
by Lida Ramos
Lida Ramos is an English Lit and Journalism Major at Baruch College. Her interest in the history of her home country Colombia sparked the initial idea to write Black Widow.
Cover picture: Griselda Blanco – Source