While one might think the world of drug trafficking is reserved for a ruthless man like Pablo Escobar, one woman reigned supreme over all others. She went by numerous nicknames and today, A-list celebrities are lining up to portray her character in numerous HBO movies and shows.
This woman was around long before Escobar and at her peak, she was worth nearly $2 billion. But, what’s most impressive about her story is how she managed to become a boss in a dangerous man’s world…
Born in extreme poverty in Colombia, she grew up in Barrio, Trinidad, one of the most notorious hillside slums outside Medellin. At 14, she ran away from home. Desperate to escape the physical abuse of her mother’s boyfriends, Griselda Blanco lived on the streets, pickpocketing, looting, and even selling her body for sex.
How It All Started
In her late 20s, Blanco met Alberto Bravo, a known cocaine trafficker for the Medellin Cartel. He was one of the world’s biggest and most notorious drug runners and a subject in the hit Netflix series “Narcos.” Bravo employed Blanco to buy unrefined cocaine for him, which he then processed in empty garment factories that he converted to labs…
The pair soon fell in love and together, they established a successful drug operation. However, they eventually realized that to make any serious money, they would need to be in New York where the cocaine market was worth millions. So, they packed their bags and headed to the Big Apple.
Blanco and Bravo got married and resided in Queens, NY, where they pretended to be clothing importers. They knew that with their Colombian connections, they could capture a huge market share by undercutting the Italian Mafia, who, at the time, controlled distribution in the city. They eventually took over the Italian Mafia’s business, and by 1971, Blanco became the first Colombian drug lord to export the Medellin Cartel’s product to the United States. Blanco supplied Colombian cocaine to the U.S. years before drug lord Pablo Escobar…
People started calling Blanco, La Madrina (“The Godmother”), as she employed hundreds of criminals. She even got hustlers on the street to work for her, who were jumping at the opportunity to make money. But, most impressively, Blanco pioneered the use of young women as drug mules.
She came up with the idea of creating customized bras and girdles with hidden pockets to hold cocaine. Blanco also established a specialty lingerie shop in Medellin, with the purpose of making tailored drug-smuggling underwear. This would help her army of mules get product into the U.S….
In 1971, one of The Godmother’s infamous cocaine corsets was found abandoned in a women’s bathroom at Miami International Airport. It contained almost 7 lbs of cocaine, which was sewn into 58 separate compartments. Some women even had fake breasts filled with large packets of coke.
A year later, one of Blanco’s mules, Mariela Zapata, 33, was caught by customs officials at the same airport in Miami with 2 lbs of pure cocaine in her underwear, totaling over $400,000 in street profits. Zapata was charged with unlawful importation of cocaine and deported to a Colombian prison, but she refused to reveal her boss because of the loyalty The Godmother instilled in her…
Back To Their Roots
However, for every mule that U.S. customs agents caught, 10 more slipped under their noses. In the 70s, at its peak, Blanco and Bravo’s business was shipping over 11 tons of cocaine into America each month. The couple became so successful that they decided Bravo should return to Colombia to restructure and operate the business from Medellin.
Blanco stayed in New York to expand the empire and to keep competition to a minimum. Being alone, however, wasn’t the best for Blanco and her personal drug use began to increase. She started smoking large amounts of unrefined cocaine called “bazooka.” Her addiction quickly fueled a paranoia that her husband was cheating on her and that her enterprise was under surveillance…
Her paranoia caused Blanco to prepare an escape plan that involved a fuelled private jet on a 24-hour standby at Miami International Airport. Although her fears weren’t a reality at the time, in 1975, they became real.
A joint NYPD/Drug Enforcement Administration investigation called Operation Banshee was looking for La Madrina. It became the biggest cocaine case ever, but the feds were too late to catch Blanco. Her Miami jet had left for Colombian just days before…
By the time Blanco arrived back in Colombia, she was sure her husband had been plotting against her with the up-and-coming Pablo Escobar. She distrusted Bravo so much that rather than meeting privately as husband and wife, they met in public, with bodyguards by their side.
In the parking lot of a nightclub, Blanco was mocked by Bravo for her Godmother title. She became so upset by him that she grabbed a pistol from her boot and shot her own husband. A gunfight followed and Bravo wound up dead from numerous pistols. What Blanco did earned her the new nickname, the “Black Widow.”
Now, with no one in her way, she took full control of the cocaine empire and ran the business from Colombia, where she knew she was safe from U.S. prosecution. Blanco eventually married again in 1978 to bank robber Dario Sepulveda, and the couple had a son who they named, Michael Corleone Blanco.
A Powerful Woman
Blanco returned with her family to Miami through Mexico on a Venezuelan passport. It was easier for her to get into the U.S. because her appearance drastically changed over the years from her cocaine abuse. Although she was still in her 30s, Blanco looked much older. While in Miami, Blanco rarely left her penthouse in Biscayne Bay, but she was still able to use an army of Colombian and Cuban hitmen to kill her competition, so she could have control of the entire city…
Her methods were ruthless and cunning, and La Madrina truly took no prisoners. She was determined to stop anything that she believed was in her way. Growing up, Michael saw this first-hand and he even witnessed his own father being murdered right in front of him. Little did he know that it was his mother who had ordered the hit.
Wild Parties And Lavish Purchases
Despite the trauma that Michael experienced, his mother’s business was still thriving and her Miami home became renowned for coke-fuelled orgies. She kept her growing collection of drug-money purchases in her penthouse, which included a tea set of Queens Elizabeth’s and pearls which belonged to former Argentinian First Lady Eva Peron. However, The Godmother’s reign was about to come to an end…
In February 1985, she was finally arrested on drug charges in her California home. She was given a 15-year sentence for drug trafficking and the DEA was desperate to indict her for her homicidal history. In 1994, Blanco was indicted for three first-degree murders.
The Godmother was finally released from prison in June 2004 and was deported back to Colombia. By the time she got out, her power and her money were gone and she had enemies waiting at her door. One of them killed her in September 2012 and Blanco never got to see her life immortalized on screen. Jennifer Lopez played Blanco in an HBO adaptation of the drug queen’s life and Catherine Zeta-Jones will play her in a 2018 Lifetime movie called “Cocaine Godmother.”