Sofía Vergara portrays the Colombian cartel leader in Netflix’s new limited series
Griselda Blanco, known as the "Cocaine Godmother," La Madrina ("The Godmother"), La Jefa ("The Boss") and The Black Widow, was a ruthless cocaine queenpin whose reign in Colombia lasted nearly five decades.
Griselda was notorious for her innovations in drug trafficking, even opening up her own lingerie factory to create undergarments with hidden pockets for women smugglers to move cocaine without detection. Authorities believed she was behind hundreds of murders, including of her three husbands.
She was also reportedly so proud of her lifestyle that she even named one of her four sons after the legendary fictional gangster Michael Corleone.
“I don’t think the fact that she was a female trying to prove something had anything to do with her violent behavior; I just think it was inherent to Griselda Blanco. This goes back to her life, the way she was brought up. She was just a violent person,” former DEA agent Bob Palombo, who investigated Griselda for years, told Maxim in 2008.
After learning the ropes of the business in New York City, she became a key player in the drug scene in the '70s in Miami, which also involved Pablo Escobar. While rumors swirled of a possible mentor-mentee relationship between them, he reportedly feared Griselda. "The only man I was ever afraid of was a woman named Griselda Blanco," Escobar allegedly said, per BBC.
Griselda, who was previously immortalized by Catherine Zeta-Jones in the 2017 Lifetime movie Cocaine Godmother, will be played once more by Sofía Vergara in the Netflix limited series Griselda, which debuts on Jan. 25, 2024.
The legends and myths about the Cocaine Godmother are nearly endless, but there is a lot to learn about her life and crimes. Here's everything to know about Griselda Blanco, including her rise to power, family and death.
Who was Griselda Blanco?
Griselda Blanco was born in Cartagena, Colombia, on Feb. 15, 1943, according to the Spanish newspaper El País. She moved to Medellín, Colombia, with her mom during her early years.
Griselda's life of crime started at a young age. When she was 11, Griselda reportedly kidnapped a young boy and killed him when his wealthy parents didn't pay the ransom, per Vice. According to the outlet, the following year, she turned to prostitution and pickpocketing. As a 13 year old, she lived with an alleged pimp and document forger, Carlos Trujillo, who became her first husband.
Griselda and Trujillo had three sons, but the marriage didn't last. Per Vice, the couple had disagreements over their burgeoning criminal empire, leading Griselda to divorce Trujillo and later have him killed.
In the 1960s, she moved her family to Queens, New York, with her second husband, cocaine trafficker Alberto Bravo, covering up their criminal income through his clothing import company, according to Vice. Griselda opened her own women's lingerie factory in Colombia, which created garments with hidden pockets to smuggle drugs.
Fast forward to 1975, their illegal work was now known as the Alberto Bravo organization and when authorities came knocking, Griselda and Bravo were among the 150 people arrested, according to The New York Times. The newspaper wrote that it was considered "the biggest Colombian narcotics organization ever uncovered." They were eventually charged with conspiring to manufacture, smuggle and distribute cocaine in the U.S., according to CNN.
The indictment came after Griselda and Bravo fled from federal investigators back to Colombia, where they planned to continue their business. Once they were back, though, Griselda and Bravo reportedly got into a firefight. Per Maxim, she shot him to death and survived a bullet to the stomach. Afterward, Griselda took control of their entire cocaine operation.
In 1978, she married her third husband, Darío Sepúlveda, with whom she shared son Michael Corleone Blanco, named after The Godfather character. The trio secretly returned to the U.S. and settled in Miami, Florida, the same year, where Griselda continued her reign over her cartel — as well as her seemingly endless rash of murders.
The most infamous slaying was the July 1979 shootout at the Dadeland Mall, in which two of Griselda's hitmen murdered German Jimenez Panesso and his bodyguard, Juan Carlos Hernandez, and injured several others, according to NBC Miami. Panesso was reportedly involved in the Colombian drug trafficking trade.
What crimes did Griselda Blanco commit?
After a decade on the run, Griselda was arrested in Irvine, California, in February 1985. According to the United Nations on Drugs and Crime website, when United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials stopped her, she gave them a false name and false documents. Ultimately, she was sentenced to 15 years in prison and a $25,000 fine by a jury.
While serving her federal sentence in New York, the state of Florida charged Griselda with three counts of first-degree murder. However, the case was thrown out after the prosecution's star witness, Griselda's henchman Jorge Ayala, had phone sex with the Miami-Dade County prosecutor's secretaries, according to The Tampa Bay Times.
Special prosecutors in Orlando took on the case in 1999, and Griselda pled guilty to two murders, The New York Post reported. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison to be served concurrently with her federal sentence of 15 years, per Vice.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Schlessinger, who prosecuted Griselda, believes she committed and commissioned a lot more murders than the three with which she was charged.
"It would certainly be dozens. We have no idea here how many murders she authorized in Colombia," Schlessinger told The Miami Herald. "She was a complete sociopath. She murdered people at the drop of a hat. She would kill anybody who displeased her, because of a debt, because they screwed up on a shipment, or she didn't like the way they looked at her."
Griselda was released from prison in 2004 and deported to Colombia, where she lived for the rest of her life.
Who were Griselda Blanco's husbands?
Griselda married her first husband, Carlo Trujillo, as a teenager in Colombia. After they divorced, Griselda reportedly had Trujillo killed.
Griselda's second husband, Alberto Bravo, helped her develop her cocaine empire in the U.S. and lived with her in Queens in the late 1960s. Upon learning that federal agents targeted them in an investigation in 1975, Griselda and Bravo left for Colombia, where they eventually shot each other in a dispute over their business — and only Griselda survived.
Griselda married her third husband, Darío Sepúlveda, in 1978. They welcomed their son, Michael Corleone Blanco, in Colombia that same year before quietly moving to Miami. According to the Miami New Times, Griselda had Sepúlveda killed in 1983. By that point, the couple were estranged after infidelity and a custody disagreement.
The newspaper states Griselda always wanted Michael by her side, while Sepúlveda wanted to send their son to school. When she denied his request, Sepúlveda took Michael to Colombia, where Griselda reportedly had Sepúlveda shot dead in his car with Michael seated right next to him. The then-5-year-old was returned to his mom back in the U.S.
How did Griselda Blanco die?
Griselda was gunned down by an assassin in Medellín, Colombia, on Sept. 3, 2012. She was outside of a butcher shop when the masked man shot her twice in the head, then drove away on a motorcycle, The Miami Herald reported. Law enforcement personnel told the newspaper that they'd already assumed Griselda dead for years.
"It's surprising to all of us that she had not been killed sooner because she made a lot of enemies," former Miami homicide detective Nelson Andreu said. "When you kill so many and hurt so many people like she did, it's only a matter of time before they find you and try to even the score."
She was reportedly with a pregnant daughter-in-law at the time, who was unharmed in the shooting.
How old was Griselda Blanco when she died?
Griselda was 69 years old when she was killed. The Miami Herald reported that a daughter-in-law of hers was in their car at the time, and after Griselda was shot, she laid a Bible on Griselda's chest.
Griselda's former romantic partner, Charles Cosby, told the outlet that she "found religion in later years," adding, "At the same time, you can’t bring a Bible to a gunfight."
Where are Griselda Blanco's sons now?
Griselda had four children. She and her first husband, Trujillo, shared three sons: Uber Trujillo, Dixon Trujillo and Osvaldo Trujillo. Griselda gave birth to her youngest son, Michael Corleone Blanco, with her third husband, Sepúlveda.
Most notably, Michael became a reality star on VH1's Cartel Crew, in which he claimed that he began working for his mother's cocaine business when he was 12 years old. After Griselda's arrest in 1985, he led a quiet and private life with relatives, traveling between Colombia and the U.S. and staying near his mom's correctional facility in California, according to the Miami New Times.
Following Griselda's death in 2012, he decided to change his trajectory in life and not follow in her footsteps. Uber, Dix and Osvaldo were reportedly killed before Michael reached adulthood due to their involvement in the drug business, per the newspaper.
“When I got that phone call and I knew that my mother was dead, I realized that our previous cartel lifestyle was completely over. I had to make a choice right then and there," he told PEOPLE in 2019.
Michael continued, “I had to evolve and become a different person in order to break that tie, so my children wouldn’t have to live the life that I lived. It wasn’t easy, and until this day, it’s very hard for me."
Today, Michael owns the Pure Blanco lifestyle brand. As for his mom's presence in pop culture, he has worked on several projects about her but he sued Netflix and Vergara, alleging his "private artistic literary work" was stolen and inspired Griselda, according to Rolling Stone.
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