The long, dark days of January are thankfully behind us, but we're still far from spring – meaning that, like everyone else, we're looking for any excuse to curl up on the sofa with an excellent new series.
This month, that comes in the form of Netflix's Griselda: a drama inspired by the life of the savvy and ambitious drugs kingpin Griselda Blanco, who created one of the most powerful cartels in history. Set in 1970s-80s Miami, the six-part series stars Modern Family favourite Sofia Vergara in the title role, and is co-created by showrunner Eric Newman and director Andrés Baiz, the masterminds behind Narcos – and Griselda is certainly packed full of the same nail-biting, criminal underworld-fuelled tension.
Vergara detailed the extreme lengths she went to in order to capture Blanco's distinctive features. "It took us a lot of tests to see different wigs, different noses, different eyebrows," she explained. "I was nervous about it because I sometimes watch movies and it distracts me a lot to see the wig or something, so I wanted her to look human... the most important thing for me was to disappear, for Sofia to disappear."
But who was she really, how did she meet her end – and why are her family reportedly suing? Here's everything we know about the real Griselda Blanco.
Who was Griselda Blanco?
Born in Cartagena, Colombia, in 1943, Griselda Blanco Restrepo moved to Medellín when she was three years old. Once dubbed by Time magazine as "the most dangerous city on earth", Medellín exposed Blanco to a criminal lifestyle at an early age. When she was 11, she purportedly helped kidnap a 10-year-old boy from a wealthy family in the Medellín area. When the family wouldn’t pay his ransom, Blanco allegedly shot the abducted child. She also reportedly became a pickpocket and sex worker (though she denies the latter), and ran away from home at the age of 19.
When she was still a teenager, Blanco married a small-time criminal, Carlos Trujillo, and the couple had three children together. They later divorced, but remained business partners (and it's thought that Blanco ordered his murder several years later).
In 1964, Blanco illegally emmigrated to the United States under an assumed name and with fake papers. She settled in Queen's, New York, with her three children and her second husband, Alberto Bravo, a cocaine smuggler for the Medellín Cartel (founded and run by Pablo Escobar). Bravo introduced his new wife to the trade; Blanco initially trafficked marijuana, but soon switched to cocaine, which was easier to transport from Colombia to the United States, via female couriers wearing bras and girdles with special pockets to hide the drugs.
How notorious was Griselda Blanco?
Blanco’s success – which earned her nicknames like the 'Black Widow' and 'Cocaine Godmother' – soon attracted the attention of the USA's Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and, in April 1975, she and more than 30 of her partners were indicted on federal drug conspiracy charges. Blanco managed to escape arrest, however, by fleeing to Colombia. Blanco accused her husband of stealing millions of dollars from their enterprise, and he retaliated by saying she had let her 'Godmother' nickname go to her head – leading Blanco to shoot him dead.
Blanco then returned to America and settled in Miami to set up her own business in the late 1970s. Her return coincided with a wave of crime, including hundreds of homicides per year, in a period during the 1980s when cocaine was trafficked more than cannabis, which became known as the Miami drug war. Blanco established a massive narcotics ring that, at its height, was reportedly trading 3,400 pounds of cocaine every month. She used violence to ensure her dominance, murdering people to avoid paying them money she owed, or because they owed her money, or if she felt they had disrespected her. According to the 2014 book Drugs in American Society, she was responsible for most of South Florida’s murders from 1979 to 1981.
During this time, Blanco had her youngest son, Michael Corleone Blanco (named after the character from the film The Godfather) with her third husband, Darío Sepúlveda. Sepúlveda left her in 1983, returned to Colombia, and kidnapped Michael when he and Blanco disagreed over who would have custody. Blanco then paid to have Sepúlveda assassinated in Colombia, and her son returned to her in the US.
Was Griselda Blanco ever arrested?
On February 17, 1985, Blanco was arrested in her home by the DEA and charged with conspiring to manufacture, import and distribute cocaine. The case went to trial in federal court in New York City where she was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison. At one point during her sentence, she allegedly planned for associates to kidnap John F. Kennedy Jr. in order to use the former president’s son as a bargaining chip for her freedom.
While serving her sentence, Blanco was also charged with three counts of first-degree murder. The prosecution made a deal with one of Blanco's most trusted hitmen, Jorge Ayala, who agreed to testify that she had ordered him to carry out the killings. However, the case collapsed due to technicalities, and Blanco escaped the death penalty. In 1998, she pleaded guilty to three counts of second degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. But in 2002, Blanco, a lifelong smoker, suffered a heart attack. In 2004, in light of her continuing health issues, she was granted compassionate release from prison and deported to Medellín.
How did Griselda Blanco die?
Blanco seemed to have given up her life of crime once she returned to Colombia. But in 2012, at the age of 69, she was shot by a gunman on a motorbike as she was leaving a butcher shop in Medellín (the identity of her killer remains unknown). She is buried in Jardines Montesacro cemetery – the same resting place as her rival, Pablo Escobar.
How much was Griselda Blanco worth?
At the height of Blanco’s trafficking success, she had a net income of $80 million per month. It’s estimated her net worth was as high as $2 billion, and she had a mansion in Miami and flew on a private jet.
Blanco didn’t maintain her luxurious lifestyle when she returned to Colombia following her time in prison, but still lived in an upscale gated community.
Are Griselda Blanco's family still alive?
Of Blanco's four sons – Michael Corleone, Uber Trujillo, Osvaldo Trujillo and Dixon Trujillo – only Corleone survives (the others were all murdered). Corleone, 45 (who himself was arrested for cocaine trafficking in 2011) is reportedly suing both Sofia Vergara and Netflix over the new series, claiming that the portrayal is 'unauthorised' and that the use of the family's own images and likenesses without their permission violates their rights.
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