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The Medellín Cocaine Queenpin Who Pioneered Motorcycle Hitmen

Griselda Blanco, a ruthless Colombian drug lord who reportedly showed Pablo Escobar the ropes, was even more violent and brutal in her smuggling tactics

Welcome to Bad Moms. This Mother’s Day, as we celebrate the beautiful angels kind enough to raise our sorry asses, we’re profiling five of the most notorious moms in history. Who says dads get to be the only antiheroes in pop culture?

In the 1970s and 1980s, Miami was so crime-ridden and dangerous from the fresh flood of unsavory characters slinging a new dope to America, that police at one point urged regular citizens to arm themselves. But there was one drug lord so unhinged, whose violence was so bloodthirsty, and who was so remorseless in her unscrupulous killings that she is not only considered one of the major players responsible for the city’s Cocaine Wars, but who so terrified her enemies that they slept with both eyes open in a town where even the cops already routinely kept one unshuttered.

“If you bought drugs from her and didn’t pay her, she’d kill you,” Miami-Dade homicide division Sgt. Nelson Andreu said in the 2008 documentary Cocaine Cowboys about cocaine queenpin Griselda Blanco, a Colombian drug lord who disrupted the drug trade with new supply strategies and unheard-of brutality. “And if she bought drugs from you and didn’t pay you, she’d also kill you.”

At her height in the late 1970s and early 1980s, she was a cocaine billionaire smuggling 3,400 pounds of coke into Miami a month, at an $80 million monthly profit. She was hooked on her own blend, called “bazooka,” and celebrated her success with weed- and cocaine-fueled parties at her palatial Miami digs, surrounded by dozens of exotic luxury cars, her preschool-aged children stumbling about in the background on a contact buzz from weed. Attendees rubbed a bronze bust of her in the foyer for good luck on their way in to her bisexual orgies where the main entertainment was Blanco forcing men and women of her choosing to fuck in front of her at gunpoint.

She was also a fiercely protective mother of four sons, her youngest and favorite: The one she named Michael Corleone. And in an industry dominated by men, Blanco, a 5-foot-tall, portly woman with dimples and a cleft chin, boasted two distinguishing characteristics: being a woman, and being willing to murder at the drop of a hat.

Blanco came by it honestly. Born in Cartagena in 1943 into mountain-shack poverty with no running water or electricity, she met violence at an age when most children are still learning the alphabet. Her mother was a drunk abuser; so were the steady stream of boyfriends. So it’s no surprise she was ransoming other children off at 11 (legend says she shot one between the eyes when the family refused to pay up), pickpocketing at 13, and by 14, turning tricks, which she did throughout her 20s. She escaped the only way she knew how: by marrying an abusive man and heading for Medellín, the closest big city.

By every metric, drugs were the best thing that ever happened to her. When husband No. 1 died, and it’s anyone’s guess how, she took up with a weed and coke slinger named Alberto Bravo, and by the late 1960s, she was already showing a propensity for disrupting the trade locally. She opened a lingerie boutique with a customized product designed expressly to smuggle coke on women to New York who’d be less likely to get searched. She put coke in birdcages. She put coke in the soles of shoes. Not satisfied with just moving a few kilos a week, she exploited peasants and farmers into peddling more quantity for her.

From there, Blanco expanded and scaled up the cocaine trade like no one had ever imagined, in large part because she had no real loyalty to any dealer or supplier, buyer or lover. “Griselda Blanco was the first to use multiple sources of supply so that she could always keep the cocaine pipeline full,” DEA agent Steve Georges told the Sun Sentinel in 1989. “If one source dried up, another opened. She also was the first to pool the shipments and consolidate the loads. This was how the Colombian cartel evolved. By sharing distributors in the United States, they could afford to pay pilots between $100,000 and $250,000 a shipment.”

If her own crew was maxed out by how much dope she pushed them to sell, she’d just start offloading it to her competition. She stacked paper easily because she also didn’t like paying for her supply, much preferring to satisfy her debts with violence. Once, indebted for $1.8 million to Marta Ochoa, a first cousin of the Ochoa brothers, a powerful Colombian cartel family and one of her first suppliers, she simply had her killed. But not before having her hitmen beat her, rip out her fingernails and singe her with lit cigarettes.

Always thirsty for expansion, she and Bravo moved their drug running and three sons to Queens in the 1970s, but split for Miami when the heat got a little too warm, fleeing an indictment along with 37 of her associates (it would take cops 10 years, and nearly $7 million to track her down again, in large part because she could drop or gain 20 or 30 pounds at will, change hairstyles and hair color, and easily secure false documents to travel in disguise). She used Colombia as a hideout in between fresh starts, and this time, she headed for Miami after taking New York mafia man Dario Trujilla as a lover. Not to be confused with another husband named Dario, Dario Sepulveda, with whom she would bear her youngest, Michael Corleone.

By the late 1970s she’d officially set up in Florida, where she perfected her signature moves: The multiple supply lines. The innovation for distribution. Playing one group against another. And ordering violent death, a former associate told the Sentinel, “the way other people order pizza.”

She sanctioned shootings in broad daylight at busy intersections. Massacres in large, busy shopping malls in plain view of shoppers. She ordered the at-home killing of a couple late on a drug payment while their two children played in the next room. If a child or any innocent happened to be caught up in a drive-by — as was the case when a 2-year-old boy was shot and killed instead of the target, his father — so be it. She was happy to hear it, because aiming where her enemies were most vulnerable would show them who was boss. She ordered killings with a phone call from across the city, across the globe and even during a stint in federal prison.

And, stories go, she had a particular thirst for payback when crossed in any way, drug-related or not. If a WASP-y girlfriend of her son rejected him because he wasn’t good enough for her family, she had her father killed.

One terrifying hallmark of her knack for efficiency married to wildly violent, public means was the use of sicarios, or motorcycle hitmen. Put two men on a motorcycle and give the one on the back a sawed-off shotgun. Find the target in a crowded public spot, drive straight at him and blow him to smithereens. The more witnesses, the better, because they were far too terrified and blindsided by the violence and noise to remember a goddamn thing.

But it wasn’t just the killings that made Blanco — whom law enforcement connected to some 40 murders in her heyday, but was fingered for as many as 200, and shockingly, only convicted of three — so notorious. It was the cold-blooded, utterly indifferent manner in which the self-described Godmother and Black Widow demanded the executions be conducted that even your typical cop- and witness-killing, machine-gun spraying kingpins like Pablo Escobar wouldn’t touch.

That’s the Pablo Escobar, the Medellín cartel king of cocaine and world’s most famous pusher, responsible for smuggling 80 percent of the country’s powder at one point during that period. The legend claims she met him when he was just a car thief and taught him a few tricks. But Blanco makes the soccer-loving, charismatic Escobar, who had dreams of one day becoming president of Colombia and eradicating all poverty, look like Mister Rogers. Blanco only wanted power and revenge.

Maybe it was the lack of real respect in a male-dominated field that drove to her such excess, though law enforcement believed her to simply be an intrinsically violent person. But while her male drug-running colleagues failed to initially correctly appraise the extent of her threat to their turf, she kept busy reminding them why that was a fatal mistake.

In the end, Blanco had all of her lovers or husbands killed, including the father of her son Michael Corleone. When Dario tried to leave her with his new girlfriend, a topless dancer from Fort Lauderdale, and take Michael with him, Blanco warned him he’d regret it. When Dario and Michael made it to Colombia, they were immediately stopped by local police. The police handcuff Dario, but he sprinted. And that’s when, upon Blanco’s orders, they gunned him down. Never mind that it was in plain view of Michael, screaming for his father. In a way, it’s her most humanizing moment.

Her sons — and she had four in total — were all indoctrinated into the trade. Dixon, Osvaldo, Uber and Michael all were either sellers or hitmen, and all did time in prison for their crimes. They’ve all been murdered since, in revenge plots from Blanco’s enemies years in the making, except Michael.

She still knew how to get revenge, though. When Osvaldo was killed in Colombia, Blanco had the priest read a statement to the funeral attendees that the deed would not go unpunished. One of her son’s two murderers killed himself before she could get to him. Let’s just say he was the smart one. The second killer spent his last days on earth tied up in a remote abandoned barn in Colombia being tortured by her goons, eventually expiring after he took a burning hot screwdriver up the nose.

Blanco’s own undoing was inevitable. Working for Blanco became so untenable that even some of her most loyal hitmen were driven to leave the business — not the drug trade itself, mind you, which they’d simply pick up again in another city. But her drug trade, which required a tolerance for massacre and risk that even hardened drug peddlers could only take for so long. “I couldn’t take all the killing,” said one such hitman, Rivi, who spoke to Cocaine Cowboys of his escape.

She’d also killed so many people that she was unable to keep the business going in Miami and fled to Irvine, California, in 1985. That’s where she was caught and sentenced to nearly 20 years in federal prison. From there, she received letters of admiration and support from all over the world, including from a low-level drug pusher in Oakland named Charles Crosby, whom she took on as a lover and protégé, mentoring his own rise in the coke and crack trade pushing to black residents in the Bay Area throughout out the 1980s and early 1990s. According to him, she was still turning $50 million a year in prison.

Blanco finally served out her time and returned to Colombia, in large part because the remaining cartel heads had long since turned against her after she killed off Albert Bravo. She’d burned too many bridges; pissed too many people off. There were far too many hits against her to outrun.

True to Michael’s name origins, after his own drug convictions for cocaine trafficking, he took the family business legitimate. He’s now a father and husband, as well a reality actor on the VH1 show Cartel Crew, where the children of various Miami drug lords try their hand at clothing lines and any business wherein they can still reap the tangential fame of their parents’ illicit dealings, only without the jail time.

Though there’s no doubt she’s responsible for his own particular involvement in the drug trade, it’s clear she left her youngest, and seemingly favorite, son, with a good lesson. His biggest motive for going legit: His mother’s murder in 2012. Blanco was finally caught up and killed, not by police, but by an enemy who found her with her pregnant daughter-in-law at a Medellín butcher shop at age 69. She’d just purchased a $150 cut of meat when a team of motorcycle hitmen drove up, headed right for her in broad daylight, and put two bullets in her head.