Through the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Florida’s Dade County was the scene of the Miami drug wars. Shoot-outs and bombings made Dade County, especially Miami, America’s murder capital. Police and political corruption was endemic. Witnesses and drug dealers were routinely murdered. Triggermen sprayed crowds with automatic fire just to hit one or two targets. Entire buildings were destroyed in bombings ordered by ‘The Cocaine Godmother.’ If a dozen bystanders died as well then that was just too bad.
The Wild West had its gunslingers. Prohibition had its kidnappers, bank robbers and bootleggers. This was the era of the ‘Cocaine Cowboys.’ Colombia’s notorious Medellin cartel were shipping staggering amounts of cocaine and making staggering amounts of money. With the cocaine and the money came the violence.
At the heart of the bloodshed was one woman; Griselda Blanco.
Blanco, one of the most violent drug dealers in criminal history, was at the epicentre of an unprecedented orgy of murder and mayhem. Described by one law enforcement officer as ordering a murder like other people order a pizza, she was accused of involvement in over 200 murders across North and South America.
Even before Miami she’d had three husbands, all of whom she had murdered. First husband Carlos Trujillo she had killed in a dispute over drugs in Colombia. Second husband Alberto Bravo was her partner when she peddled drugs in New York during the mid-1970’s When the pair were indicted on Federal drug charges Griselda discovered millions of dollars missing from their drug profits. Believing Alberto responsible, Griselda had him killed. Third husband Dario Sepulveda took their son (named by Griselda ‘Michael Corleone Blanco’) during a custody dispute. Sepulveda died in Colombia in a hail of bullets.
The killings earned her a grim nickname – ‘The Black Widow.’
Born in Cartagena, Colombia on February 15, 1943 she brought unprecedented death and destruction to Miami, more so than any other drug lord. Dealing cocaine made her over $80,000,000 every month. Dozens of indiscriminate murders made her many enemies including Medellin Cartel members Pablo Escobar (who, ironically, helped start his own drug business) and the dreaded Ochoa family.
The Medellin Cartel came to believe her unrestrained violence would ruin the drug trade for everybody. She murdered at will, seldom seeking the approval of other Cartel members. Needless acts of butchery like 1979’s Dadeland Mall massacre (the worst of many murders during the Miami drug war) brought huge attention from local then Federal law enforcement. City and State police wanted her out of business. So too did even bigger fish, the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the FBI.
Murdering one of the Ochoas rather than paying for a 1500-kilo shipment was the last straw. If the law didn’t get Griselda her own associates would.
Griselda wasn’t the first to go. She’d had three sons by her first husband, Osvaldo, Uber and Dixon. All were imprisoned for aiding her American drug empire. All were murdered after being deported back to Colombia. Griselda herself would face both legitimate and then gangland justice, but not yet. Blanco made no secret of her utter contempt for human life. She was prepared to order the murders of entire families, children included, if they incurred her displeasure. At one such massacre her most senior hitman, Jorge ‘Rivi’ Ayala (himself accused of at least 35 murders), had to stop one of his accomplices from killing the victims’ infant children. The reason the accomplice would kill infants? Blanco had offered him a bonus to do it.
Another attempted hit saw the target escape while his two-year-old son was shot dead. When told of the failed hit Blanco simply shrugged, remarking that at least her gunmen had killed the child. Still another failed hit involved a large bomb completely destroying the target’s home. Fortunately for them, they weren’t there.
But, with the staggering profits and equally indiscriminate bloodshed, came increased political and police attention. Once Miami had more murders per year than Prohibition-era Chicago the Federal Government intervened at the request of local law enforcement. A joint operation between the DEA and Miami-Dade police was mounted. CENTAC 26 (short for Central Tactical Unit 26) was formed, aggressively cracking down on the drug trade and the endless violence that came with it. Griselda Blanco was their number one target.
CENTAC 26 broke up Blanco’s operation. Coupled with other drug lords putting out several contracts on her, the heat was too much and Blanco fled to California. Rivi’ Ayala became a co-operating witness against her in a triple murder trial which collapsed, to the embarrassment and anger of State and Federal authorities. Arrested by DEA agents in February, 1985, she was convicted, serving 21 years of three 20-year sentences before being deported back to Colombia in 2004. Miami would never forget her murderous rampage. Neither would her underworld enemies.
On September 3rd, 2012 Griselda Blanco went to join the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people she’d murdered. Ironically, given her history, she died by her own favourite method. A hitman arrived on a motorcycle as she was leaving Cardiso’s butcher’s shop in Medellin. He dismounted, crept up behind her and shot her twice in the back of the head. The ‘ride-by’ shooting was Blanco’s own favoured method of murder.
It’s ironic that she should die by her own favourite method. It’s perhaps appropriate, having turned Miami into a slaughterhouse, that Blanco herself died in a butcher’s shop.