“No, my name is Betty,” she said in Spanish, attractive up from her Bible in practised nonchalance.
The authorization on her nightstand, below a headscarf and abutting to a .38 calibre revolver, said otherwise; her name was Lucrecia Adarmez. But that was as apish as addition favourite alias, Arichel Vince-Lopez.
By the time Bob Palombo bent up with the “chameleon, who could change her actualization at will” afterwards 11 years, she had been accepted by abounding names: La Dona Gris, La Gorda, La Gordita, The Atramentous Widow, La Madrina.
In that moment of reckoning, she regressed to Betty, accustomed for a continued aback anesthetized affinity to Betty Boop, if the 1930s appearance had spent decades in a certifiable ambit of drug-fuelled orgies and bloodthirsty paranoia.
The broken button and cartoonish dimples remained, and like so abounding afore him, Palombo was mesmerised. He kissed her on the audacity and alien himself as the Biologic Enforcement Administration Appropriate Abettor who was to assuredly accompany bottomward The Cocaine Godmother: “Hola, Griselda. We assuredly meet.”
“She didn’t kiss me, I can abandoned anticipate what she would acquire admired to do,” Palombo, now retired, recalled to The Independent of her 1985 arrest.
(Alamy Stock Photo)
Kill him, if he had to guess. And afterwards remorse. Griselda Blanco dead lovers and enemies alike. Preferably with one of her Pistoleros hitmen, benumbed up on a motorbike, and acid at absolute in the adopted adjustment that she popularised and how she, in a confined of artery justice, was assassinated alfresco a Medellin boner boutique in 2012.
But for a abbreviate moment afterwards actuality abject out of a California townhouse in Irvine, Orange County, on 17 February – her altogether weekend – she showed a glimpse of the vulnerability below the bravado.
“She was appealing boxy and standoffish, a archetypal Colombian move I would say, nonchalant, not actually assuming any absolute emotion, but aback we put her in the car, I was in the backseat with her, and the added abettor was driving. We collection up to Los Angeles, and aback we got abutting to the courthouse is aback she became visibly shaken,” Palombo remembered.
“I mean, visibly shaken, she was shaking, and she affective my arm and you could feel her afraid and she angry and she threw up on my shoulder. Not a lot, it was mostly aloof bile, but she knew the accepted s*** had hit the fan. And it was time for her to accommodated her accusers.”
In the 37 years since, Blanco’s abode amid the history of Colombia’s biologic lords has developed in prominence, adorning her abomination alongside Medellin Bunch aeon Pablo Escobar and Carlos Lehder.
As in life, Blanco has become a chameleon in death. Her angel as a Queen amid Kings has apparent her portrayed in TV and blur with accretion brilliant ability and box appointment draw.
The year she was killed, Blanco was played by Luces Velásquez in the Colombian telenovela, Escobar, el patrón del mal. Catherine Zeta-Jones took the role in a 2017 Lifetime movie, The Cocaine Godmother. Sofia Vergara is filming the accessible Netflix series, Griselda. And Jennifer Lopez will booty the starring role in the Hollywood biopic, The Godmother, currently admiring in development.
Catherine Zeta-Jones as Griselda Blanco in The Cocaine Godmother
(Alamy Stock Photo)
Lifetime billed Blanco as a “pioneer”, Netflix calls her a “savvy and aggressive Colombian businesswoman”, and Lopez praises her as an “anti-hero”, admitting her three murdered husbands and the families of the dozens, maybe hundreds, dead at her whim may say otherwise.
“She is all things we attending for in storytelling and activating characters – notorious, ambitious, conniving, chilling,” Lopez said aback signing on for the role in 2019.
The absoluteness of Blanco’s activity and crimes is beneath airbrushed. Continued afore actuality popularised amid English-speaking audiences in the 2006 documentary Cocaine Cowboys, and its 2008 aftereffect Hustlin’ with the Godmother, Blanco’s adventure was already one of fable in the account of the US’s crime-fighting apparatus.
In 1993, the DEA appear an centralized annual blue-blooded Biologic Enforcement to mark the 20th ceremony of the agency’s creation, by aloft admiral Richard Nixon, to allowance the neverending “war on drugs”.
The certificate chronicles key moments in the agency’s history, from its “family tree” dating aloft prohibition, to aloft biologic trafficking routes, to the annihilation of appropriate abettor Enrique “Kiki” Camarena (played by Michael Pena in Netflix’s Narcos: Mexico).
DEA abettor Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, bent and dead in Mexico
(United States Biologic Enforcement Agency (DEA))
The affiliate blue-blooded “Rogues” lists the top 5, well, rogues, of the DEA’s aboriginal 20-years. Blanco topped them all. She was advised an alike bigger angle than the Medellin Cartel’s founder, Carlos Lehder. Escobar would not be dead until December of that year.
The DEA ranked Blanco’s abduction aloft the bigger scalps of the United States’s civil underbelly: Leroy “Nicky” Barnes, baton of the bigger biologic arena in New York; Wayne “Akbar” Pray, the arch of a New Jersey trafficking organisation with tentacles beyond the country, and chemist George Marquardt, amenable for 126 balance deaths with a biologic he bogus to be up to 400 times added almighty than authentic heroin, the afresh abstruse fentanyl.
What fabricated Blanco so feared, and her abduction so revered, amid the men of her time? In the DEA’s own words from 1993: “Griselda admired killings. Bodies lined the streets of Miami as a aftereffect of her feuds. She aggregate about her a accumulation of henchmen accepted as the Pistoleros. Initiation into the accumulation was becoming by killing addition and acid off a anatomy allotment as affidavit of the deed. It is said that one of the Pistoleros assassinated a battling by benumbed up to him on a motorcycle and acid him point-blank.”
Griselda Blanco, portrayed in TV and blur by Catherine Zeta-Jones, Sofia Vergara, and Jennifer Lopez
(Orange County Sheriff’s Office/Getty)
It became the brand of the Medellin cartel. And the unmissable assertion mark of her assassination.
“She not abandoned dead rivals and aberrant lovers, but acclimated annihilation as a agency of cancelling debts she didn’t appetite to pay. A decidedly blood-soaked annihilation that took abode in July 1979 in a Miami arcade centre became accepted as the Dadeland Massacre.”
By the time bodies began axle up in Miami, Palombo had been ambit Blanco for the bigger bisected of the 1970s. She eluded abduction in Queens, New York, during 1974’s Operation Banshee, one of DEA’s aboriginal aloft operations aback it formed a year beforehand in 1973.
Twelve Colombians were bedevilled of smuggling added than 20 pounds of cocaine, account $2.5m (or $15m in with inflation), a week, from 1972 to 1974, in burden containers, speedboats, suitcases, clothing, alveolate board coat-hangers, and alike a dog cage absolute a alive dog, according to a 1976 address on the balloon in The New York Times.
“But we never laid eyes on her,” Palombo said. “Her articulation never actually showed up on the eavesdrop investigation. Or on abundant of anything.”
DEA Appropriate Abettor Bob Palombo
Blanco had fled to Colombia, area the DEA approved to accumulate tabs and get her to cast on the Colombian cartels. “But that was ambitious cerebration and pie in the sky, because that never happened,” Palombo added.
She was tracked in Colombia until at atomic 1977, but ultimately abolished into barrios and remained an enigma. There were rumours she was attempt in Miami in 1977 and 1980, but Palombo wouldn’t get abutting afresh until about 10 years afterwards she was aboriginal accusable during Operation Banshee.
Meanwhile, abundant of what became accepted (at atomic alfresco of Colombia) of Blanco and her aboriginal activity came buzz from DEA adviser Maria Gutierrez, Blanco’s biking abettor who eventually became a friend, trusted acquaintance and barren adulation interest.
On February 15, 1943, while the apple was at war with Nazi Germany, Griselda Blanco Restrepo was built-in in Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Abandoned by her father, Blanco was taken to Medellin at a adolescent age and grew up in a berth hole area her mother, said to be an alcoholic prostitute, exhausted her savagely.
Forced assimilate the streets, she met her aboriginal bedmate and coach Carlos Trujillo, a abundant drinker and backcountry certificate forger. The brace fabricated their way to New York in the mid to backward 1960s. Now in her 20s, Blanco went from pickpocketing, accomplishment affected ID abstracts to “small amounts of marijuana” (as far as the DEA knew).
“Right off the bat, there she is,” Palombo said. “Her mother actuality an declared prostitute … the thieving, her accepting complex in apish passports, pick-pocketing, her accomplished activity was brought up about crime. There was no advantage in her life. You almost, about I say, and I don’t say this a lot, you about acquire to feel apologetic for somebody that never had a absolute chance.”
In 1960s New York, cocaine wasn’t decidedly accepted in the low-grade adhesive anatomy alleged basuco, or “bazooka”. But as the biologic was crystalised and appeal added backward in the decade and into the 1970s, the “innovative businesswoman” backed off marijuana and purchased an undergarment business. She created abstruse compartments in bras and girdles and recruited couriers to acceptation cocaine by the anatomy load.
She acclimated assorted sources for her accumulation and like her contemporary, Carlos Lehder, pushed for pooling assets and administration risks with added biologic traffickers, creating what became the Medellin Bunch and ambience the date for its best abominable leader, Pablo Escobar.
“My mum had been action aback the 60s,” says her youngest and aftermost absolute son, Michael Corleone Blanco. “Pioneer s***. Never again, that s*** was crazy,” he added.
Named afterwards Michael Corleone from bandit blur The Godfather, Corleone Blanco abounding in the gaps of his mother’s history during a 2019 podcast, Berner’s Round Table.
She got her alpha by bringing 100 mules and workers up into the Andes abundance ranges and bringing the acclaimed Colombian Gold ache of marijuana to Medellin and, by extension, the world.
“And that was the abandoned neighbourhood that had killers, Afro-Colombians, whores, bootlegging and marijuana, and there was a adult that controlled that. And her name was Griselda Blanco,” he said.
After relocating from New York aback to Colombia in the deathwatch of Operation Banshee, crystalised cocaine came into the account and afore continued Blanco was aback in the US calamity Miami with a abiding breeze of blow.
Fast-forward to the aboriginal 1980s aback Corleone Blanco was growing up in California, ambuscade out in Morgan Hill, active a activity bearded as a approved kid watching He-Man, not Al Pacino. His three beforehand brothers Uber, Dixon and Osvaldo were active the ancestors business from Miami, San Francisco and Beverley Hills.
“She was already such an article that she was Medellin cartel, but she was the Queen. She didn’t acquire to acquire to Pablo, she didn’t acquire to bow bottomward to anybody because she gave them all their aboriginal routes,” he recalled.
The chameleon had not been apparent or heard for the bigger allotment of a decade. She could accretion or lose 30 pounds, change the colour of her hair, attending affluent or haggard, mesmerise as a Colombian Queen or canyon as a middle-aged, American soccer mom from the suburbs.
But by 1983, the DEA and her enemies began closing in through a aggregate of luck, informants amid her ranks, and, in particular, two adolescent women.
“What afflicted was her aftertaste for violence. She wasn’t actually demography affliction of business the way she should, or could, or had in the past,” said Palombo.
Out of the blue, the Miami DEA appointment was alleged by a afraid mother that her absolute beautiful, absolute young, and absolute white, babe was dating a Hispanic-looking biologic banker with a acutely amaranthine accumulation of cash: Uber Blanco.
Griselda with her sons Michael, Osvaldo, Uber and Dixon
It was the DEA’s aboriginal band on Blanco aback the 1970s and aboriginal adumbration that Blanco’s sons, who were too adolescent during Operation Banshee a decade earlier, had developed into the business. Six months afterwards they got addition breach with the arrest of Geraldo Gomez, a Colombian bent to abide in the United States for his American-born son.
By arduous beef memory, Palombo mentioned Blanco to Gomez, who was adverse 10 years and deportation. Not abandoned did Gomez apperceive La Madrina, but he was additionally affable with the ancestors from aback he operated a artisan in Colombia, application her cartage and turbo-charging Osvaldo Blanco’s motorcycles. Alike better, his accessory was dating Dixon Blanco at that absolute moment in San Francisco.
Palombo had his lead. Gomez was eventually placed in attestant aegis and hasn’t been heard from since. Added would follow, like Max Mermelstein, a Jewish American smuggler who pioneered the cocaine activity from Medellín to Miami. He afterwards fled the cartel’s $3m compensation on his arch and went into ambuscade in attestant protection.
“She was seeing the ghosts of bodies past, and she had a hell of a time sleeping at night. Max would acquaint us she would generally times acquire these adolescent females that she would apply to appear and beddy-bye with her; and afresh the absolute animal encounters with some of these females during some of the agrarian during the agrarian bacchanal parties that she threw in Miami,” Palombo said.
Enemies were additionally closing in. Palombo said Blanco had a hit out for her over the killing of a ancestors affiliate of Jorge Ochoa, addition Medellin Bunch founder.
After beat Miami, Blanco attenuated into the Californian woodwork so seamlessly that Palombo looked appropriate accomplished at his aboriginal glimpse in the antechamber of a Newport Beach hotel.
“When I aboriginal laid eyes on her she was dressed like an American middle-aged woman who was absolute captious about herself. She had a albino coloured wig, absolute accurately manicured. Her appearance and aggregate were aloof absolute well-groomed, her dress, she aloof looked actually sharp,” he recalled
DEA Appropriate Abettor Bob Palombo
A of brace months afterwards she was “180-degrees different”: dressed slovenly, beard combed with an egg beater, the colouring was terrible, and she had an all-embracing ashen look.
“A chameleon that changes at will,” Palombo said. “As time went by and she became added paranoid, because she had to leave Miami because of the hitmen that were afterwards her.”
Even with the walls closing in, Blanco about able prosecution.
Stephen Schlessinger, who started as a adolescent prosecutor in the Southern District of New York during Operation Banshee, begin himself in Southern Florida aback Blanco came to trial.
They didn’t acquire “drugs on the table”, and his case was based actually on the recorded conversations amid Blanco, her three sons and the informant, Gomez, who led to the DEA’s aboriginal in-person glimpse of Blanco in the United States.
“The case proceeded afterwards a gram of cocaine or a penny of biologic proceeds. It was basically a biologic cabal and the affidavit was aloof this talk. I beggarly it was all talk. “, Schlessinger told The Independent.
All they had were taped conversations that would acquire to be anecdotal and interpreted by the case agents and experts in biologic lingo, about advice both Spanish and euphemisms to the jury.
It was not an cutting case. Schlessinger considered, but rejected, bringing in the allegation from Operation Banshee, but the case was too old and the concrete affirmation couldn’t be found. The past, the murders, none of that was prosecuted in her aboriginal trial. That would appear later.
To this day, Schlessinger doesn’t apperceive how she didn’t walk.
“We got up and we had two canicule of trial, which consisted mostly of my ‘walking the dog’, I was aloof in there crumbling time and assault about the bush. We were advancing to put these tapes on and amplify them the best we could,” he recalled.
“The morning of the third day of trial, her advocate gets up and afterwards any apprehension to myself, said ‘we’re activity to appeal to the indictment’. What the motive and cerebration was I had no idea.”
Griselda Blanco mug shots
(Orange County Sheriff/Miami-Dade Police)
Judge Eugene Spellman, aback deceased, excoriated Blanco during sentencing, calling her the affliction affair aback Ma Baker, Schlessinger said. Spellman threw the book at her with the approved maximum, which Palombo has recalled actuality 35 years.
There was abashing in the courtroom. The adjudicator was vehement. Blanco, dressed in atramentous and clutching Rosary chaplet and a bible, had no arresting reaction. The defence ancillary of the allowance angry white.
Schlessinger and Palombo, meanwhile, anticipation they did a abundant job and went for a celebratory lunch. They had bent their chameleon and now they had her bound in a jar.
As they were bitter into their hamburgers, Schlessinger’s beeper began screaming: The adjudicator wants to see you immediately.
“It was absolute awesome because I absolved up to his accommodation and there was actually cipher there. I absolved in, there he was abandoned in his chambers, and he basically said, ‘well Steve, I fabricated a mistake, I had a conversation… I promised 10 or 12 years. I aloof forgot about it’,” he said.
Apparently, Schlessinger said, the ageing adjudicator forgot about a backroom accord he had addled not to book Blanco for best than her three sons – Uber, Dixon and Osvaldo – were bedevilled anon afore her balloon began.
Griselda and son Dixon Blanco
Schlessinger says he was asked to go forth with alteration the exact book in the academic accounting judgement, with the adjudicator abacus it “could be absolute dangerous” for Blanco’s defence attorneys if they didn’t. Defence advocate Roy Atramentous told The Independent in an email that he had annihilation added to add to the accessible record.
Ultimately, Schlessinger said they were accustomed a best – acquire the book or go aback to trial.
“There was no question… It was actually no choice. It was not a able case. Decidedly adjoin her. The sons, the conversations were a little added coherent, they were a little added incriminating, but adjoin her, it was a jumble, a chat salad,” he said.
“We were affronted by the accomplished thing. Looked at as a whole, the accomplished affair was an apotheosis of South Florida amends in the aboriginal 80s.”
While confined her sentence, accompaniment prosecutors congenital assorted annihilation cases and it looked like the blow of her canicule would be spent abaft bars, or conceivably in an electric chair. But she addled addition accord afterwards secretaries in the Miami-Dade accompaniment attorney’s appointment were affected in a phone-sex aspersion with their key witness, Blanco’s favourite hitman, Jorge “Rivi” Ayala.
She pled to three second-degree annihilation accuse in 1998 and was out by 2004, aback she was abandoned to Medellin. She lived addition eight years until her assassination in 2012 – far best than anyone expected.
The accepted approach is that it took her enemies eight years to bolt up to her. It’s one Schlessinger believes credible, the abandoned abruptness actuality it didn’t appear earlier. Three of her four sons had all been dead afterwards commutual their book and abiding to Colombia.
Palombo, blanket off his investigator’s eye, thinks otherwise. To him, it’s abstruse why she didn’t pay the ultimate price, like her sons, as anon as she alternate to Medellin, area she lived a accessible activity in a adorned neighbourhood. If addition capital to avenge a absent admired one, it wouldn’t booty eight years to acquisition her.
“She wasn’t hiding. Not at all. She was dead at the marketplace, the boner shop, and according to my sources, she lived a well-respected activity in the community. She was allegedly absolute benevolent to the abject and that may acquire been a acumen that a lot of bodies didn’t bother with her,” he said.
Another reason, he speculates: “There’s annihilation worse as far as the bent association as aback somebody turns into an informant.”
After decades of bottomward DEA’s net, aggregate into the background, abnegation propositions to about-face on the cartels, and confined her time, would The Cocaine Godmother about-face state’s witness? Chase the timing, Palombo says.
Blanco was dead on 3 September 2012, at the age of 69. She was survived by her youngest son, Michael Corleone Blanco, additionally accepted as Michael Corleone Sepulveda afterwards his ancestor Dario Speulveda.
At the time of his mother’s death, he had been below abode arrest aback actuality arrested on 12 May, 2011, on two abomination counts of cocaine trafficking and cabal to cartage in cocaine, according to The Miami New Times.
Blanco Speulveda did not acknowledge to assorted account requests for this story.
Since his mother’s death, Blanco has said in interviews he larboard the ancestors business. He’s a brilliant of the VH1 Bunch Crew absoluteness series, which has run for three seasons aback 2019. His bells was featured in a 2021 adventure and he now has accouchement of his own to affliction for.
Ahead of the show’s debut, Blanco Speulveda appeared on the podcast of hip hop artisan Bern and batten about abrogation the activity behind, not active in fear, and ablution businesses like Authentic Blanco, a artery ceramics aggregation billed as “Billionaire Bunch Lifestyle Brand” in fashion, film, music, licensing, and cannabis, like the La Madrina Deathwatch N Vape Collection to “taste the 80s”.
“My mother accomplished me to be a chameleon,” said Blanco.
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