The Unbelievable True Story Behind Netflix’s “Griselda”

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The world of the 1970s drug trade has been explored in countless movies and TV shows over the years, and Netflix is ready to add to the genre with its upcoming miniseries, “Griselda.” The true-crime series narrates a semi-fictionalized version of the real life of Griselda Blanco (played by Sofia Vergara), one of the most infamous, violent, and successful drug lords of the era. So, how much do we really know about the woman dubbed the Cocaine Godmother in real life?

Who Was Griselda Blanco?

In the 1970s, the cocaine drug trade was thriving throughout South America, but especially in Colombia, where Griselda Blanco was born in 1943 and raised. As with any crime lord, rumors about her “origin story” swirled for years – some truthful, some less so. More than likely, she was exposed to a life of crime at a young age. Stories persist about her engaging in pickpocketing, prostitution, and even kidnapping and murder as a teenager or even younger.

By 1964, she used false passports to illegally move herself, her husband, and their children to Queens, NY, according to the Independent. From there, she began establishing herself as a power player in the drug trade, a role she would continue to expand over decades.

Griselda’s Criminal Enterprise

Once she established herself in New York, Griselda began building her “business.” She started relatively small – even buying an underwear business so she could start sneaking small quantities of her “product” inside of secret compartments in the pieces – and quickly grew. According to Maxim, her direct connection to Colombia gave her a leg up on the competition, and by the mid-1970s, she had pilots flying in mass quantities of cocaine for her to distribute, bringing her millions of dollars every month.

Her first near miss with the law came in the mid-’70s, when the Drug Enforcement Administration closed in on her and her team. In an operation dubbed Operation Banshee, Griselda and 30 of her subordinates were indicted on drug charges in 1975. While a dozen of her collaborators were ultimately tried and found guilty of “the biggest Colombian narcotics organization ever uncovered” (via New York Times), Griselda evaded capture by fleeing to Colombia. Despite the best efforts of the DEA to track her (or even get her to flip on the cartels), she eluded them and eventually returned to the US, setting up her new base of operations in Miami.

As her power grew, so too did her reputation for violence. Legends about her brutality mixed with real reports of enemies being gunned down with shocking efficiency. Even two of her husbands met bloody ends for crossing her in some way. Her penchant for settling scores in such violent ways, combined with her “rule” over the cocaine trade, earned her nicknames like Black Widow and Cocaine Godmother. The DEA task force, led by agent Bob Palombo, searched for her for years, but her knack for disguise and her iron-fisted rule made it hard for them to catch her.

What Happened to Griselda Blanco?

Finally, in 1985, Palombo’s team caught up to Griselda, thanks to their ongoing investigations and timely tips from a few informants (who immediately were placed into witness protection). She had relocated to California to avoid the hits that were now out on her. Ultimately, however, she was taken into custody and put on trial. According to the Independent, however, the case against her was on shaky ground, and multiple scandals – including a years-ago backroom agreement made by the judge now presiding over her case – led to a shorter sentence and plea deals for the murder charges.

Griselda was released from prison in 2004 and deported back to Colombia. She survived for eight years before being assassinated, as three of her four sons had also been killed after leaving prison. Her only surviving son, Michael Corleone Blanco, has spoken about his mother in various interviews, and he has even starred in the VH1 reality show “Cartel Crew.”

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