Griselda’s Unbelievable True Story, Explained

Netflix’s crime drama series ‘Griselda’ revolves around the true story of Griselda Blanco, a Colombian drug trafficker who emerged from Pablo Escobar’s Medellín to become the “Godmother” of Miami’s drug world. Griselda finds her position and power in a male-dominated drug scene with unwavering cruelty and determination. She kills the compassion in her to eliminate or scare her rivals. In reality, Griselda cherished immense power at the peak of her career. Doug Miro, Eric Newman, Carlo Bernard, and Ingrid Escajeda integrated several fictional elements into the real-life saga to make the historical show that opens a window into not only Griselda’s life but also Miami of the 1970s and 1980s!

The New Face in Miami

The series begins with Griselda arriving in Miami, Florida, from Medellín, Colombia, to set up a drug empire of her own. Before moving to Miami, the crime drama makes it clear that she has experience as a drug trafficker. However, the show doesn’t illustrate the magnitude of her drug deals. Griselda and her second husband Alberto Bravo reportedly made millions in New York in the early 1970s. According to Charles Cosby, Griselda’s confidante, she was making $10 million at the time. Griselda and Bravo’s relationship ended with the former killing the latter in the series, which is what is widely believed in real life as well.

Max Mermelstein, who worked with Griselda and the Ochoa Brothers, revealed that Griselda was behind Alberto’s death. “She [Griselda] bragged to me that she had personally killed her lover, Alberto Bravo. She told me that she was standing at the open window of Bravo’s parked car and he said something that made her mad. So, she reached over, stuck the muzzle of her gun in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. Just like that. And I believe her,” Max told the Sun Sentinel. After arriving in Miami with her children, she started building an empire. In the series, she kills the people who turn against her to make it clear that she is powerful enough to be their Godmother.

Griselda’s power is established after she kills German Panesso in the show. In reality, Panesso’s murder was an integral part of the Miami drug wars of the 1970s and 1980s. Panesso and his bodyguard Juan Carlos Hernandez were killed in a liquor store. The murders became infamous as the “Dadeland Mall Massacre.” Steve Georges, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent at the time, identified the convict as a part of Griselda’s drug smuggling conglomerate.

Ruling Miami

After the Dadeland Mall Massacre, Griselda was the “Godmother” of Miami. She allegedly killed many, displaying her potency in the city. Arguably, her biggest strength was her army, which was known as the “Pistoleros.” “Griselda loved killings. Bodies lined the streets of Miami as a result of her feuds. She gathered around her a group of henchmen known as the Pistoleros. Initiation into the group was earned by killing someone and cutting off a body part as proof of the deed. It is said that one of the Pistoleros assassinated a rival by riding up to him on a motorcycle and shooting him point-blank,” the DEA said about her in 1993, as per The Independent.

Jorge “Rivi” Ayala-Rivera, Griselda’s top hitman, confirmed the narrative. “She liked to be at war. Every day she’d say, ‘We’ve got to get so-and-so.’ It was something she enjoyed,” Rivi said about Griselda, as per The Telegraph. In the series, Rivi becomes Griselda’s hitman through Amilcar AKA Rafo Rodriguez. In reality, that wasn’t the case. In 1981, Rivi and his friend Carlos Nossa were in a nightclub in Miami, where they learned about a hit. “Not realizing it was a Blanco hit, Nossa tipped off the potential victims. Realizing they were in serious trouble two nights later the pair met with Blanco promising they would do the hit themselves for nothing,” James Morton wrote in ‘The Mammoth Book of Gangs.’

In the 1980s, Griselda became an unparalleled drug trafficker. “She [Griselda] was already such an entity that she was Medellin cartel, but she was the Queen. She didn’t have to listen to Pablo, she didn’t have to bow down to anybody because she gave them all their first routes,” Griselda’s son Michael Corleone Blanco said about his mother, as per The Independent. But by then, her fall also began. “What changed was her taste for violence. She wasn’t really taking care of business the way she should, or could, or had in the past,” former DEA agent Bob Palombo told The Independent.

The Fall of Miami’s Godmother

After 1983, Griselda struggled to remain authoritative. She was accused of killing Marta Ochoa Salderriega, the first cousin of the Ochoa brothers. Max, who closely worked with the Ochoas as part of the Medellín Cartel, believed Griselda intentionally killed her. “Griselda had Marta killed for the $1.8 million that Griselda owed her. First, they tortured Marta to find out where Rafael Salazar was. They tore out her fingernails, burned her with cigarettes, and beat her, but it did no good. Marta didn’t know where Salazar was. So, they shot her,” Max said in the same Sun Sentinel interview. In the crime drama, however, Marta dies after accidentally overdosing herself with crack cocaine.

The death of Johnny Castro, the son of Griselda’s former enforcer Jesus “Chucho” Castro, also happened around the same time. In the show, Johnny’s death unsettles the drug trafficker. In reality, as per Rivi, that wasn’t the case. “At first, she [Griselda] was real mad ‘cause we missed the father. But when she heard we had gotten the son by accident, she said she was glad – that they were even,” Rivi told the police. The DEA finally arrested Griselda in 1985. She was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for manufacturing, importing, and distributing cocaine. That’s when the state of Florida charged her with three counts of first-degree murder.

The case collapsed when Rivi, the principal witness, had phone sex with the State Attorney’s secretaries. To avoid the death penalty, Griselda pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree murder. In the series, while she is in prison, she orchestrates the murder of Darío Sepúlveda, her third husband, to retrieve Michael from the little boy’s father. As per Max, Griselda was behind the murder. “The cops asked Dario to get out of the car. He got out and they handcuffed him, but he started to run. The cops opened fire and shot Dario right in front of the kid [Michael]. […] The execution was done on the orders of Michael’s mother,” Max told the Sun Sentinel.

The Fiction in Griselda

Even though ‘Griselda’ is a biographical series, creative liberties were taken to fictionalize certain characters and events. Co-creator Newman and others used certain real occurrences, which are described as “fence posts,” as the foundation of the narrative. “It’s what we imagine to be the reason for some of her moves. Why she did what she did,” he told The Telegraph.

Newman and his team decided against consulting Rivi, who is still alive in prison. “We thought about it. In my experience – six seasons of Narcos and ten years of working on it – once criminals have you, they have a very specific story to tell you. And it’s never about what they did – it’s about what was done to them. Rivi is a master manipulator. I can only imagine what he would have had to say. Once you hear their story and you reject their story because it’s most likely b——-, you’ve entered into a dynamic with someone you don’t want to be in a dynamic with,” he added.

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