What a tangled web she wove. Episode 8 of the “Fatal Voyage: The Death of JFK Jr.” podcast takes a closer look at the woman who may have been behind a kidnapping plot against John F. Kennedy Jr. in the years just before his 1999 death. Former homicide detective and podcast host Colin McLaren and investigative journalist James Robertson learn more about Griselda Blanco, a.k.a. the “godmother of cocaine,” and what she might have wanted with one of America’s most famous figures.
Robertson describes Blanco as “murderous” and “bloodthirsty,” noting, “I think she had hits out on the likes of [notorious drug lords] El Chapo and Escobar. She was that level.” He reveals that Blanco’s lifetime of crime began at just 11 years old when she kidnapped a boy from a wealthy neighborhood near her hometown in Medellín, Columbia, and shot him in the head when the ransom she demanded was not paid. “She was a monster,” Robertson says.
“You could say she’s the most successful self-made woman in history,” reporter Andy Tillett explains on the podcast. “But she’s also almost certainly the most feared, ruthless female killer in history too.”
Blanco was married several times before her alleged involvement in a kidnapping scheme against JFK Jr. Her first husband was Carlos Trujillo, whom she met when she was 13 and married not long after. She supposedly had him killed because of a “business dispute” about 10 years later. Then, she married a man named Alberto Bravo. Together, the couple took their cocaine business to New York. Before long, they were making millions of dollars every month from their criminal enterprises.
But in April 1975, a joint investigation by the NYPD and the DEA called Operation Banshee investigated Blanco’s business and she and 30 of her associates were indicted on federal drug conspiracy charges. However, when the charges came down, Griselda and Bravo had disappeared. Blanco shot and killed her husband in Colombia, possibly due to missing profits from their cartel. She then moved back to the United States and started her cocaine empire in Miami.
“Our estimates are she was responsible for anywhere from 50 or 100 homicide murders throughout the world, primarily in South Florida,” former Miami homicide cop and chief of police at the West Miami police department Nelson Andreu explains. He says she built “a billion-dollar empire” in the 1980s before a raid was conducted on one of her hideouts in Irvine, California, in 1985. DEA agents arrested her for and imprisoned her on drug charges and she was sentenced to over a decade in jail, during which time she had a relationship with Charles Cosby — the man Andreu named as an informant for the FBI in the kidnapping plot against JFK Jr. in episode 7 of the podcast.
Blanco planned for Cosby to have someone “kidnap somebody very prominent,” Andreu explains. “And hold that person ransom in exchange for her release and return to Colombia … but it never materialized.” At some point, it seems JFK Jr. became the target of this plan.
Detective Andreu was the main investigator for the JFK Jr. kidnapping investigation, and he said in the previous podcast installment, “They were trying to figure out what was the best way to be able to get their hands on JFK Jr.”
Reporter Leon Wagner, who spent years covering the Kennedy family, said of JFK Jr. in the previous episode, “The FBI at one point uncovered a plot to kidnap him and demand millions in ransom, and it was deadly serious.” McLaren and Robertson looked at documents and found a possible connection to a South American drug cartel and a whistleblower who offered to “rat out a drug cartel operation operating out of Colombia” and “inform the FBI of a kidnapping plot.” That man was Cosby.
But why would JFK Jr. make a good target for the ransom plot? “John Jr. had no real serious security around him,” McLaren reminds listeners. He suggests the security JFK Jr. did have at the end of his life may have been “rotten,” and further investigation of what happened to Cosby may hold the answers they seek when it comes to the last few years of the publisher’s life.
McLaren revealed in episode 7 that the plan fell through because Blanco’s advisors thought kidnapping JFK Jr. would result in “a massive military response from Colombian armed forces” that could destroy their entire operation.
At some point, Cosby seemingly went from a man willing to do Blanco’s bidding to an informant for the FBI. Tillett questions if he may have turned on his lover out of “some kind of patriotic loyalty to the Kennedy name” or possibly out of self-preservation. “Kidnapping JFK Jr. would effectively mean starting a war with every law enforcement agency in America,” he says. “And what exactly would he get out of the deal?”
In July 1995, Blanco was indicted by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office for three murders and Cosby was subpoenaed as a witness for the prosecution. He was set to testify in the trial when it all went wrong — a witness named Jorge Ayala Rivereta began a having romantic relationship over the phone with the prosecutor’s secretary and derailed the proceedings. The state attorney’s office had to enter into a plea negotiation in which Blanco pleaded guilty to the murders and was sentenced to serve only the time leftover in her federal sentence — she was given fifteen years in prison in her federal case, and ultimately got out in 2004.
Blanco was deported to Medellin, Colombia, after her release from prison — five years post-JFK Jr.’s death. She went off the grid until she was shot to death during a drive-by execution in her home country in September 2012. As for the lover who betrayed her, no one knows what became of him.
“He seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth,” Andreu says. “He was always involved in drug activities. So, I suspect that he probably still is, if he’s still alive.”
Listeners can tune in for new episodes of “Fatal Voyage: The Death of JFK Jr.” every Wednesday to follow more of McLaren and Robertson’s investigation.