The Hired Murderers of Medellín, Colombia, Are Laying Low—for Now
The Russian was 13 years old when he first killed a man. He has no regrets about it; the man he killed had mistreated the Russian’s little sister. He built a weapon called a chupa chupa—a blade tied to a length of PVC pipe—and plunged it into his victim’s neck. “I learned a man’s most fragile area is his jugular,” he said, adding that he was arrested for the murder but walked free due to a lack of evidence.
In Medellín, Colombia, during the 80s, the Russian (who, like all of the criminals interviewed for this story, wishes to remain anonymous—“the Russian” is not even his real nickname) was recognized as a talented and valuable hit man. Pablo Escobar, the drug lord of drug lords, was in the midst of building his trafficking empire, which of course led to constant altercations with rivals and the police. The dirtiest of the work was carried out by gang members from the slums who came to be known as combos, so it was all too easy for someone like the Russian to land a full-time job as a sicario, or “hired gun.”
The Russian’s most striking features are his red hair and a series of burn scars on his arms, which he calls his résumé. He got them when he was a young man working in a cocaine-processing laboratory. “One day a container of sulfuric acid spilled all over my body,” he recalled. “I spent six days in a coma—I had second-degree burns and a broken arm and foot. It’s not easy getting out of such a place alive. But I was lucky enough for them to think I was dead and just throw me out. The following day, a passing mule driver found me.”
After a year and a half of recovery, the Russian gathered some money he had buried for safekeeping and went after the people who had left him for dead. “A friend gave me a .38,” he said, before pausing, as if he was reliving the scene inside his head. “I killed them all.”
I Learned How to Make Artisinal Blow in Colombia
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Colombia is the world’s biggest producer of cocaine, providing around 80 percent of the whole planet’s supply. In true entrepreneurial spirit, mom and pop coke shops, or “kitchens,” pepper the countryside, churning out 345 tons of the white stuff last year alone. As a commercially-minded fellow who understands the pitfalls of a consumer-driven culture and the importance of production, I decided to spend a day as an apprentice with a cook in the Colombian village of San Agustin.
Although San Agustin is only 200 miles from where I was staying in Ecuador, getting there took me two full days. In true South American tradition, my journey was colored with confusion and mishaps, including rain, mudslides, three-hour immigration lines, lack of tickets, unpaved mountain roads, and chicken buses with no suspension that came very close to cracking my tailbone.
When I arrived at my destination, however, all of those inconveniences seemed trivial. I was about to make some artisanal blow.
Some of the wildlife on Pedro’s property.
The proprietor of the cocaine factory’s name was Pedro. He greeted me warmly on a portion of his property that served as a coffee farm, and told me our class would last about two hours.
After a perfunctory glance at Pedro’s coffee field, I was led up to his ramshackle house, and into his cocina.
A heap of fresh green leaves sat atop a canvas bag on the table. They were so fresh that the fields they were picked from must have been very close. Not wasting any time, Pedro put a razor sharp machete in my hand and told me to start chopping.
Over vigorous hacking, Pedro’s story was revealed. He had learned his trade during eight years of service in a cocaine kitchen—a kitchen once visited by Pablo Escobar himself during a casual pickup of 70 kilos of pure cocaine, fresh off Pedro’s production line.
After the leaves were sufficiently minced, I was told it was time to add a binding agent. If he had asked me to guess what this agent would be, I would have said an egg, or something equally benign. I would have been wrong. Pedro pulled out a bag of cement, sprinkled it all over our wonderfully chopped leaves, and began to knead the dough by hand.
So Long, and Thanks for All the Cocaine
Griselda Blanco (aka La Madrina, the Godmother, the Black Widow, Cocaine Cowgirl, Queenpin) waskilled outside a butcher shop in Medellín, Colombia at 3 PM Monday when two men on a motorcycle fired two shots into her head with a revolver. Despite the location, this was unlikely a beef about beef (zing!), and probably had more to do with the scores of people she ruthlessly murdered throughout the 70s and 80s. Yes, in addition to smuggling tons of cocaine from Colombia into the United States and amassing a personal fortune that would make dot com boomers blush, she is allegedly responsible for ordering upwards of 200 homicides in Colombia, Florida, New York, and California.
Miami-Dade County Police victim list of Griselda Blanco’s organization
For decades, law enforcement and the media have credited Blanco with pioneering the undeniably badass motorcycle assassin technique in Colombia and importing it to South Florida, where it was used liberally. Police say she is single-handedly to blame for Miami devolving into the homicide capital of America in the 1980s.
Her sinister exploits were memorialized in two documentaries I directed, Cocaine Cowboys (2006) andCocaine Cowboys II: Hustling with the Godmother (2008). (You can buy them both by clicking on those links, btw. No pressure.)
Born in the poverty-stricken Medellín mountains—like her childhood friend Pablo Escobar—she grew up during La Violencia, Colombia’s vicious civil war, and didn’t waste any time breaking into the murder business. As legend has it, at age 11 she kidnapped a young boy for ransom. When his wealthy valley parents failed to pay, she killed him.
Later in life, years of prostitution and counterfeiting preceded a series of, shall we say, failed marriages. Her ‘Black Widow’ sobriquet was earned by murdering (or ordering the murder of) multiple husbands. It was her relationship with these men, her notorious temper, and her early connection to Escobar that gave her an advantage in the otherwise male-dominated cocaine trade.
Miami News, June 21, 1972
Miami News, June 30, 1973
Blanco used her feminine insight to her advantage. She opened a women’s underwear factory in Colombia that manufactured undergarments with secret compartments so that mules could smuggle cocaine into the US as passengers on commercial airlines.
Miami News, June 4, 1976
By the mid-1970s she’d established herself in Queens, New York as a significant smuggler. She was allegedly behind the 1976 scheme to transport at least 6 kilos of cocaine to Miami aboard the Tall Ship Gloria, sent by the Colombian government to commemorate America’s Bicentennial in a race to New York Harbor. An apt metaphor for the Colombian cocaine invasion that befell America in the decade to follow.