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Griselda Blanco: Escaping The Electric Chair

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Griselda Blanco, known as the Godmother of Cocaine. (Source: CBS4)

Griselda Blanco, known as the Godmother of Cocaine. (Source: CBS4)

David-Sutta-600x450 David Sutta
David Sutta joined the CBS4 news team in April of 2007. As S...
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MIAMI (CBS4) – She was one of the most ruthless drug traffickers in South Florida history, killing anyone who got in her way. Over the past few months CBS4 has been tracking the life of Griselda Blanco, also known as the Godmother of Cocaine.

In late September, CBS4 reporter David Sutta reported on how authorities finally caught her after more than a decade on the run and how she managed to escape the electric chair.

THE MIAMI LAKES SHOOTING

It was an infamous time in Miami’s history where murders happened all across the landscape.

“The park was pretty crowded with kids. We were a UPS softball team going to play against another department.” Patricia Siceloff recalled.

It was August, 1982 and Siceloff was 26. She was wrapping up a practice with colleagues in Miami Lakes when shots rang out.

“It literally looked like he was emptying some type of semi-automatic gun into the person,” said Siceloff.

She remembered that the man acted very matter-of-factly.

“Yes, standing over him and no concern for anyone else or anybody coming and shooting him either,” she said.

Once he was done shooting, Siceloff said the gunman walked to a car and left.

“This was a nice middle class community and things like this never ever occurred. Not in this community anyway,” Siceloff said.

At the time Miami Dolphins Head coach Don Shula lived just blocks away from the park.

It was clear it didn’t matter where you lived in South Florida. The Cocaine Cowboys touched every part of the community. Bodies appeared neatly packed in boxes in Doral where the Dolphin Mall now stands. Bombs went off on South Dade doorsteps. Investigators sifting through the rubble found $40,000 dollars just sitting there. There was a shootout at the Dadeland Mall. Officers found two men dead inside with a cache of machine guns and bullets.

“At some times it seemed like a Hollywood production; the ruthlessness and the violence and the not caring,” said West Miami Police Chief Nelson Andreu.

Andreu was a rookie cop in Miami at the time and was promoted quickly to homicide detective. In 18 months his department saw 111 murders, all of them drug related. Miami had nearly 30 homicide investigators but only a handful spoke Spanish. Yet almost all their suspects and victims from Colombia and Cuba spoke only Spanish.

Andreu shot to the top with his bilingual abilities. At the time he recalls hearing the name Griselda Blanco but no one had connected the woman who resembled a grandmother to the chaos happening on the streets of South Florida.

“An overwhelming majority of cocaine that came into this country had Griselda’s name on it,” Andreu said.

For roughly a decade the case files against Blanco have sat buried in the Orlando State Attorney office storage room. The seven boxes are full of the most horrendous crimes you can imagine. The boxes contain photos, depositions, reports collected during the Cocaine Cowboy years.

Some of the material is featured in the Cocaine Cowboy documentaries produced by Rakontur. The evidence is actually slated to be destroyed any day now. It is by sheer chance the Orlando State Attorney’s office has kept the files. Recently CBS4 spent days cataloging the material that ties Blanco to more than a dozen murders. In the end prosecutors went after her for just three.

THE CASE OF JOHNNY CASTRO

The first case occurred in February of 1982.

It was a Sunday afternoon when two-year-old Johnny Castro was riding with his dad to McDonald’s. As they drove down Southwest 168th street in South Dade a van pulled up next to their car and some inside fired on them.

Johnny was hit immediately. With his two-year-old hanging by the floor board Johnny’s dad, Jesus Castro, was now faced a machine gun with a silencer out his window. He decided to kick back his seat and floor it. He opened the door and peaked below at the roadway to guide him.

When he reached U.S.1, he hung a right to lose the shooter. He then pulled over and checked on his son. He was dead.

Castro told the story to Andreu from a prison cell years later.

“He took the child home, cleaned him up. Put him in a bathtub full of ice and sat down on the bathroom floor holding the child’s hand all night until he decided what to do in the morning.” Andreu recalled.

Castro eventually left the boy at a Miami mosque for police to find.

“He was wrapped in a blanket, had a couple of roses and his passport in his hands on top of chest.” Andreu said.

Sad and shocking photos of where the boy was found sit in one of the boxes in Orlando.

The unsolved case would haunt rookie detective Andreu for over a decade. It was one of his first child death investigations. It didn’t help that the child resembled his own. It wasn’t until Blanco’s main hitman, Jorge Ayala, made a deal with prosecutors and confessed that the pieces were connected.

So why did Blanco want Castro killed? Because he declined to help one of her sons.

“Jesus turned him away. He said ‘I’ve separated. I’ve cut ties with you and your mom and you are not welcome here.’ Well that was offensive to Griselda,” explained Andreu.

Ayala and his team of henchmen were looking for Castro for days when they happened upon him driving in South Dade. They learned they had killed the boy from television news reports.

“When they went back to Griselda and said we missed Jesus but we killed his son by mistake, she was ecstatic. She says ‘Good. That’s what he had that coming. He turned away my son what better way to get even than to kill his son.’ That’s the kind of ruthlessness and kind of demeanor that Griselda had,” Andreu said.

PARENTS TIED UP AND MURDERED

Blanco and the actual triggerman, Miguelitto Perez, were charged with first degree murder for Johnny Castro’s death.

Prosecutors didn’t stop there though. The two were charged with a second case in which parents murdered just feet away from their three young children.

“They were in different rooms tied up. I think they were face down if I’m not mistaken. They were shot multiple times. There were casings scattered throughout the house,” said Andreu.

The photos in the boxes show Alfredo Lorenzo tied up with phone cords and belt. He was killed in his children’s bedroom. His wife, Grisel, was tied up as well in an office before she was shot nine times.

During these horrific murders the couple’s three children sat in a room nearby. Perez kept a watchful eye over them. The Lorenzo’s murders shocked the community at the time. They too went unsolved as well until Ayala set the record straight.

“Alfredo Lorenzo owed Griselda some money for some drugs she had given him. The drugs were either stolen or the money was stolen. He couldn’t pay for it. He asked her for more drugs and she gave him more drugs to try and sell and make up the whole thing. Still couldn’t come up with the money. She gave him a couple of ultimatums. And this was the final one. The instructions to Ayala were go there, get my money. If you can’t get my money than you kill him. And you kill everybody,” Andreu explained.

And that was the plan.

With their parents dead, Perez had his gun trained on the children. Ayala told detectives he acted quickly to save their lives.

“Ayala told us that he had to pull a gun on Miguelitto and says we are not killing any of the kids and took him out at gunpoint. Otherwise there would have been five bodies in that house.” Andreu said.

Today those children are in their 30’s.

HOW IT FELL APART

Prosecutor Catherine Vogel notes are thorough. The case appeared to be a slam dunk but one box in the bunch shows how it all fell apart.

“The star witness against Griselda was going to Jorge Ayala. There was no DNA. There were no fingerprints. There was very little physical ballistics. I don’t know if we had any evidence we could even match at the time,” said Andreu explained “So the case rested on Jorge Ayala’s credibility and reliability. When the incident happened with him and the secretary, Sherry Rossback, that was it. His creditability was shot.”

Ayala was caught exchanging gifts and having phone sex with secretaries at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. As Blanco’s defense attorneys began to shoot holes in the case, the case began to slip away.

“It went from being a good case, again hinging on Jorge Ayala creditability, to nothing,” Andreu said.

Governor Lawton Chiles issued an executive order to have Vogel removed from the case and the prosecution was handed off to the Orlando State Attorney’s office. Prosecutor Jeff Ashton, the same person who lost the high profile case against Casey Anthony, cut a deal with Blanco and Perez.

With time served she would be out in just seven years.

“It was just a lose, lose situation for us all,” said Andreu.

Blanco was deported in 2004 back to Colombia.

“That same day Jorge Ayala gets stabbed eight times in the Dade County Jail,” Andreu said.

Asked about it later Ayala claimed the stabbing was over food.

“He knew what it was about. It was pay back. I’m leaving now. They tried to kill him in jail,” Andreu said.

THE COCAINE COWBOYS TODAY

Blanco surprisingly lived another 8 years until this past Labor Day when an assassin on a motorcycle killed her.

“People say who killed her? Take your pick. Here’s a stack,” said Andreu.

Blanco ‘s co-defendant Perez remains a free man. Already serving time for using a bayonet to murder a man at Miami International Airport, a judge ordered Perez’s sentence for the Lorenzo case would run concurrent with that one.

After 25 years in prison he was released in 2008. CBS4 spoke with his family recently and they said he’s still here roaming in South Florida.

Andreu said he’s ran into Perez on the street once. It was a quick encounter. Andreu asked Perez to stop by his office sometime. The chief still has a lot of unsolved cases and questions which Perez likely knows the answers to.

When we asked if Perez should have gotten out after 25 years in jail Andreu had this to say, “I don’t think Miguelito should be out on the street. Could he have changed? Could anybody have changed? I’m not a firm believer in rehabilitation. Especially people of that character and that nasty of people would be the best way to describe it. I hope so. I think we will see Miguelito behind bars again someday.”

As part of Blanco’s plea deal she couldn’t be charged with murders that happened before 1985. It was her get out of jail card, literally. Detectives estimate she was responsible for 75 to 150 murders over her lifetime.

Despite taking the fall for something that wasn’t her fault prosecutor Catherine Vogel continued her career. She declined to be interviewed for this article but did tell us that given the chance to prosecute the case she believes she would have won. In November 2012 she was elected State Attorney in Key West.

Related Stories: The Hunt For The Cocaine Godmother

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MIAMI (CBS4) – She was one of the most ruthless drug traffickers in South Florida history, killing anyone who got in her way.  Over the past few months CBS4 has been tracking the life of Griselda Blanco, also known as the Godmother of Cocaine.

In late September, CBS4 reporter David Sutta reported on how authorities finally caught her after more than a decade on the run and how she managed to escape the electric chair.

THE MIAMI LAKES SHOOTING

It was an infamous time in Miami’s history where murders happened all across the landscape.

“The park was pretty crowded with kids.  We were a UPS softball team going to play against another department.”  Patricia Siceloff recalled.

It was August, 1982 and Siceloff was 26.  She was wrapping up a practice with colleagues in Miami Lakes when shots rang out.

“It literally looked like he was emptying some type of semi-automatic gun into the person,” said Siceloff.

She remembered that the man acted very matter-of-factly.

“Yes, standing over him and no concern for anyone else or anybody coming and shooting him either,” she said.

Once he was done shooting, Siceloff said the gunman walked to a car and left.

“This was a nice middle class community and things like this never ever occurred.  Not in this community anyway,” Siceloff said.

At the time Miami Dolphins Head coach Don Shula lived just blocks away from the park.

It was clear it didn’t matter where you lived in South Florida.  The Cocaine Cowboys touched every part of the community.  Bodies appeared neatly packed in boxes in Doral where the Dolphin Mall now stands.  Bombs went off on South Dade doorsteps.  Investigators sifting through the rubble found $40,000 dollars just sitting there.  There was a shootout at the Dadeland Mall. Officers found two men dead inside with a cache of machine guns and bullets.

“At some times it seemed like a Hollywood production; the ruthlessness and the violence and the not caring,” said West Miami Police Chief Nelson Andreu.

Andreu was a rookie cop in Miami at the time and was promoted quickly to homicide detective.  In 18 months his department saw 111 murders, all of them drug related.  Miami had nearly 30 homicide investigators but only a handful spoke Spanish.  Yet almost all their suspects and victims from Colombia and Cuba spoke only Spanish.

Andreu shot to the top with his bilingual abilities.  At the time he recalls hearing the name Griselda Blanco but no one had connected the woman who resembled a grandmother to the chaos happening on the streets of South Florida.

“An overwhelming majority of cocaine that came into this country had Griselda’s name on it,” Andreu said.

For roughly a decade the case files against Griselda Blanco has sat buried in the Orlando State Attorney office storage room.  The seven boxes are full of the most horrendous crimes you can imagine.  The boxes contain photos, depositions, reports collected during the Cocaine Cowboy years.

Some of the material is featured in the Cocaine Cowboy documentaries produced by Rakontur.  The evidence is actually slated to be destroyed any day now.  It is by sheer chance the Orlando State Attorney’s office has kept the files.  Recently CBS4 spent days cataloging the material that ties Blanco to more than a dozen murders.   In the end prosecutors went after her for just three.

THE CASE OF JOHNNY CASTRO

The first case occurred in February of 1982.

It was a Sunday afternoon when two-year-old Johnny Castro was riding with his dad to McDonald’s.  As they drove down Southwest 168th street in South Dade a van pulled up next to their car and some inside fired on them.

Johnny was hit immediately.  With his two-year-old hanging by the floor board Johnny’s dad, Jesus Castro, was now faced a machine gun with a silencer out his window.  He decided to kick back his seat and floor it.  He opened the door and peaked below at the roadway to guide him.

When he reached U.S.1, he hung a right to lose the shooter.  He then pulled over and checked on his son.  He was dead.

Castro told the story to Andreu from a prison cell years later.

“He took the child home, cleaned him up.  Put him in a bathtub full of ice and sat down on the bathroom floor holding the child’s hand all night until he decided what to do in the morning.” Andreu recalled.

Castro eventually left the boy at a Miami mosque for police to find.

“He was wrapped in a blanket, had a couple of roses and his passport in his hands on top of chest.” Andreu said.

Sad and shocking photos of where the boy was found sit in one of the boxes in Orlando.

The unsolved case would haunt rookie detective Andreu for over a decade.  It was one of his first child death investigations.  It didn’t help that the child resembled his own. It wasn’t until Blanco’s main hitman, Jorge Ayala, made a deal with prosecutors and confessed that the pieces were connected.

So why did Blanco want Castro killed?  Because he declined to help one of her sons.

“Jesus turned him away. He said ‘I’ve separated.  I’ve cut ties with you and your mom and you are not welcome here.’  Well that was offensive to Griselda,” explained Andreu.

Ayala and his team of henchmen were looking for Castro for days when they happened upon him driving in South Dade.  They learned they had killed the boy from television news reports.

“When they went back to Griselda and said we missed Jesus but we killed his son by mistake, she was ecstatic.  She says ‘Good.  That’s what he had that coming.  He turned away my son what better way to get even than to kill his son.’ That’s the kind of ruthlessness and kind of demeanor that Griselda had,” Andreu said.

PARENTS TIED UP AND MURDERED

Blanco and the actual triggerman, Miguelitto Perez, were charged with first degree murder for Johnny Castro’s death.

Prosecutors didn’t stop there though.  The two were charged with a second case in which parents murdered just feet away from their three young children.

“They were in different rooms tied up.  I think they were face down if I’m not mistaken.  They were shot multiple times.  There were casings scattered throughout the house,” said Andreu.

The photos in the boxes show Alfredo Lorenzo tied up with phone cords and belt.  He was killed in his children’s bedroom.  His wife, Grisel, was tied up as well in an office before she was shot nine times.

During these horrific murders the couple’s three children sat in a room nearby.  Perez kept a watchful eye over them.  The Lorenzo’s murders shocked the community at the time. They too went unsolved as well until Ayala set the record straight.

“Alfredo Lorenzo owed Griselda some money for some drugs she had given him.  The drugs were either stolen or the money was stolen.  He couldn’t pay for it.  He asked her for more drugs and she gave him more drugs to try and sell and make up the whole thing.  Still couldn’t come up with the money.  She gave him a couple of ultimatums.  And this was the final one. The instructions to Ayala were go there, get my money.  If you can’t get my money than you kill him.  And you kill everybody,” Andreu explained.

 And that was the plan.

With their parents dead, Perez had his gun trained on the children. Ayala told detectives he acted quickly to save their lives.

“Ayala told us that he had to pull a gun on Miguelitto and says we are not killing any of the kids and took him out at gunpoint.  Otherwise there would have been five bodies in that house.” Andreu said.

Today those children are in their 30’s.

HOW IT FELL APART

Prosecutor Catherine Vogel notes are thorough.  The case appeared to be a slam dunk but one box in the bunch shows how it all fell apart.

“The star witness against Griselda was going to Jorge Ayala.  There was no DNA. There were no fingerprints.  There was very little physical ballistics.  I don’t know if we had any evidence we could even match at the time,” said Andreu explained “So the case rested on Jorge Ayala’s credibility and reliability.  When the incident happened with him and the secretary, Sherry Rossback, that was it.  His creditability was shot.”

Ayala was caught exchanging gifts and having phone sex with secretaries at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.  As Blanco’s defense attorneys began to shoot holes in the case, the case began to slip away.

“It went from being a good case, again hinging on Jorge Ayala creditability, to nothing,” Andreu said.

Governor Lawton Chiles issued an executive order to have Vogel removed from the case and the prosecution was handed off to the Orlando State Attorney’s office. Prosecutor Jeff Ashton, the same person who lost the high profile case against Casey Anthony, cut a deal with Blanco and Perez.

With time served she would be out in just seven years.

“It was just a lose, lose situation for us all,” said Andreu.

Blanco was deported in 2004 back to Colombia.

“That same day Jorge Ayala gets stabbed eight times in the Dade County Jail,” Andreu said.

Asked about it later Ayala claimed the stabbing was over food.

“He knew what it was about.  It was pay back.  I’m leaving now.  They tried to kill him in jail,” Andreu said.

THE COCAINE COWBOYS TODAY

Blanco surprisingly lived another 8 years until this past Labor Day when an assassin on a motorcycle killed her.

“People say who killed her?  Take your pick.  Here’s a stack,” said Andreu.

Blanco ‘s co-defendant Perez remains a free man.  Already serving time for using a bayonet to murder a man at Miami International Airport, a judge ordered Perez’s sentence for the Lorenzo case would run concurrent with that one.

After 25 years in prison he was released in 2008. CBS4 spoke with his family recently and they said he’s still here roaming in South Florida.

Andreu said he’s ran into Perez on the street once.  It was a quick encounter.  Andreu asked Perez to stop by his office sometime.  The chief still has a lot of unsolved cases and questions which Perez likely knows the answers to.

When we asked if Perez should have gotten out after 25 years in jail Andreu had this to say, “I don’t think Miguelito should be out on the street.  Could he have changed?  Could anybody have changed?  I’m not a firm believer in rehabilitation.  Especially people of that character and that nasty of people would be the best way to describe it. I hope so. I think we will see Miguelito behind bars again someday.”

As part of Blanco’s plea deal she couldn’t be charged with murders that happened before 1985.  It was her get out of jail card, literally.  Detectives estimate she was responsible for 75 to 150 murders over her lifetime.

Despite taking the fall for something that wasn’t her fault prosecutor Catherine Vogel continued her career.  She declined to be interviewed for this article but did tell us that given the chance to prosecute the case she believes she would have won.  In November 2012 she was elected State Attorney in Key West.

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