Jennie Erin Smith is the author of Stolen World: A Tale of Reptiles, Smugglers, and Skulduggery (Crown, 2011). She has written about science, natural history, and the environment for the Times Literary SupplementThe New YorkerMcSweeney’s, and The Wall Street Journal. She is a recipient of the Rona Jaffe Award, a fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass., two first-place awards from the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors, and the Waldo Proffitt Award for Environmental Journalism. She lives in Central America.


The Outrageous Life and Mysterious Death of Griselda Blanco, the Godmother of Medellín

Her real name was Griselda Blanco, but she was known by many other, more evocative names: Black Widow, the Godmother, La Madrina, Queenpin. For years she dominated the cocaine trade between South America and the United States as no woman ever had, ordering custom lingerie from Medellín tailors with hidden pockets for smuggling coke and sending fleets of women to America to deliver it. Rivaled in her ruthlessness only by her fellow Colombian and sworn enemy, Pablo Escobar, she left dozens of bodies in her wake. By the time of her death last year she was celebrated as one the most bloodthirsty female criminals in history. 

Immaculately coiffed and dripping with diamonds, Blanco ordered horrific hits, dispatching her enemies with bullets and bombs, and even a bayonet. She killed men, women, and, once, a small child. She also allegedly murdered—or ordered the murders of—her own husbands, her fellow partners in crime. After serving a prison term in the United States, Blanco returned to Colombia for what appeared to be a genteel retirement, right up to the moment she took a bullet in the head outside a butcher shop. 

Celebrated journalist Jennie Erin Smith was living in Medellín when Blanco was killed, and quickly immersed herself in the legend, unraveling the never-before-told story of the Godmother’s final years. As she ventures deeper into Griselda’s world, Smith stumbles into a possible solution to a crime that the local authorities appear to have little interest in investigating. In doing so, she puts herself directly in harm’s way. 

Did Blanco die in an act of long-deferred vengeance? Or were there other, stranger motives for her murder? Cocaine Cowgirl is brilliant storytelling—with an unnerving jolt of genuine fear.