crime The Most Brutal Drug Kingpins

Katherine Ripley
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The life of a drug lord often seems very glamorous. The leaders of drug cartels have frequently made Forbes's list of the richest people in the world. Acquiring that wealth, though, often requires playing dirty. This list is full of the most brutal drug kingpins, who won't hesitate to murder for the sake of their profits. The people on this list will kill to amass power, to get revenge, to avoid apprehension, to eliminate competition, or just to intimidate rivals.

These notorious drug lords live in a truly Darwinian world where only the strong survive. They will stop at nothing to succeed, even murdering innocent civilians, women, and children. There's no telling how many lives the drug wars have taken. 


Pablo Escobar is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Brutal Drug Kingpins
Photo: Freebase/Public domain

Pablo Escobar was the head of the Medellín cocaine cartel in Columbia in the 70s and 80s; at one point, he controlled 80% of the cocaine that entered the United States. According to Forbes, Escobar was one of the top ten richest people in the world, with an estimated worth of $30 billion. He moved so much cash from place to place that he bought a Learjet just to transport his money.

He achieved this great success by killing rivals and bribing government officials. Officials whom he couldn't buy, he often killed. He once planted a bomb on an airplane in order to kill a presidential candidate, and instead killed 110 civilians. He is estimated to be responsible for the deaths of a total of 4,000 people.

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Griselda Blanco is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Brutal Drug Kingpins
Photo: Miami Dade Police Department

Griselda Blanco (who went by the nicknames the Godmother and the Black Widow) was said to be a mentor to Pablo Escobar before they later became enemies. Blanco was one of the founders of the Miami-based cocaine trade that tore apart the city in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She got her start designing and manufacturing women's undergarments meant to conceal smuggled cocaine.

Blanco was a violent, ruthless person since her childhood living in the slums. Allegedly, at age 11, she kidnapped a child from a wealthy neighborhood and when she couldn't get a ransom for him, she murdered him instead. As a drug kingpin, she murdered rival drug dealers, most often by ordering drive-by shootings via motorcycle. She would order her assassins to kill everyone in the area, as well, including women and children. She even shot her own husband point-blank over a drug deal. She was responsible for up to 250 murders during her lifetime. She plotted to kidnap JFK, Jr., though her attempt was foiled.

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Joaquín Guzmán Loera is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Brutal Drug Kingpins
Photo: Freebase/Public domain

Joaquín Guzmán is better known as El Chapo, named for his short stature. In 2014, the US Treasury referred to him as "the most powerful drug trafficker in the world." With the Sinaloa Cartel, El Chapo transported cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, ecstasy, and heroin from Colombia and Mexico to the US.

As of his arrest in 2014, El Chapo had exported more drugs to the US than anyone else on earth, including more than 500 tons of cocaine. This was the crime lord's third arrest - twice before he had escaped prison, in 2001 and again in 2015. For his second escape, he used a tunnel dug 33 feet below the prison, complete with lighting, air ducts, and a motorcycle.

El Chapo is responsible for countless murders, and his victims include family members of rival drug traffickers.

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Osiel Cárdenas Guillén


Osiel Cárdenas Guillén is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Brutal Drug Kingpins
Photo:  ELBLOGDELNARCO.com/via YouTube

Guillén's nickname was "The Friend-Killer," because he murdered his mentor and friend in order to take over the Gulf Cartel. Guillén amassed an army of mercenaries, deserters from the Mexican Army, who came to be known as Los Zetas.

In 2003, Cárdenas was captured and extradited to the US. He is currently in prison in Texas. After his arrest, the Los Zetas separated from the Gulf Cartel, and to this day, their methods remain extremely brutal. The US government has described the Los Zetas as "the most technologically advanced, sophisticated and dangerous cartel operating in Mexico."

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Omar Trevino-Morales


Omar Trevino-Morales is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Most Brutal Drug Kingpins
Photo: SEMAR (Mexican navy)

Trevino-Morales is the former leader of Los Zetas, considered to be the most violent drug cartel currently in operation. They have also branched into sex trafficking, kidnapping, and gun running operations.

They are known to use brutal tactics like torture and beheading to intimidate rivals. They allegedly killed 72 undocumented immigrants, just to prevent them from being recruited by one of their rival cartels. In perhaps their most brutal attack, Los Zetas murdered approximately 300 civilians in the town of Allende in 2011, as payback after two drug traffickers from that town stole $5 million from the group.


Amado Carrillo Fuentes is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Most Brutal Drug Kingpins
Photo: Freebase/Fair use

Fuentes was known as "Lord of the Skies" because he used a fleet of private aircraft to transport cocaine to the United States from Mexico. During his heyday in the 1980s and 90s, Fuentes transported more cocaine to the US than any other trafficker in the world, using 22 private jets and airliners. he was one of the wealthier criminals in history, worth over $25 billion.

In 1997, Fuentes died while undergoing plastic surgery to change his appearance. His surgeons were later found dead, stuffed inside oil drums. Even after death, Fuentes wasn't pulling any punches.

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Vicente Carrillo Fuentes


Vicente Carrillo Fuentes is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Most Brutal Drug Kingpins
Photo:  Univision Noticias/via YouTube

Vicente Carrillo Fuentes (known as "El Viceroy") came to power as the leader of the Juárez Cartel after his brother Amado died. The cartel is known for beheading rivals and displaying their decapitated bodies in public places to intimidate competitors and the police.

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Rafael Enrique Clavel


Rafael Enrique Clavel is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Most Brutal Drug Kingpins
Photo:  Kate Ter Harr/via Flickr

Clavel seduced the wife of a rival drug trafficker, and then used her to steal $7 million of the rival's money. To add insult to injury, Clavel later decapitated the woman and mailed her head to her husband in a cooler. He then threw their two young children (ages 4 and 5) off a bridge.