One of the most violent eras of American history was that of the "Cocaine Cowboys" - a drug-laden, dangerous time during the late '70s and '80s in South Florida. The Miami drug trade was wrought with graphic violence, horrific crime, and vast riches.
If you’ve seen Scarface, you only know a slice of the terror that took place in Dade County in the '80s. No one was safe from the cartel war that raged through the city - not even women and children. That era was full of men who were dubbed Cocaine Cowboys - marauding bands of mercenaries who worked for the cartels to kill anyone who got in the way of making piles of money.
It's not just the backdrop for popular movies and shows: Stories of the Cocaine Cowboys in Miami are real, true crime tales. A lot of innocent people lost their lives in the bloodbath the cartels created in Miami, and for nothing more than the crass pursuit of money and getting high.
The Dadeland Mall Massacre
The first shots fired in the long string of cocaine-related murders in Miami took place at the Crown Liquor Store at the Dadeland Mall in 1979. The massacre began as a single hit on Jiménez Panesso, a drug trafficker who was stopping by the store to pick up a bottle of Scotch, and his bodyguard. Panesso was followed into the store by two men carrying submachine guns who unloaded on him, his bodyguard, and two men working the counter.
The two men who killed Panesso wounded multiple victims and destroyed an untold amount of property. They rolled out of the mall parking lot in a van made up to look like a delivery truck from a party supply store filled with guns and ammunition - what police called a bulletproof "war wagon." Officers interviewed at the time noted that the scene "looked like an old western shoot out" and that "the level of violence was unprecedented." They ditched the vehicle in a distant area of the lot, leaving it for police to seize.
The Murder Of Hernan Granados
Jorge "Rivi" Ayala was an enforcer for Griselda Blanco, a major cocaine boss in Miami often referred to as Miami's Cocaine Queen. When Rivi first arrived in Miami, he was simply shaking people down. But one night he accidentally tipped off two brothers who were about to be executed that the hammer was coming down. In order to save himself from execution, it was up to him to finish the job.
He worked out a plan to kidnap one of the brothers and use him to lure the second one. He was only able to grab one of the brothers, Hernan Granados, at a Ramada Inn parking lot, but Blanco didn't mind. Rivi was ordered to kill the man, dismember him and stuff his body in a cardboard box.
In 1984, Barry Seal - a pilot who helped move product from Colombia to Louisiana - became an FBI informant to reduce a lengthy sentence in federal prison. While he was working as an informant, Seal was living in a halfway house in Louisiana. It was there that one of Griselda Blanco's men, Cumbaba, was waiting for him along with a hit squad.
When Seal pulled into the parking lot, the gang riddled him with 12 bullets from a silenced MAC-10. Thanks to a witness, the main hitman was apprehended by police shortly after and was ultimately sentenced to life in prison for the murder.
The Quadruple Murder That Remains Unsolved
Many of the most gruesome murders from the Cocaine Cowboy era were never solved, either because there was little evidence to go off of, or because there were simply too many murders happening and not enough investigators to solve them. Nelson Andreu, Captain of the West Miami Police Department, spoke of one such murder to the Miami New Times. "It was four guys - bound, gagged, and shot to death. It was drugs. There were empty grocery bags with coke residue in them, and somebody got sloppy and accidentally left a kilo under the bed. They were all Colombians."
Committed in August 1982, the murders were never solved and no information about the victims or assailants ever surfaced. Andreu continued, "I never heard a word about that quadruple murder. We never got a tip or a fingerprint hit, and I believe we got good fingerprints from the scene. It hasn't bothered me... but I've always wondered why we never, ever got anything on that one."