These medicine traffickers live brutally violent and also ruthless lives, i beg your pardon are much dirtier 보다 Hollywood might ever depict.

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The many prison escapes of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán are reminders the the drug profession is not just a vibrant background setup for well-known American TV shows and also movies. That is, in fact, a violent, deadly business populated by men (and even a few women) that kill not only indirectly, through the circulation of their toxic products, but also directly, v hired gunmen who intimidate and also murder rivals, federal government officials, and also often, chaste bystanders. 

We take it a quick look at 5 of the most notorious drug traffickers of our time:


Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán ~ above the day after his arrest in February 2015.

Photo: Getty Images

Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, the guy who became known together “El Chapo” (“Shorty”), definitely looks unassuming: 5’6” tall, middle-aged, average looks. Yet his unremarkable illustration is deceptive. Guzmán is the kingpin that the Sinaloa Cartel, the source of the biggest percentage of drugs imported into the United says every year: cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and also heroin, all yielded by the ton through sophisticated land and air distribution channels.

Guzmán appeared fated because that the medicine trade. His uncle was among the original Mexican drug smugglers, and also young Joaquín to be soon involved in the family business. He climbed to prestige in the cartel quickly, together internecine fighting declared rivals both in ~ the cartel and without. In 2006, violating a pact between cartels, Guzmán bespeak an assassination that spurred what has come to be referred to as the Mexican medicine War. This conflict between cartels has actually resulted in over 60,000 deaths and 12,000 kidnappings. Along the way, Guzmán has end up being a billionaire and one the the most an effective men in the world.

The law captured up with Guzmán from 1993 come 2001 when he to be arrested and imprisoned. However he made himself comfortable in jail, through bribery and intimidation, until his ultimate escape (which involved the bribing that 78 people and cost him end $2 million come engineer). Arrested again top top February 22, 2015, that wasn't long prior to El Chapo make his 2nd escape native a maximum-security prison on July 11. Just how did he perform it? he slipped with a hole under the shower head in his cell and also escaped through a mile-long tunnel that led to a construction site ~ above the outside. 

Following Guzmán's headline-grabbing escape, headline-grabbing Republican presidential candidate at the moment Donald trumped didn't waste any kind of time tweeting around it. "Mexico's best drug lord escapes from jail. Unbelievable corruption and also USA is paying the price. I told you so," trump tweeted, alluding come controversial remarks around Mexican immigrants the he made during his presidential project launch.

El Chapo accused responded come The Donald through what is thought to be the drug lord's main Twitter account. The profanity-laced tweet read: "Keep f*****g around and I’m walk to make you swallow her f*****g words..."

While trumped beefed increase his security and also said the FBI is investigating the threat, El Chapo was busy on the run and Mexico was providing a $3.8 million price for details leading come his capture. 

On January 8, 2016, mexico president Enrique Peña Nieto announced via Twitter the authorities recaptured the medicine lord. 

In January 2017, the Mexican government extradited Guzmán come the United claims to challenge drug trafficking and also other charges. Guzmán showed up in U.S. Commonwealth Court and also pleaded not guilty to end a dozen charges. In July 2019, El Chapo was sentenced to life in jail plus 30 years, together with ordering him to pay $12.6 exchange rate in restitution.

Pablo Escobar


If one man could be stated to represent the idea that a “drug kingpin,” that one male would be Pablo Escobar. While to run the Medellín Cartel out of Colombia in the 70s and 80s, Escobar’s ruthless strategies ensured a steady flow of cocaine into America. Some sources estimate that 80 percent of the cocaine imported into this nation came v Escobar’s enterprise, part 15 tons per day in ~ its peak.

Escobar ended up being one that the world’s richest guys (with an approximated worth of virtually $10 billion) through eliminating rivals and also fostering corruption within the Colombian government. Officials who didn’t bow to bribery regularly met violent ends. He assassinated candidates because that office, judges, police officers, and reporters. The planted a bomb ~ above an aircraft to death a candidate for president; the candidate was not on the plane, however 110 innocent human being were. Ultimately, Escobar would certainly be responsible for the deaths of end 4,000 people.

Escobar’s plot of domestic terrorism eventually turned publicly opinion versus him, despite his attempts come court public favor v philanthropic activity. By the moment he was gunned under in 1993 when fleeing throughout rooftops from government soldiers, his call was as riddled with holes together his dead body. His fame, however, has actually outlived him. 

The Rise and also Fall the Pablo Escobar top top A&E Crime Central.>

Griselda Blanco


Not all drug kingpins space men. One of the most ruthless drug “queenpins” the all-time to be Griselda Blanco, nicknamed “La Madrina,” or “The Godmother.” Blanco was one of the vital figures in the Medellín Cartel and also has been credited with being a mentor come Escobar, who would eventually come to be her enemy.

Blanco very first made her name by emerging bras and girdles designed to hide smuggled cocaine. She left Colombia in the early on 70s and settled in Queens, brand-new York, wherein she collection up a large-scale operation. In 1975, she was indicted as soon as the federal government intercepted a substantial cocaine shipment. Blanco fled earlier to Colombia, yet it wasn’t long prior to she returned, this time come Miami.

In the 80s, Blanco painted Miami white and red: white through cocaine and red v the blood of drug rivals. One favorite technique included drive-by shootings via motorcycle. Miami competent a wave of Blanco-related crime, consisting of a submachine-gun attack at a mall. Blanco instigated anywhere in between 40 and 250 murders, consisting of a couple of personal ones (she shot one of her husbands at point-blank variety over a drug deal). Eventually, Blanco was imprisoned, yet that didn't prevent her; ~ above the inside, she plotted come kidnap john F. Kennedy, Jr. In a plan that was foiled only by one insider’s betrayal.

Blanco revealed in her “godmother” status, walk as far as naming she youngest son Michael Corleone ~ the personality in The Godfather. Like a character in a movie, however, she would have actually an ironic end. She was gunned under in front of a butcher’s shop by one assassin ~ above a motorcycle, murdered through the really same an approach she had so often used to dispatch her own enemies.

Osiel Cárdenas Guillén


Like details mafiosos, it help to have a memorable nickname if you’re walking to be a drug kingpin. Osiel Cárdenas Guillén has one the the grimmer ones: “El Mata Amigos,” or “The friend Killer.” Cárdenas deserve the sobriquet by murdering his friend Salvador Gómez, who remained in line to assume regulate of the Gulf Cartel in 1996. Needless come say, the Gulf Cartel soon had a brand-new top man.

The U.S. Border protection Handbook defines the Gulf Cartel as “particularly violent,” and also under Cárdenas’s leadership, it broadened its reach. That infiltrated the formerly incorruptible mexican Special pressures branch of the military and amassed a personal mercenary army that safeguarded his interests and also enforced his will. This military eventually ended up being known as Los Zetas (“The Zs”), a brutal group much more likely to behead an official than bribe him. With such an organization at his beck and also call, Cárdenas’ cartel became one that the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in the world.

Cárdenas appeared to it is in unstoppable till he intimidated a pair of DEA agents sheltering an informant. The could of the U.S. Federal government was provoked, and in 2003, Cárdenas to be captured and extradited come the U.S., wherein he still resides in a Texas prison. Los Zetas have because broken off from the Gulf Cartel, and their role in Mexico’s drug war has actually only intensified since Cárdenas' arrest.

Frank Lucas


Although a large proportion of medicine traffickers come from central America, the United says has had actually its share of homegrown medicine kingpins. There was “Freeway” Ricky Ross, among the males most behind the cracked epidemic that the mid-80s; “Nicky” Barnes, well-known as “Mr. Untouchable” (he wasn’t); and Jemeker Thompson, the “Queen Pin.” Possibly more notorious than all of them is open minded Lucas, who during the early on 70s distributed his “Blue Magic” heroin throughout Harlem.

Originally from north Carolina, Lucas arrived in new York and also soon got associated with local gangster “Bumpy” Johnson. After ~ Johnson died, Lucas observed an opportunity to move right into the drug trade that had actually up come that allude been dominated by the Italian mafia. Using military contacts overseas, he developed a circulation network directly from southeast Asia. Poppies were grown and processed right into heroin and flown in armed forces planes back to the U.S. (Lucas himself has actually asserted that heroin was sometimes packed into the coffins that soldiers gift flown earlier from Vietnam). The purity that the heroin, an unified with the violent methods of Lucas towards competitors and also the corrupt brand-new York City police pressure of the beforehand 70s, ensured the Lucas was soon making numerous dollars a month.

Police corruption would cause a probe, i m sorry would at some point lead to Lucas. He visited jail, yet turned federal government informant, which minimized his sentence. That lost all of his money, however he gained his freedom. His story was later on told by Hollywood in the movie American Gangster, certification Denzel Washington. Return the film isn’t really accurate, and some have accused it of making Lucas seem noble, it stands as evidence of America’s fascination through its most well-known drug kingpin.

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Lucas died in might 2019.

Watch Kingpin on history Vault, special episodes about El Chapo and also Pablo Escobar