Bugsy Malone, Al Capone, Ronnie Kray. Upon mentioning these names, an image of the most prolific gangsters in history comes to mind – correct? These celebrity mobsters have one key thing in common: they’re all men. You might be thinking, “Well of course they’re all men. It wasn’t women running around the streets wreaking havoc!” At least, that’s what we are taught. When it comes to the study of gangsters, we naturally observe it under their ‘masculine’ behaviors of violence and disobeying the law. Stereotypically, we’ve brushed aside their female counterparts as mere eye candy, causing researchers and academics to underestimate them. Whilst this article is not to condone gang activity, it is important to flip the script by diving into the stories of highly prolific female mobsters and how they successfully influenced gang culture forever.
Did you know the first billionaire criminal was a woman? Griselda Blanco (1943-2012) was one of the most violent female gangsters of all time. Earning $80 million a month smuggling cocaine from Colombia to the US, she earned the title of ‘Queen of Narco-Trafficking’ from the Medellin cartel. Blanco even invented a kind of underwear designed for smuggling drugs. But she didn’t stop at drug-smuggling textiles; she had a dark and violent side too. With the same ruthlessness as her male counterparts, she ordered over 2,000 deaths, including a two-year-old child and three of her husbands. She took pleasure in witnessing the brutal torture of her victims and even successfully plotted a machine gun massacre in a Miami mall in 1979. It’s safe to say that Blanco was one dangerous woman, and her work in becoming the first billionaire criminal by elevating drug trafficking techniques labels her as one of the most prolific gangsters of all time.
Stephanie St. Clair (1897-1969) was another fearless female gangster who fought for African American rights and exposed the corrupt nature of the NYPD. Fiercely protective of her Harlem neighborhood, St. Clair ran a successful illegal gambling business made for the working-class black community. Alongside this, she provided the community with more jobs than any other local businesses had done, as well as investing the savings of black New Yorkers who had been turned away by the banks. By 1930, she was one of the wealthiest women in the US. Her most iconic moment? Exposing the corrupt nature of the NYPD. St. Clair openly spoke against its police brutality and testified to the Superior Court, providing evidence that NYPD officers had accepted bribes from her in exchange for them turning a blind eye to her illegal activities. It was her work in doing this that led to the demise of many police officers and the mass embarrassment of the NYPD. St. Clair’s protection of the black community, alongside her work in exposing the NYPD, rightfully highlights her as a female gangster who transitioned gang culture from working against the community to defending it.
This has only scratched the surface of incredible and ruthless female mobsters. Look up names that history and researchers have overlooked. Research names like Virginia Hill, Maria Licciardi, and Fredericka Mandelbaum. These women also left an indelible mark on mob culture, and it is high time their stories got more recognition. Let us not underestimate the power and ruthlessness that women have held and continue to hold.