Either way, by 1981 Miami had the highest murder rate in the country, with 621 killings. For Zamanillo, however, times were never better. His father was a once-struggling sculptor who had discovered a lucrative new market for his ornately fashioned statues of Santería saints. “It was a power thing for these drug smugglers; they thought the saints would keep them from getting caught. They’d create these elaborate thrones for them right inside their living rooms.” On weekends, Zamanillo would lend a hand to his dad, helping to deliver these seven-foot-tall statues to their new homes. As for this foreboding clientele’s line of work, “I knew it was wrong, but when you’re 10 years old and you see all the adults doing it, it just becomes normal.” With a chuckle, he adds, “The ’80s were the only time my family was middleclass. If your dad is a sculptor, you’re not going to be well-off. But suddenly he doubled his business! We had all the extras the other kids had.”

By the decade’s end, though, business had dried up—many of their once flush customers were now in jail. In their wake were shattered families and far too many funerals. Zamanillo says it’s a lesson he has carried with him since.

“I hope this exhibition provides a reality check. There’s a new fascination with crime in Miami again,” he continues, citing the impressive ratings for Miami-set TV shows like Dexter, Burn Notice and CSI: Miami. “But even the most violent depictions still add a layer of ‘coolness’ to it all. Look at Scarface: You’ve got little kids who want to be just like Al Pacino’s character. But real crime isn’t glamorous. There’s a human cost. I’d like that kid with the Scarface poster to get a sense of the real damage involved.”

TOP IMAGE: City of Miami police investigator with stolen jewelry recovered in 1976

BOTTOM IMAGE: 1930's bank robber John Dillinger's local wanted poster

Like what you're reading? Get it delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up now for our newsletters >>