Millions of music fans mourned on March 31, 1995, when news broke that popular Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla-Perez had been shot and killed by her fan club president, 34-year-old Yolanda Saldivar in Corpus Christi, Texas. For the crime of first-degree murder, Saldivar received a life sentence with no possibility of parole for 30 years.
Beloved by many Mexican Americans, Selena—who was born in Lake Jackson, Texas—seemed on the verge of crossing over into wider English-language superstardom. Only a month earlier, she’d performed to more than 60,000 people at the Houston Astrodome. Her first album to feature songs in English, Dreaming of You, was released a few months after her death and went on to hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart on August 5, 1995. The album, which won Female Pop Album of the Year at the third annual Billboard Latin Music Awards, contained what is still one of the singer’s most popular English songs, “I Could Fall in Love.” Thousands attended her funeral—forcing the service to be moved from a funeral home to a convention center.
For fans of the 23-year-old pop star, her murder was a shocking tragedy. But for those more intimately involved in her life, it was an event foreshadowed by multiple warning signs of Saldivar’s nefarious intentions.
Yolanda Saldivar’s Possessive Side
Yolanda Saldivar first met Selena in 1991 when she contacted Selena’s father, Abraham Quintanilla, with hopes of forming a fan club. In the months that followed, fan club membership boomed, and Selena’s relationship with Saldivar blossomed. As Selena grew more successful, Saldivar earned more responsibility: She was hired to manage a series of design houses and boutique stores that Selena opened; she had her own set of keys to Selena’s home.
But she also had fraught relationships with others in Selena’s orbit. Martin Gomez, one of the designers who shared office space with Saldivar, quit his job as Selena’s fashion designer because he found Saldivar so off-putting. He said she lied, stole, and sabotaged other people’s work. He recalled finishing up clothing he was working on, leaving on a business trip and returning to find the hems ripped out, presumably by Saldivar. “The last call I had with Selena…I told her to be careful,” Gomez told The Washington Post.
The Quintanilla Family’s Early Attempts to End the Relationship with Yolanda Saldivar
On March 9, 1995, Selena’s father, Abraham Quintanilla, confronted Saldivar after several fans lodged complaints with the fan club: They had sent membership fees and received nothing in return. Quintanilla accused Saldivar of embezzlement and threatened to file a police report.
Two days later, Saldivar bought a .38 caliber handgun at a gun store in San Antonio.
Carlos Valdez, a district judge in Nueces County, Texas who served as the lead prosecutor in Saldivar’s murder trial, told A&E Real Crime that Saldivar ultimately killed Selena because the end of their business relationship crushed Saldivar’s sense of herself.
“Yolanda wanted to kill Selena because Selena was firing Yolanda,” Valdez explains. “She wouldn’t exist if she didn’t have Selena. And if she didn’t work for Selena, she didn’t want to work for anybody.”
But the firing that preceded the murder had been drawn out. After a series of meetings, Saldivar had been able to temporarily convince Selena to give her a second chance, Valdez says.
“Selena was going to fire Yolanda, but Yolanda had some [financial] documents,” Valdez says, which were necessary for Selena to file her taxes. Over the course of those meetings, during which time Saldivar continued to dodge providing Selena her documents, Saldivar was able to convince the young singer to keep her employed.
The Final Confrontation Between Selena and Yolanda Saldivar
On March 30—the day before Selena’s murder—Saldivar returned to Texas from a trip to Monterrey, Mexico, checked into the Days Inn, and contacted Selena. They met briefly to discuss the documents, at which time Saldivar told Selena she had been raped on her trip abroad.
The following morning, Selena took Saldivar to the hospital, where medical staff found no signs of sexual assault. After returning together to the Days Inn, they argued over the financial documents. Saldivar finally acquiesced and gave Selena her records, but after Selena turned her back to exit the hotel room, Saldivar shot her from behind, approximately two feet away, with a .38 caliber revolver. The bullet went into Selena’s back and came out through her upper-right chest.
At her trial, Saldivar’s defense would claim the gun had gone off accidentally. But eyewitnesses at the scene painted a different story, says Valdez.
“The fact that Yolanda Saldivar came out of the room immediately after the shooting with a gun in her hand, pointed it at Selena…and then calling her a b—-‘ as [Selena] was running away: all that indicates an intentional act,” Valdez says. “If it had been an accident, the reaction would’ve been completely different.”
With her last words, Selena told the hotel receptionist the name of her shooter and the room number where the crime had been committed.
The Standoff Between Yolanda Saldivar and Police
For hours after the shooting, Saldivar remained in a standoff with police. She sat in her pickup truck in the motel parking lot and held the gun to her head. That’s when Larry Rucker Young, lead negotiator with the Corpus Christi Police Department, got involved.
“I was on the phone with her for seven and a half hours,” Young tells A&E Real Crime. “Yolanda didn’t ask for anything. What she wanted, really, was to hear what was going on with Selena. Her condition.”
The young singer had been declared dead at Corpus Christi Memorial Hospital at 1:05 p.m., less than 90 minutes after she’d been shot. But Rucker, sensing the volatility of Saldivar’s state, elected not to tell her that.
“She wanted someone to hear her story,” Young says. “That they are best friends. That she loves Selena. She admires Selena. She would do anything for her.”
Where Is Yolanda Saldivar in 2020?
Saldivar is currently serving her sentence in Mountain View Unit, a maximum-security women’s prison in Gatesville, Texas. She’ll be eligible for parole in 2025. She continues to maintain her innocence.