The Crazy Fan Murder of Selena Quintanilla-Pérez

Introduction

Selena Quintanilla-Pérez has gone by many titles: the Queen of Tejano music, the Queen of Latin Music, the Queen of Tex-Mex, the Mexican Madonna, the Chicana Elvis, the Hispanic Marilyn Monroe, and the Queen of Corpus Christi. But to her family, her friends, and her millions of fans, she will forever be known by just one name: Selena. She was on the path to becoming one of the most famous musical artists in history and crossing over from Spanish-language music to the English-music and bilingual market. But one of her biggest fans and most trusted confidants would be the one who would take all of that away.

A black and white photo of a woman in a dress spoon feeding a dark-haired newborn baby
Selena as a baby with her mother (Photo belongs to: Abraham Quintanilla)

Early Life

Selena was born in Lake Jackson, Texas on April 16th, 1971. Her mother was Marcella Ofelia Samora and her father was Abraham Quintanilla Jr. Her mother was of Cherokee descent and her father was born in Mexico. The family were Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“Her timing, her pitch were perfect. I could see it from day one.”

The Quintanilla family opened a Tex-Mex restaurant in Lake Jackson in 1981 called Papagayo’s (Parrots).

Selena in a purple dress around age 10 singing into a microphone in front of a band
Selena performing as a child
Selena, her brother, her sister, her father, and her mother standing outside a large white and brown bus
Selena and her family outside of Big Bertha

Discovery

Musician Rudy Trevino has been said to have “discovered” Selena. He founded the Tejano Music Awards, which Selena later won Female Vocalist of the Year for ten years in a row. Selena released five more albums between 1986 and 1988. In 1989, Selena performed at the Tejano Music Awards and two different record companies decided they wanted to sign her: EMI Latin Records, a brand new company, and Sony Music Latin. Despite the fact that Sony offered double the money for a signing fee, Abraham decided the band would sign with EMI, as the label’s first musicians.

Pérez

Also in 1989, a new musician joined the band as a guitarist, Chris Pérez. He was in a long-distance relationship with a woman in San Antonio, but started to develop feelings for Selena. He said later of Selena,

Chris Perez and Selena posing for a photo in matching baseball jerseys
Perez and Selena

“I’m a shy person by nature, and there was just something about her that she was able to pull me out.”

He initially tried to distance himself from her to keep the relationship professional, but they eventually confessed their mutual feelings for each other as a Pizza Hut. They decided to hide their relationship, correctly assuming that Abraham would not approve.

1990s

In 1990, Selena released her second studio album, Ven Conmigo, and three singles off of the album. The song “Baila Esta Cumbia” from the album became extremely popular, especially in Mexico.

A black and white profile photo of Selena in a spiked hairdo with the words “Selena: Ven Conmigo”
Selena’s second studio album cover
Chris Perez holding Selena in a bridal carry pose
Selena and Perez

“It kind of hurt his pride and his ego to find out that he was the last to know. When things got tense and things were said by him, it hurt me that he was saying it, but I didn’t let it get to me because I knew deep down, he knew the kind of person I was.”

A month after her marriage, Selena released her third studio album, Entre a Mi Mundo, which charted number one on the Billboard Regional Mexican Album chart for eight months. It hit 10x platinum in the U.S. and was the first Tejano female album to sell over 300,000 copies.

1994–1995

In 1994, Selena also began expanding into new projects outside of music. She guest starred in several Mexican telenovelas. Then she started a major project: her own line of clothing called Selena Etc, which were managed by Yolanda Saldivar. She opened two boutiques to start, one in Corpus Christi and one in San Antonio, and both had beauty salons attached. The opening year, Selena held two fashion shows and played a concert after one of them to drum up publicity. There were plans to expand the store to Puerto Rico and Mexico and Selena earned over five million dollars over the opening year.

Selena on a red carpet holding a Grammy award
Selena holding a Grammy

Author Matt Meier wrote that Selena had a “contagious energy… warmth, passion, and sexuality” and had the “down-to-Earth persona of the wholesome young girl next door.”

Selena’s sister said that she was often sewing her outfits backstage seconds before she went out to perform and she said that her fashion was inspired by Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, and Madonna. Her revealing clothes often upset her father, who would leave photoshoots, and strained her relationship with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. After her death, several celebrities including Lourdes Portillo and Sandra Cisneros brought up concerns that Selena’s sexualized image was not a good role model for young people, particularly Latina girls.

Yolanda Saldivar

Now let’s talk about Yolanda Saldivar.

“If Selena would say, ‘Jump!’, [Saldívar] would jump three times.”

Saldivar really lived up to the position of official fan club president and then took it to another level. According to people who knew her, Saldivar wasn’t just a friend, she was obsessed with Selena. An article in Texas Monthly reported,

“A woman who moved into an apartment with Yolanda discovered that Yolanda didn’t just have pictures of Selena on her walls — the whole place was ‘like a shrine.”

Selena standing with her hands clasped next to Saldivar who is speaking into a microphone
Selena and Saldivar

“I told Selena I was scared of Yolanda. She wouldn’t let me talk to Selena anymore. She was very possessive.”

He also said,

Selena smiling and talking to someone off camera. Saldivar stands next to her, circled in red
Selena and Saldivar at an event

March 31st

On March 31st, Selena went with Saldivar to a medical clinic to be examined for secual assault, but the medical staff told them that Saldivar needed to be examined in San Antonio instead. Selena and Saldivar agreed to return to Saldivar’s motel room. Around 10:00.m Abraham called Perez to find out where Selena was and Perez called Selena, who told him she was “taking care of one last [item of] business” and then would meet her family at the studio. This was the last time any of Selena’s loved ones would speak to her. Martinez later said he had missed a call from Selena that morning as well because he had been performing a surgery.

A red door and windows of a motel with messages covering the walls and flowers outside
Saldivar’s hotel room after fans left tributes

“Help me! I’ve been shot!”

Saldivar chased her, screaming, calling Selena a bitch, as she lay dying on the floor. If that wasn’t enough to make witnesses aware that she was the killer, Selena was able to tell the workers at the front desk that Saldivar had shot her and the room number that she was staying in. She also yelled,

“Lock the door! She’ll shoot me again.” Selena’s last words were, “Yolanda. 158.”

The man called 911 and said,

“We have a woman ran in the lobby said she’s been shot. She’s laying on the floor and there’s blood.”

A motel employee saw Saldivar trying to leave in her pickup truck and a police officer spotted her. He drew his gun and ordered her out of her vehicle. Instead she parked and was blocked in by police cars. Motel guests were ordered to shelter in place in their rooms. She pointed her gun at her own temple and threatened to kill herself.

Saldivar with a serious expression pointing her finger at her temple
Saldivar in an interview with 20/20 after the murder

“I can’t believe I killed my best friend” and “I didn’t mean to do it. I didn’t mean to kill anybody.”

At hour six, she stepped out of her car, but saw an officer pointing a rifle at her and got back in the car. At hour nine and a half, she surrendered herself to the police. Hundreds of onlookers and fans watched as she was taken away. The same day, Saldivar signed a typewritten confession.

A newspaper with the headline “Loss of a Hometown Hero”
The local newspaper after the murder

Aftermath

Her family was obviously devastated by her death. Pérez and Selena had intended on having a big, traditional wedding ceremony for their fifth anniversary, which would never come. Perez became a 25-year-old-widower. In 2021, he told People that

“It was traumatic, it was the hardest thing up until that point that I had ever had to go through. I [still] miss her face, her laughter. She was just an amazing soul, an amazing spirit.”

He said that it was particularly painful to have to finish the album Dreaming of You after her death.

A portrait of Selena
A large group of people standing on either side of a casket underneath a metal awning
Selena’s funeral
Selena’s family members place roses on her casket
Selena’s family (L to R): Abraham, Marcella, Chris Perez, Suzette

Trial

Saldivar was brought directly to the Corpus Christi police station after she surrendered and was brought into interrogation. She waived her right to an attorney and maintained that she had killed Selena but it was accidental. Her bail was set at $500,000. The county jail where she was being held on suicide watch was harassed with death threats against Saldivar and there were some reports that Texas gangs had put out a hit against her.

“[Selena] went down, she grabbed my feet and told me not to leave her and I picked her up and told her ‘just leave. I grabbed the gun, put it to my head, pulled the thing back, and I said ‘if you don’t leave, I’m gonna do it Selena. [Selena] told me: ‘Yolanda, I don’t want you to kill yourself.’ She opened the door. When I told her to close it, the gun went off.”

Saldivar said that the two of them had been very close and Selena had even called her “mom,” a fact that Selena’s family says is not true.

Saldivar in an orange prison jumpsuit, clutching a folder with two men in dark uniforms next to her
Saldivar in custody
A handwritten sign that says “Life in Prison” and a white rose
A mourner’s sign outside the prison and a white rose in memory of Selena

“Tears, cheers, and honking car horns mixed with the strains of Selena’s music on boom boxes outside the Harris County Courthouse where a crowd of about 200 people celebrated Yolanda Saldívar’s guilty verdict Monday.”

She is up for parole in 2025. The courts denied appeals in 1998 and 1999. She is currently serving her sentence at Gainesville women’s prison in Texas. According to news reports, she spends 23 hours a day in her cell in protective custody to avoid being harmed by Selena fans. In 2002, a judge ordered that the murder weapon was destroyed and the pieces scattered in the Corpus Christi Bay, which many people disagreed with.

“It was no accident. It was a moment of rage because she was being fired.”

When asked about the possibility of Saldivar being released he said,

Legacy

Selena with her arms raised on a stage
A photo of Selena performing

“I hope not. That would make for a lot of idiots in [South Texas].”

Selena remains a revered figure. Her music was regarded as emotional, strong, and passionate, and she successfully merged the Tejano genre with pop, R&B, country western, funk, and disco. Several of her songs, including “Si La Quieres”, “¿Qué Creías?”, “Ya Ves” and “Ya No” stood out as focusing on female empowerment.

Selena at a charity baseball game

“The Tejano market died with her.”

The crossover album that Selena was working on, Dreaming of You, was released in July 1995 and sold a record-breaking number of copies, becoming the first album by a Hispanic musician to debut at Number One on the Billboard 200. It has sold over five million copies today and is one of the best-selling Latin albums of all time in the United States. The posthumous success of Selena has also been cited as a turning point that made the American public more receptive to Latin music overall and all the artists after her.

Selena’s family members kneeling on the ground making prayer signs with their hands towards the sky
Selena’s family at the unveiling of her Hollywood star
Crowds surrounding a bronze statue of Selena leaning against a wall
Mirador de La Flor

Perez vs. the Quintanillas

Selena’s widower, Chris Pérez, published a book in 2012 called To Selena, With Love, which he hoped to make into a TV series. But he was sued by his former father-in-law who maintains exclusive rights to her life story and estate. Instead, Abraham, A.B., and Suzette produced a series with Netflix that has just finished but it has mixed reviews. Critics and fans have complained that the series is more focused on her father and brother’s stories than the actual star. Pérez isn’t introduced until late into the story and he has commented that he was confused and disappointed that no one reached out to him from the Netflix team about his perspective, especially for events where he and Selena were the only people there. He said,

Actors playing Selena and her bandmates stand in front of a background of lit up stars
“Selena y Los Dinos” as portrayed in the Netflix show

“It’s crazy. It grows every day with events everywhere, but we’re not organizing them. Our family never got together every year on the day of her murder, because there’s nothing to celebrate, and this year won’t be the exception. We remember our daughter every single day. We don’t need a special day to remember her.”

This feeling also may be influenced by the fact that the Quintanilla family are Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not generally celebrate birthdays or holidays.

A middle-aged Perez in a suit vest and purple tie
Pérez in a recent photograph

“I heard fans that are like, ‘How could we let that happen?’ Come on now. You think that I would let anything happen to her? Seriously? None of us thought that that was even a possibility. On the road, we had security so I never really feared for her safety, especially the way it happened to her. The fact that one of her friends did that, it’s just unbelievable.”

However, he has stated that he is glad he was able to give his perspective in his book and is glad to see the celebrations of her life. He said,

“[Her legacy] just keeps getting bigger and bigger and I think it’s an amazing thing and I’m proud to be attached to it in the way that I am… I’m proud of her. Proud of everything that she’s been able to accomplish.”

And about her presence as a symbol for the Mexican-American community, he said,

“When Selena passed away, I told my family that I was going to try to keep her memory alive through her music. Twenty-five years later, I think we, as a family, accomplished that.”

Conclusion

Selena maintains a presence in the lives and memories of her fans. An inspiration for their music and fashion, a place of honor on many family’s ofrendas, a role-model for confidence, beauty, talent, and bright personality, and an example of a strong woman who broke barriers and brought her cultural background into the national spotlight to become not only the “Mexican Madonna” or the “Chicana Elvis”, but someone who made her own name one that will live on as not just one of the most well-known Latin or Tejano artists of all time, but one of the most beloved musical artists of all time. Selena.

Selena smiling and looking off-camera

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