March 31, 1995: The Murder of Musical Icon Selena


WHAT HAPPENED?


Selena Quintanilla-Perez, known most commonly as just Selena, was an American singer and icon who brought Spanish music to the forefront of American culture. She was originally in a band with her family, Selena y Los Dinos, but eventually went on to have a successful solo career.


A super-fan named Yolanda Saldivar repeatedly requested permission to start an official Selena Fan Club, and in 1991, Selena's father and manager Abraham Quintanilla Jr. appointed Yolanda for the role. Yolanda maintained active in Selena's life and businesses, being appointed the manager of one of Selena's boutiques in 1994. But quickly, her management style came under scrutiny and it became clear that she was stealing money form the fan club.


After Selena's father fielded numerous phone calls from fans who had received nothing for their membership payments to the club, he began investigating and found out that Yolanda had embezzled over $60,000 from the fan club and boutiques. The family confronted her.


Next, Yolanda purchased a gun, lured Selena, who believed Yolanda to be a close friend, to a motel room, and shot and killed her.


Selena's death had a profound impact on the Latino community. Some people traveled hundreds, thousands of miles to visit her home, her boutiques and the crime scene, and churches throughout the country held services in her name. Television was interrupted to air the news of her death. Some who were not as familiar with her music and legacy criticized the media attention she received. Howard Stern mocked her murder and burial and made fun of her mourners, even playing her songs on his radio show with gunshots in the background. Then-Governor of Texas George W. Bush declared her birthday Selena Day in Texas, making people angry because it was the same day as Easter.


Selena was 23 years old when she died. She was the first Latino artist to have a predominantly Spanish-language album peak at number one. Yolanda was tried and found guilty of murder, and was sentenced to life in prison.

LEADING UP TO THE TRAGIC MURDER


Born on April 16, 1971, in Texas, Selena was born into music. From a young age, she had a beautiful voice, and her father Abraham organized his kids into a band called Selena y Los Dinos. A.B. Quintanilla III played the base, Suzette Quintanilla played the drums, and Selena was the singer. The band was the main source of income for the family. After their eviction following the Texas oil bust of 1982 and the bankruptcy of the family's Mexican restaurant, they moved and began recording music professionally.


The family released their first LP record, and after, he wanted to get his children into Tejano music, which was typically male-dominated. Selena won the Tejano Music Award for Female Vocalist of the Year in 1987, and her popularity as a soloist took off from there. She landed her first record deal in 1989.


Around the same time as Selena's rise to fame, Yolanda Saldivar became interested in Tejano music. She did not like Selena originally because she won awards that her favorite artists were up for. But after a 1991 Selena concert with her niece ,Yolanda was hooked. She loved her songs and her stage presence. She wanted to start a fan club. According to Selena's father, she left him 15 messages trying to discuss the idea. Eventually, they connected, and he approved of her idea, giving her permission to proceed as head of the Selena Fan Club.


As president of the fan club, Yolanda was responsible for collecting $22 from fans in exchange for Selena promotions, including shirts and early notifications of upcoming concerts. Selena's sister Suzette was the go-between for Yolanda and Selena: Selena did not meet Yolanda for nearly 6 months after she started the fan club.


Once they had met, they became friends, and Yolanda acted as Selena's assistant. She had signed up over 8,000 fans for the fan club in her first few years. But, people also noticed Yolanda's desperate need to impress Selena, and how she would do anything for her. Yolanda gave up her career as an in-home nurse for terminal cancer patients to invest her time into Selena full-time, even though her nursing job paid more.


Selena opened 2 boutiques in 1994 called Selena Etc. in Corpus Christi and San Antonio. Because the family had worked with Yolanda for years at that point and trusted her, Selena's father thought that Yolanda should run the company while the family was touring the country. The family agreed and in January of 1994, Yolanda became the manager of the boutiques. By September of the same year, Selena had signed Yolanda as her registered agent. Yolanda moved so she could be closer to Selena and her family. She was authorized to write and cash checks, and had access to all of the bank accounts associated with the fan club and boutiques.


But it appeared that Yolanda was only the trusting, up-for-anything person the Quintanilla family knew her as when they were around. When Selena gave Yolanda her American Express card for company business, she used it instead to rent cars, entertain people at fancy restaurants, and buy personal items. Staff at Selena Etc. claimed that when Selena was around, Yolanda would be nice, but was a terrible manager when she was away.


By the end of 1994, the boutiques were suffering and the accounts didn't have enough money to pay the bills. Staff at both stores had decreased drastically, as Yolanda fired people she didn't like often. She was described as "two-faced and unstable" by colleagues. The employees took their concerns to Selena's father, who claims to have always distrusted her. He told Selena that Yolanda may be dangerous, but Selena didn't believe that her friend could hurt her.


At the top of 1995, Selena's cousin Debra Ramirez was hired to help expand Selena's businesses into Mexico. Though she quit within a week, while she was there, she found that staff members were often not reporting sales, and that receipts were missing from several sales.


Selena's fashion designer, Martin Gomez, also complained that Yolanda was mismanaging Selena's money and businesses. The 2 hated each other, often complaining about one another to Selena. Selena eventually decided to design her clothes herself, and began having Yolanda travel to Mexico to get her new Selena Etc. store opened, but there, she intimidated the seamstresses, forcing them to side with her or lose their jobs.

SELENA & YOLANDA'S RELATIONSHIP


It is safe to say that Yolanda was obsessed with Selena. Her room was covered in posters of Selena, and she often used her library of Selena videos to entertain guests who came over. Those who worked with both women claimed that she was possessive, wanted to be just like Selena, and that her devotion was more like obsession. Former employees said that Yolanda tried to distance Selena from other employees and colleagues so she could have the most control, but Yolanda argued it was so Selena wouldn't have to deal with trivial matters regarding her businesses.


But despite the perception from those close to them that she was obsessed, Selena considered them close friends. Yolanda had keys to Selena's house and came over to hang out often, and they went on trips together.


In January 1995, Selena's father began receiving phone calls and letters from fans who had paid their enrollment fees to the fan club, but never received anything. He began to look into it, and found out that Yolanda had used forged checks to embezzle over $60,000 from the fan club and the boutiques.


Selena's father held a meeting on March 9, 1995, with Selena and Suzette to confront Yolanda with the evidence. She stared at him, refusing to answer any questions. He said if she did not provide any evidence to explain the missing money, he would involve the police. After further questions and evidence, Yolanda left the meeting. He told her not to contact Selena, but Selena was not ready to end their friendship, and felt that Yolanda was essential to opening her clothing line in Mexico. She also felt like the tax and financial information she had was important and she didn't want to break contact.


After the meeting, with Yolanda still on the payroll, termination pending, Selena's father found out that the fan club checks were being signed with Yolanda's sister's name and when cashed, she was keeping the funds. The bank statements vanished when he went to look at them. Eventually, she was terminated from her position.


According to Selena's father, there were attempts to murder Selena before she finally succeeded. The first time, Yolanda contacted Selena to set up a meeting at a hotel she was staying at. Selena asked if they could meet elsewhere due to traffic, and when they got together, Selena said she could continue running her business in Mexico until she could find a replacement. She showed her the gun that she had recently purchased, and Selena told her to get rid of it, and that she would protect her from her father. She returned the gun the next day.


The second time, Yolanda went with Selena to Tennessee to record an album. When Selena told her some bank statements were missing and asked her to return them, Yolanda re-purchased the gun, again asking to meet her in a motel room. But when she arrived, she was mobbed by fans, leaving too many witnesses.


On March 30, the day before she was killed, Yolanda contacted Selena and told her she was raped. She asked Selena to come by her motel alone, but Selena brought her husband Chris Perez. He waited in the car while Selena went in alone. After she left, Yolanda called back asking Selena to take her to the hospital as she was bleeding due to her rape, but Perez told her not to go back. She didn't go that night, but unbeknownst to Perez, she agreed to go the next morning.

THE MURDER OF SELENA


On the morning of March 31, 1995, Selena went back to Yolanda's motel room. She repeated that she had been raped in Mexico. Selena took her to the hospital staff noted that she was depressed. Yolanda told doctors she had bled a little, and Selena responded angrily because she had told her the day before that she was bleeding excessively.


When they left the hospital, Selena told Yolanda that they should be apart for awhile at the behest of her father, who did not trust Yolanda. At 10 AM, Selena's father called Perez to ask where she was, as she was due to record a song that morning and didn't show up. She told Perez that she was finishing an item of business and would be there soon.


Arriving back at the hotel room, the 2 women began arguing so loud that motel guests complained about the noise. Selena said she no longer trusted Yolanda and demanded she return the stolen bank statements. When Selena dumped out Yolanda's bag containing the statements, she saw the gun.


At 11:48 AM, she pointed the gun at Selena. When she tried to run, she shot her in the shoulder, severing an artery causing her to lose a massive amount of blood. She ran towards the lobby, leaving a 392 foot trail of blood behind her, yelling for help. Yolanda continued chasing her, calling her a "bitch". According to motel staff, Yolanda remained calm during the ordeal.


Motel staff called the police, and Selena collapsed. She had lost too much blood. She uttered her last words: Yolanda, room 158. Staff tried to stop the blood, but she was deteriorating and went limp.


An ambulance arrived within 2 minutes of the call and immediately tended to Selena's wound, but her heartbeat was extremely slow. It was too late when they arrived. Attempts to revive her in the ambulance and at the hospital were unfortunately not enough. She was pronounced dead at 1:05 PM on March 31, 1995.


An autopsy was performed within a few hours of her death, and it revealed that, had the bullet been even a millimeter higher or lower, the wound likely would not have killed her.


Back at the motel, Yolanda tried to flee, some believe they thought she was going to kill Selena's father at the recording studio. She was stopped in her car, and an hours-long standoff began when she held the gun to her head, threatening to kill herself. Negotiations began as they attempted to arrest Yolanda alive.


In the 4th hour of the standoff, Yolanda said she had intended to kill herself, and she had shot Selena accidentally when Selena tried to leave after telling her not to kill herself. In hour 6, she was about to give herself up, but when she saw a gun pointed at her, she panicked and ran back into the car. After 9 hours, she finally surrendered.


Memorials were held widely from the day she died through the weeks after. Celebrities and politicians mourned her death and some cancelled concerts in solidarity. Despite some negative press, some from people who had never heard of her and didn't believe she deserved the attention, some who were upset that Selena Day would fall on Easter, and some who were simply looking for something to be mad at, the support for Selena and her family was overwhelming and positive.

YOLANDA'S TRIAL


20 minutes after Yolanda surrendered, she was brought to the police station and was being interrogated. She waived her right to an attorney. Allegedly, she cried during the standoff, saying "I can't believe I killed my best friend", but during the interrogation, she claimed the shooing was accidental.


The murder was punishable by up to 99 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. She was held on suicide watch before her trial. Because of the immense amount of love for Selena, it was difficult to get a defense lawyer as they could face death threats, but eventually, despite his wife's protests, public defender Douglas Tinker took the case.


The trial "rivaled that of the O.J. proceedings", though it was not televised to avoid the circus that was the media during the O.J. trial. There was a divide between Latinos and white Americans during the trial, with white Americans showing little interest, one publisher even saying she didn't care about it because Selena was Latino and Mexican-Americans didn't care when Elvis Presley was found dead.


Yolanda pleaded not guilty, claiming the shooting was accidental. The jury deliberated for only 2 hours before finding her guilty of murder, and she got the maximum sentence of life in prison with no parole eligibility for 30 years. As of 2018, Yolanda is still servicing her sentence, and will be eligible for parole in 2025.


Yolanda was placed in isolation and spends 23 hours a day alone in a 9 by 6 cell, due to multiple internal death threats from incarcerated Selena fans.


Admittedly, I only vaguely knew who Selena was most of my life, and did not know that she was murdered until listening to a podcast episode about it in the last few months. I did not know that she was such a groundbreaking icon who did amazing things to bring Spanish-language music to mainstream popularity in the United States, or that her life ended so tragically by a close friend.


Selena was an icon for the Latino community, and to know that so many white Americans dismissed her death or complained about her media attention after she had been murdered because they didn't believe she deserved it is disgusting and heartbreaking.


Luckily, the support for her and her family seemed to be overwhelmingly positive, as it should have been. Memorials were everywhere. Fans traveled for thousands of miles to be in her hometown, to shop at her stores, to mourn her death. Musicians of all types mourned her. Selena was a wonderful musician, and a wonderful person, and it is a tragedy that her young, successful life came to an end senselessly 25 years ago today.

REFERENCES:

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Selena


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