Who killed Sylvia Salinas in 1989?

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Sylvia Salinas was born on January 7, 1959, to Derlis Pena Salinas Sr. and Maria Elena Salinas. She has three siblings. Sylvia’s parents were born in La Hacienda De Guadalupe, N.L., Mexico, but raised their four children in Galveston, Texas.

Sylvia’s older brother, Derlis Salinas Jr., bought a small grocery store at 3028 Avenue Q in the early 1970s; however, he later relinquished ownership and operation to his parents. Sylvia purchased the store in 1988, but it remained a family business. 

The store’s lease was set to expire in 1990, and the family intended to sell the store. Sylvia planned to move to Hawaii to join Derlis Jr., who had relocated there in early 1989.

On Halloween Day 1989, a private security firm received an alarm from the Salinas Food Store and notified the Galveston Police Department at 1:23 p.m. about a robbery in progress. Officers Carroll Ivey and John Lopez arrived at the scene at 1:27 p.m. and found Sylvia, 30, dead behind the counter. 

Per the police report obtained by The Galveston Daily News in 1989, “The victim was obviously dead … no defensive-type wounds are present on the decedent’s forearms, wrists or hands. There is one stab wound … above the left breast.” 

The lack of defensive wounds led detectives to theorize that Sylvia knew her killer and that person had come around the counter to stand beside her. She was at least comfortable enough to have the suspect get close to her. Furthermore, Sylvia kept a gun and machete under the counter but never reached for them or sounded the store’s alarm.

Police found a 9″-10″ butcher knife near the body, and the cash register empty of all bills save for coins and food stamps. The open and empty cash drawer likely triggered the silent alarm, police said. Robbery seemed the logical and apparent motive. However, it is possible the killer took the money to make it appear as a robbery. Current investigators have said her murder was personal. 

Witnesses recalled seeing two men near the Salinas Food Store around the time of the murder. Others saw a black man dressed in dark clothing using the phone outside the store. Witnesses also saw a man with sandy blond or brown hair running down an alley by the store. Police believe the latter two men might not have been involved but could have had information relevant to the investigation or seen the killer. None of the four men ever came forward to the police.

Detectives interviewed about 20 men and eliminated all of them. Police have never identified a suspect.

Family and friends described Syliva as a happy, loving person but naive. 

A few days after the murder, Derlis Jr. told the Galveston Daily News, “She wanted to believe in people. She died believing that people are basically good. She would never suspect anyone would hurt her.”

Derlis Jr. regretted selling his sister the store.

“The store was always too much of a problem for my family,” he said. “We’ll definitely leave the store closed and put it up for sale. If we hadn’t sold her the store, she wouldn’t have been there alone and this wouldn’t have happened.”

Gavelston’s population in 1989 was around 62,000. That year, there were 13 unsolved murders, including Sylvia’s, but police solved most of them. 

Sylvia’s homicide remains unsolved. As of 2020, investigations were re-evaluating evidence, such as fingerprints at the crime scene. According to ABC 13, Hurricane Ike destroyed evidence in the Salinas case and dozens of other cold cases in 2008. 

Syvlia’s parents are now deceased. If you have information on Sylvia’s murder, please call Galveston Crime Stoppers at 409-763-8477. You may remain anonymous.

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