Mia Zapata

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Mia Zapata
Background information
Birth name Mia Katherine Zapata
Born (1965-08-25)August 25, 1965
Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Died July 7, 1993(1993-07-07) (aged 27)
Seattle, Washington, United States
Genres Punk rock, grunge
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Vocals, piano, guitar
Years active 1986–1993
Associated acts The Gits

Mia Katherine Zapata (August 25, 1965 – July 7, 1993) was the lead singer for the Seattle punk band The Gits.

Life and career[edit]

Zapata was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. Zapata learned how to play the guitar and the piano by age nine, and influenced by punk rock as well as jazz, blues and R&B singers such as Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Jimmy Reed, Ray Charles, Hank Williams and Sam Cooke.[1]

In 1984, Zapata enrolled at Antioch College located in Yellow Springs, Ohio as a liberal arts student. In September 1986, she and three friends formed the punk rock band The Gits. In 1989, the band relocated to Seattle, Washington.[1] Mia found a job at a local bar and the four bandmembers moved into an abandoned house they called "The Rathouse." The band released a series of well-received singles on local independent record labels from 1990 to 1991. As the Gits were making a name for themselves in the local music scene, they often played shows with their friends' band, 7 Year Bitch. In 1992, the band released its debut album Frenching the Bully. Their reputation progressively increased within the grunge scene in Seattle, before the band began work on their second and final album Enter: The Conquering Chicken, released in 1993.

Zapata straddled the line between wealth and poverty. Her father describes it as "Mia [living] in two different worlds. She lived on two different sides of the street—the straight side on one, with parochial schools, an affluent family and tennis clubs. But when she crossed the street, material things didn't mean anything to her."[2] Her music often led to a rejection of financial comfort, but regardless of status, Valerie Agnew describes Mia as "commanding respect and interest immediately".[3]

Zapata was well connected to her community. Peter Sheehy recalls "Mia [being] the hub of several social circles; [she was] a magnetic personality who drew all sorts of people together who otherwise might never have met"[4] During her funeral her father became lost and recalls many people carrying yellow roses: the admission ticket to Zapata's funeral.[5] Even Judge Sharon Armstrong, the judge during her killer's trial, highlighted Zapata as an "extraordinarily vibrant" girl, who was "obviously talented" and she was "struck by how closely Zapata had connected to so many people".[4]

The remaining members of The Gits collaborated with Joan Jett in 1995, to make an album and tour to benefit the private investigation of Mia Zapata's murder. The band was named "Evil Stig" which spells "Gits Live" backwards.

In February 2013, a play called "These Streets" inspired by Mia Zapata and the stories of other female musicians in Seattle debuted at ACT Theatre in Seattle.

The Gits[edit]

The band, who included guitarist Joe Spleen, drummer Steve Moriarty, and bassist Matt Dresdner, met in Ohio 1986. A few years later the band decided to move to Seattle to indulge in the city's burgeoning music scene. Within no time the band had developed quite a following amidst the city's underground punk scene. Many would group them together with bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but Mia brought a voice of femininity to the grunge scene that had not been seen yet. Although the group was made out of 3/4's men, the band, and her individually gained quite a following amongst the feminist community of Seattle at the time.

In 1990 after the move to Seattle, The Gits went on a very successful International tour spreading the word about the band, all without the support of a record label. In 1992 their first independent album was released- Frenching the Bully. The album had hits such as "Another Shot of Whiskey", "Second Skin", and "Here's to Your Fuck" getting positive reviews throughout music communities.[6] Throughout the recording of the second album the band had planned a large US and European tour as well as many local shows, all the while being courted by various recording labels. Unfortunately, before the group could finish and release their second album "Enter: The Conquering Chicken, Zapata," the band was shocked by the death of lead singer Mia Zapata. Although the band continued making music, and found success in that second album with singles such as "Seaweed," and "Precious Blood."[7]


At around 2:00 a.m. on July 7, 1993, Zapata left the Comet Tavern in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle. She stayed at a studio space in the basement of an apartment building located a block away, and briefly visited a friend who lived on the second floor. This was the last time she was seen alive. She may have walked a few blocks west, north to a friend's apartment, or may have decided to take the long walk south to her home.[8]

She was beaten, strangled and possibly raped, in the Central District of Seattle. It is believed she encountered her attacker shortly after 2:15 am. Since an employee at the Comet remembered her wearing her headset as she left, it is believed she was listening to music from her walkman and thus was unaware of the attacker approaching.[9] Her body was not initially identified, as she had no identification on her when she was found.

According to the cable television show Unsolved Mysteries, a man two blocks from the Comet Tavern heard a scream around 3:00 a.m. A woman discovered her body in the street at around 3:30 a.m. near the intersection of 24th Avenue South and South Washington Street in the Central District. According to the medical examiner, if she had not been strangled she would have died from the internal injuries suffered from the beating.[10] An autopsy found evidence of a struggle in which Zapata suffered blunt impact to her abdomen and a lacerated liver as recorded in court documents.[11]

Zapata is interred at Cave Hill Cemetery in her hometown of Louisville. The Seattle music community, including its most famous bands - Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden - helped raise $70,000 to hire a private investigator for three years. The funds dried up. But the investigator, Leigh Hearon, continued to investigate on her own time. In 1998 after five years of investigation, Seattle police Detective Dale Tallman said "we're no closer to solving the case than we were right after the murder".[12]


In 2003, Florida fisherman Jesus Mezquia, who had come from Cuba in 1980 in the Mariel boatlift when Castro released hundreds of felons from April–October, 1980,[13] was arrested in connection with Zapata's murder. DNA evidence was used to tie him to the murder and charges were brought up against him.[14] There was a DNA profile extracted from a saliva sample left on Zapata's body. It was kept in cold storage until the STR technology was developed for full extraction. An original entry in 2001 failed to generate a positive result, but Mezquia's DNA entered the national databank CODIS after he was arrested in Florida for burglary and domestic abuse in 2002.[11] He had a history of violence toward women, including domestic abuse, burglary and assault and battery. All of his ex-girlfriends and his wife had filed reports against him. There was also a report of indecent exposure on file against him in Seattle within two weeks of Zapata's murder. However, there was no known prior link between Mezquia and Zapata.

Mezquia never testified in his own defense and still maintains his innocence. The theory is that he saw her leave the bar and followed her a short distance before he struck. Her headset covered her ears so she was unaware until he grabbed her and dragged her to his car where he brutally assaulted her in the back seat. After strangling her, he dragged her body out of the car from under her shoulders, thus the Christ-like position in which her body was found.[11] He was convicted in 2004, and sentenced to 37 years initially, and then appealed his sentence. He was then sentenced to 36 years. He has remained in prison since January 2003.[15]


In the aftermath of her murder, friends created a self-defense group called Home Alive, which disbanded in 2010. Home Alive organized benefit concerts and CDs with the participation of many of Seattle's music elite, such as Nirvana (one of lead singer Kurt Cobain's final public appearances), Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Heart, and the Presidents of the United States of America. Joan Jett also recorded an album with the surviving members of The Gits called Evil Stig ("Gits Live" backwards). The Home Alive group's instructors offered a range of courses, from anger management and use of pepper spray to the martial arts.[16]

In 2005, a documentary The Gits Movie was produced about her life, The Gits and the Seattle music scene. Its first showing occurred at the Seattle International Film Festival in May of that year. Another version of the film appeared two years later at the 2007 SXSW (South By Southwest) Film Festival, and the final cut of the film was released theatrically in over 20 North American cities on July 7, 2008, the 15th memorial anniversary of Zapata's death. The following day the film was released on DVD along with a Best of the Gits CD (both from Liberation Entertainment).

¡Viva Zapata!, by punk band 7 Year Bitch, was released in June 1994, on C/Z Records in Seattle, as a tribute to Zapata. Some of the songs on this album address the issue of Zapata's murder directly.

Following Zapata's death, Joan Jett and Kathleen Hanna wrote a song called "Go Home" that was later released on Jett's 1994 album Pure and Simple. Later a video for "Go Home" was released which depicts a woman being stalked and attacked but is then able to defend herself against the attacker.

In February 2013, a play called "These Streets", inspired by the stories of and featuring music by Mia Zapata and other female musicians in Seattle, debuted at ACT theatre in Seattle.[17]

Zapata's death bore a sense of defeat and fear within the Seattle community. The Seattle times marked Zapata's murder as the moment "the Seattle scene lost its sense of invincibility."[18] Cristen Storm recalls the death as a reality check because "[they were] all very tough people and as a group of women, [they] are all really strong, outspoken, and hard-hitting, very opinionated women and that perception of, 'We're not victims at all in any way and this can't happen to women that aren't victims,' and I think [Zapata's death] shattered that myth for us, [and showed] that it happens to all types of women." [19]

Mia Zapata is often cast as a symbol for feminist activism, a martyr and an angel. Dresdner, said "[Mia] was sainted, and that was very peculiar... she became this icon for feminism and all kinds of things that she had very little to do with in her actual life". Margaret O'Neil Girouard, who wrote her thesis on Zapata, believes Zapata is an example of women artists being classified based on the perceived motivations behind their art.[20] Moriarty, believed "[Mia wanted] to relate to people on a personal level in her lyrics [rather] than on a political level." [21]

Andrew Kessler (Gits band guitarist, known as Joe Spleen) believed: "[Mia] had no social or political agenda and no real interest in that stuff. Also, after her death, she quickly acquired a symbolic status as a feminist icon, martyr, and poster child for rape and violence toward women in the eyes of many folks—which had nothing to do with who she was as an actual person. In fact Mia would be mortified that she has been remembered and portrayed in such a way."[22]

Mia is often associated with Riot Grrrl, though bandmates, such as Kessler, claim she had no involvement and "little interest" in the movement. It has been speculated that this association may be due to her presence as a "charismatic female musician" in the Northwest, who was performing throughout the emergence of Riot Grrrl.[21]


  1. ^ a b "Mia Zapata 1965-1993". thegits.com. The Gits. Archived from the original on 2013-04-06. 
  2. ^ Mary F. Pols, "Holding On to Mia's Magic—Singer's Killing Leaves Grief in the 2 Worlds She Lived In," Seattle Times, August 26, 1993.
  3. ^ The Gits: The Band The Music The Legacy. Dir. Kerry O'Kane. Perf. The Gits. 2008. DVD.
  4. ^ a b Tracy Johnson, "Singer's Killer Gets 37 Years; Mia Zapata's Friends Fill Courtroom for Sentencing of Jesus Mezquia," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 1, 2004.
  5. ^ Richard Zapata. The Gits: The Band The Music The Legacy. Dir. Kerry O'Kane. Perf. The Gits. 2008. DVD.
  6. ^ Vincent Jeffries, "Mia Zapata's Bibliography" All Music (2012)
  7. ^ Becca Jones-Starr, "Biography: The Gits 1986-1993" The Gits Official Website (2014)
  8. ^ Alex Tizon (August 23, 1998). ""Who Murdered Mia Zapata?" No Arrests, Few Clues 5 Years After Slaying."". Seattle Times. 
  9. ^ "Who Murdered The Rock Star?". CBS News. February 11, 2009. Archived from the original on 2012-10-23. Retrieved February 12, 2012. 
  10. ^ "mia zapata - An up and coming Seattle musician is murdered.". www.unsolved.com. Cosgrove-Meurer Productions, Inc. Archived from the original on 2013-05-21. Retrieved May 20, 2013. 
  11. ^ a b c Ancestry.com
  12. ^ Seattle Times
  13. ^ TVshow "causeofdeath"
  14. ^ Johnson, Tracy (January 10, 2003). "Police make arrest in 1993 Mia Zapata slaying". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 
  15. ^ Pian, Sharon. "Local News | Singer's killer sentenced to 36 years in prison again | Seattle Times Newspaper". Seattletimes.com. Retrieved 2014-06-03. 
  16. ^ Laura Onstot. "Why Home Alive Is Facing Its Demise ... Again" (February 18, 2009). Seattle Weekly. Archived from the original on 2009-02-27. Retrieved March 5, 2012. 
  17. ^ ACT Theatre. "These Streets Play". These Streets website. Retrieved 2 June 2014. 
  18. ^ Nicole Brodeur, "What might have been for Zapata," The Seattle Times, March 11, 2004.
  19. ^ All Things Considered, NPR, April 17, 1996.
  20. ^ Girouard, Margaret O. Heavy Angel: Mia Zapata; Exploring the Living Memory of a Seattle Legend. N.p.: n.p., n.d. The Gits.com. May 2009. Web.
  21. ^ a b Moriarty 2009. Seen in Heavy Angel: Mia Zapata; Exploring the Living memory of a Seattle Legend.
  22. ^ Andrew Kessler, e-mail message to author, January 13, 2009


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