The Comet Tavern doesn’t look like much, but the food is good there, it seems. Above all, it is very well placed, close to downtown Seattle, more precisely in the Capitol Hill district where, in the early 1990s, the scene rock local community has largely taken up residence there. Today is July 6, 1993, and Mia Zapata joined a group of friends there, mostly musicians. Aged 27, this native of Louisville, located in distant Kentucky, is none other than the singer of The Gits.
The group, founded in Ohio in 1983, decided to settle in Seattle, the birthplace of grungy, in 1989. The formation started to work very hard. After their first album, Frenching the Bully, released in 1991, they have toured both in the United States and Europe, signed a contract with the record label Atlantic Records, and are now preparing their second album. In short, everything is fine for Mia Zapata.
The evening at the Comet Tavern is quiet, without too much excess. At midnight, the singer leaves to join a friend, Robert Jenkins, who lives a stone’s throw away, a few meters away. This one is absent, but no problem: another friend lives in the same building. She goes to say hello to him, stays with him for about two hours, then walks home.
The next morning, all the members of The Gits are in the studio. They are waiting for their singer, start to worry and call her roommate. This assures that Mia did not come back at night. They go around the hospitals and end up, considering the worst, by calling the local morgue. The news comes suddenly: Mia was brought there in the night, shortly before 4am. They identified her thanks to the tattoo she had done a few months earlier, a chicken, homage to her nickname, “Chicken”, which her roommate described to the employees of the establishment. And then, the medical examiner, a big rock fan and Seattle scene lover, had recognized her anyway when she arrived.
The other members of the group then go there to reconstruct the sequence of the previous hours.
At 2 a.m., Mia Zapata left her friend’s apartment. She walked a few meters until she came to an alley. It is likely that she was forced into it by a rather sturdy man, because this unlit path was not on her probable route.
When her body is discovered by a passerby at 3:20 a.m. and first aid, then the police, finally arrives, Mia is lying on her back, her arms outstretched. Marks of blows dot his body, others encircle his neck. She wears a hoodie bearing the image of her group, The Gits, in the pocket of which are found her own underwear. Upon visual examination, it is clear that she has been raped.
Her body is transported to the hospital where it is established that Mia was strangled with the laces of her shoes. Doctors point to strangulation as the cause of death, but note that the beatings, having caused internal bleeding, would most likely have killed her anyway.
This murder is a trauma for the city’s grunge scene. Especially since the more the days pass, the more the incapacity of the police to find the culprit begins to weigh. The Gits bassist Matt Dresdner will later confide in the magazine RollingStone: “Mia’s murder has cast a chill over our community which was so tight-knit. Fear, suspicion were fueled by the fact that the police had no leads. Everyone was going about their theory, some were talking about a conspiracy against Mia. Many of our close friends have become suspects in the eyes of the authorities, but also in the eyes of the community.”
Especially since the murder took place near the Comet Tavern, near the victim’s home and the apartments of several musicians. But a major obstacle stands in the way of the investigation: no one saw anything. Residues of saliva were found on Mia’s chest where there were bite marks, but the test results DNA are inconclusive, due to insufficient material to compare. The technology is evolving, but it is still far from perfect.
Self-defense and tributes
In the meantime, The Gits’ second album was released by Atlantic Records in 1994. It included the song “Sign of the Crab”, written and sung by Mia, in which she recounts her hypothetical murder: “Go on, cut me to pieces and scatter me across town / ‘Cause you know you’re the one we’ll never find.”
Months pass and the murderer is still on the run. “People in our community started buying guns and carrying them around because they wanted to find and kill the culprit. They were in a rage.” will also tell RollingStone The Gits drummer Steve Moriarty.
All this musical universe in mourning still finds the energy to produce concerts in homage to Mia. Valerie Agnew, great friend of the singer and companion of Steve Moriarty, has the idea of creating an organization called HomeAlive. The goal: to train Seattle women to self defensethe handling of defensive weapons, and above all the de-escalation of conflicts.
Rock stars such as Joan Jett Where Eddie Vedder, leader of the group Pearl Jam, mobilized. The latter even convinces his label, Epic Records, to produce a compilation whose profits will be entirely donated to Home Alive. The organization quickly gained notoriety and became a spearhead of the feminism in the rock scene.
“Has society done you justice?”
However, there is still no lead regarding the identity of the killer. In the impasse, the police also put the investigation on hold. So, the members of The Gits go back on stage to raise funds and be able to hire a private detective for three years. But nothing helps.
It was not until 2003 that technical progress made it possible to revive the business. Since the saliva samples have been rigorously preserved, it is now possible to analyze them again and seek a comparison in the national files. Immediately, a name stands out: Jesus Mezquia. The data of this Cuban fisherman residing in Florida, the exact opposite of Seattle, was added to the file after cases of burglary and domestic violence. Weird…
After a quick search, it is established that Mezquia was indeed residing in the capital of grunge at the material time. He was therefore arrested and interrogated in Florida. If he does not confess to the murder, he nevertheless concedes having lived in Seattle in 1993. The evidence is sufficient for the authorities. He was found guilty in 2004 and received a 37-year prison sentence, reduced to 36 on appeal. He never confessed.
It therefore took eleven years for the murder of Mia Zapata to be elucidated. In the meantime, she has become a figure in the grunge scene, but also a symbol feminist in the USA. The Home Alive organization, created in his memory, is still active today in the American music world, even if its importance has greatly diminished in the late 2000s.
But the memory of Mia is still very vivid. On his album ¡Viva Zapata! released in 1994, the group 7 Year Bitchwhich includes Valerie Agnew, sings a revenge song called MIA: “Did the company do this to you? Has society done you justice? If not, I’ll take care of it.”
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How the murder of Mia Zapata killed the innocence of grunge
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