Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
I am in love with a ghost. The ghost’s name is Mia Zapata. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of her. Even though she was this brilliant and powerful voice of the DIY punk scene, many of my musician and punk fan friends had never heard of her. On the other hand My 75 year old mother had heard of her, only because she watched Unsolved Mystery.
It is a shame that such a beautiful spirit is remembered more for the way she died than her artistic talents. It is impossible to find anything written about her that doesn’t also talk about her death. Even I am going to discuss the circumstances of her untimely demise. I just hope she’s remembered more for her life than her death.
Mia Zapata was born on August 25th 1965, in Louisville Kentucky a distant descendant of famed Mexican revolutionary Emilio Zapata. By all accounts she was a shy girl who transformed when she was given a microphone. I personally describe her voice as the love child of Mama Cass and Janice Joplin. It is a powerful and commanding voice it is hard to believe that it came from such a petite woman.
Besides her small size, Mia stood out physically because she was double jointed, and naturally her legs pointed inwards like chicken legs. The chicken would become a kind of totem animal to her, she had a picture of one tattooed on her leg, When she died the band was working on an album called Enter the Conquering Chicken. It is stories like these that makes her more human to me.
Her friends say that she was incredibly loyal to them. She was the center of several different social circles. After her murder the police commented on how many friends she had, and at the sentencing portion of her murder’s trial, the judge said she was “A vibrant girl…” and “…was struck how many lives she had touched…” It’s been reported even the bailiff cried when the jury came back with a guilty verdict.
In 1986, while at Antioch College she formed the band The Gits with fellow students Joe Spleen, Matt Dresdner and Steven Moriarity. Like fellow rockers “Toad the Wet Sprocket” they took their name form a Monty Python sketch. Originally they were called “Sniveling Little Rat Faced Gits” but shortened it to just The Gits.
In 1989 Seattle was Mecca for rock and home of the new “grunge movement.” Bands like Nirvana, Sound Garden, The Spin Doctors and 7 Year Bitch began to rise to prominence. Right in the middle of this mosh pit was The Gits thrashing it out with the rest. Though they didn’t reach Kurt Cobain’s status, they had one relatively successful indy album Frenching the Bully, and they were working on their second one, when Mia was killed. They never signed with a major label, but that added to their DIY cred. They had a very triumphant US and world tour. Beck opened for them and co-billed with Nirvana. In Seattle The Gits following nearly reached cult status.
Like many famous musicians Mia only made it to the age of 27. Early in the morning of July 7th 1993, Mia Zapata’s body was found lying in the street by a prostitute. It was left between two churches in a crucified pose, the hood of her sweater was drawn over her face, some thought there might have been a religious implications in the way the body was left. She had been viciously raped, beaten and strangled with the draw string of her The Gits sweater. The police say her body was still warm and she had not been dead that long before she was found. Her body was found without ID and was identified by the coroner who examined her, he was a big fan of the new Seattle music scene and had seen her preform several times.
Her murder became a cause celeabre in Pac-North West punk circles. Partly because of the brutality of the crime, partly because Mia was like everyone’s little sister, partly because the killer seemed to have vanished into thin air, and partly because it shredded the felling of invincibility that had permeated many in the Seattle grunge movement.
Mia had been drinking at a local watering whole called The Comet early on the morning of the 7th. then she visited a friend and told her that she was going to walk over to an old boyfriend’s place. She was soon after found dead. Police initially thought that her boyfriend, a Viet Nam vet, twenty years her senior, whom she was breaking up had committed the crime. But he had a solid alibi and was sincerely devastated at her demise. The police officially cleared him when he passed two polygraph tests. When the case was open he was the only official suspect. The unsolved case appeared on Unsolved Mysteries.48 Hours, City Confidential, and Forensic Files.
Mia’s attacker left DNA on her body, but there wasn’t much that police could do with it in 1993. Finally in 2003 the CODUS network got a hit on her killers DNA, he was Jose Mezquia, a Cuban refugee, whose DNA was collected in Florida for an unrelated case of spousal assault. Though it was assumed at the time Mia was killed by someone she knew, it was a rare case of stranger homicide, Mia was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Mezquia was found guilty and sentenced to 36 years in jail.
I hate to say that good things happen because of such a tragic event, but some good has come from such a great lose. Joan Jett who had never met Mia or heard the Gits play when Mia was alive, was so moved by what happened that she did the song Go Home, with a video encouraging women to be aware of their surroundings as well as donating money towards women shelters and self-defense classes. She preformed with Evil Stig (Gits Live spelled backwards) made up of the surviving members of the Gits.
You cannot avoid her death when you are talking about Mia Zapata. Still she was more than those finial painful minutes. She was a beautiful human being, who touched souls. I love how her father put it on the video played at Mezquia’s sentencing. He said that she was on loan to him for 27 years, now she belongs to all of us. I cry every time I watch that. Though good things have happened in awareness of women’s rights and woman’s protection since she was killed, she is more than just a martyr for the cause. I hope now that her killer is behind bars people can focus on her life and her music compared to her death.
This video was made by Mia’s family and friends was used to show the impact of her lost, in the sentencing phase of her killers trial.
The Gits Second Skin
The Gits It All Dies Anyway
The Gits Change is Gonna to Come
Evil Stig & Joan Jett Go Home