That One Fateful Night: What Happened to Mia Zapata?

Mia Zapata was an awesome young singer who had big dreams. Although she came from a pretty privileged family, she wanted to impact the world with her raw talent and creativity. She loved expressing herself through any form of art, especially music. She was a beloved girl whom people loved being around, and as part of the band The Gits, Mia’s career was blossoming.

Mia Zapata, Steve Moriarty, Matt Dresdner, Joe Spleen / Mia Zapata / Mia Zapata and friends / Police car.
Source: Facebook

However, before her career was able to fully flourish, Mia’s life was cut short. The blues/rock singer was so laid back; she didn’t seem like she could be a victim of anything. Her story serves as a cautionary tale and started an emerging feminist movement for justice and autonomy that inspired many other artists.

She Never Made It Home

Mia Zapata was singer and frontwoman of The Gits, a Seattle punk band, when a sex worker found her murdered in the middle of the street on July 7, 1993. Since she was 27 years old at the time of her death, she is part of the infamous 27 Club, a group that nobody wants to be a part of. The case went cold for nearly a decade before detectives arrested Jesus Mezquia.

Portrait of Mia Zapata.
Photo by Jackie Ransier

By all accounts, the brutal rape and horrific murder of Mia Zapata was random. The fun and charming punk singer was out for the night with friends. She left the bar and then went to the studio and visited a friend until 2 a.m. That was the last night she was seen alive.

Growing Up in Kentucky

On August 25, 1965, Midwesterners Richard and Donna welcomed their third child Mia into the world. Her father’s heritage made Mia Mexican. Her grandfather was Mexican, but no relation to the revolutionary, Emiliano “Viva” Zapata.

A younger Mia Zapata's portrait.
Mia Zapata. Source: Tumblr

Mia had one older brother and one older sister. The entire family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, when she was still a little girl. In 1981 her parents split up, but her father remarried. Both of her parents worked in the media industry, and the Zapata family was considered wealthy. But wealth and prestige didn’t mean much to little Mia. She was more creative and interested in authentic expression.

She Found Herself at Antioch College

In 1984, Mia enrolled at Antioch College, a liberal arts school in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Antioch encourages its students to craft their own education. That certainly sounds like my kind of school!

A portrait of Mia Zapata in her student years at Antioch College.
Source: Instagram/@nehistripesseattle

According to the school: “When you become an Antiochian, you don’t just attend a college that’s has been around since 1850. You participate in a movement rooted in a tradition of breaking boundaries to face the challenges of now.” She loved breaking the mold, so Antioch was the perfect college for her.

Creativity and “Experimental Learning”

On their website, the college also states, “We are grounded in experiential learning. This is a laboratory college where you learn by doing. From problem-based projects to makerspaces, cultural immersion to worked-based co-op education, you will have the freedom to experiment, try, fail and grow.”

Mia Zapata is sitting next to a big window in art class.
Source: Instagram/@nehistripesseattle

Mia found her tribe at Antioch, young iconoclasts ready to challenge the status quo and make fun of socially accepted norms. She even embraced her childhood nickname, “chicken,” which she got when her classmates made fun of her lanky widespread posture. But at Antioch, she tattooed a chicken onto her leg.

A Musical Community

Mia really felt accepted and comfortable at Antioch. She loved the self-expression and felt at home within the music community she found there. Some of her strongest influences were Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith, along with some punk and alternative music.

Mia Zapata and a friend at a night bar.
Source: Instagram/@screamingforgrunge

She formed the band The Gits in 1983 with three friends from college: Andy, Matt, and Steve. The Gits pop-rock style was a powerful combination with Mia’s deeply bluesy voice. The band moved to Seattle three years later and hit the scene in the middle of the growing “grunge” movement.

The Gits in 1993

The Gits wasn’t necessarily grunge with heavy guitars and guys with plaid shirts and long hair, but the band managed to fit into the scene seamlessly. Mia got really close with a lot of the female musicians in the area, including members of Seven Year Bitch, a local all-girl punk quartet.

'The Gits' performing on stage, circa 1993.
Steve Moriarty, Matt Dresdner, Mia Zapata, Joe Spleen. Photo by Christine Sievanen

She had her friends and was pursuing music. She literally ate, slept, and breathed music. She was so focused on achieving her dreams that she didn’t have much of a backup plan. She had no desire to work at a desk in the an office, but she still had to pay the bills until she made it.

Making Ends Meet

In Seattle, Mia worked as a dishwasher at Deluxe Bar and Grill on Broadway. She wasn’t going to get a “real job” because she wanted to pursue music. Her job at Deluxe gave her the time and flexibility she needed when The Gits went on tour or something.

A portrait of Mia Zapata at work.
Source: The Gits Archive

Plus, she didn’t intend on supporting some “establishment” with her labor. She stood in the corner of the small kitchen at Deluxe, sweating over the dish service, wearing ripped-off shorts and a stained t-shirt. Her dark brown hair was in dreads, and she just wanted to express herself through music.

Fun Night Out

In early ’93, The Gits left town for a short tour, so Mia left the Deluxe for a little while. When she got back a few weeks later, she stopped by the bar with a friend and her boyfriend – her much older boyfriend. The three of them had lunch together, and apparently, she spoke to the manager who gave her clearance to return to work. Within a week, she was back at dishwashing.

Mia Zapata is singing on stage.
Steve Moriarty, Mia Zapata, Joe Spleen. Source: Flickr

On July 6, 1993, Mia went out for the night to celebrates The Gits’ recent success in reordering their second album, Enter: The Conquering Chicken. She hung out with her friends at The Comet, a Seattle tavern, and was there until after midnight.

Not an Ordinary Night…

Mia left the Comet and walked one block east on Pike Street to a rehearsal studio nearby. Then she went to visit a friend who was living in an apartment in the same building as the studio. She stayed there until about 2 a.m. on Wednesday, July 7, 1993. Then, she told her friend she was going to catch a taxi home.

Street view of 'The Comet.'

However, her body was discovered on the sidewalk of a dead-end street two miles away. She was found lying on her back with her arms stretched out from her sides and her ankles crossed. It almost looked like a Christ-like pose.

A Body Is Found

When her body was discovered, Mia didn’t have any identification on hand. She was clothed, but there was evidence of sexual assault. Her bra and panties were stuffed into her pockets. When Mia’s body was taken to the coroner’s office, somebody recognized her.

Police tape at the crime scene investigation.
Photo by Robert Lachman/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

As it turned out, the deputy coroner was a fan of The Gits and was the first to identify Mia Zapata. Mia’s autopsy report was particularly brutal. She was violently raped, beaten, and bit. The young girl was then strangled with the strings of her hooded sweatshirt.

Strangled With Her Hoodie

Although she likely died of strangulation, reports revealed that she probably would have died anyway from the blunt force trauma to the abdomen and lacerated liver. Detectives believe that Mia was listening to music with her headphones when someone came up behind her and caught her off guard.

Mia Zapata is wearing a hoodie on stage.
Source: Facebook

But there was no evidence at the scene of the crime and no indication of who could have possibly done this. There was just one piece of evidence left on Mia’s body, but the general public was not aware. People only learned this information a decade later when the evidence led to an arrest.

Everyone Is a Suspect

Initially, the police looked at Mia’s friends in the music scene. Everyone was a suspect; everyone she knew was questioned, and detectives even confiscated Mia’s journals so they could look for clues. Her ex-boyfriend was the main suspect.

Old photo of Mia at a party with two male friends.
Source: Facebook

Mia’s friend, whom she hung out with earlier that night, told investigators that Mia was drunk and angry with him after they broke up. He managed to provide a solid alibi. However, some of her friends continued to suspect him. Employees from the Comet and studio space were also interviewed.

Trying to Crack the Case

Mia’s girlfriends were infuriated by the lack of support and felt the scrutiny they received was unjustified. They decided that the police were not investigating Mia’s murder the way they should have. They took matters into their own hands and raised money for a private investigator.

One of the tribute concerts done to raise money to fund a private investigator.
Source: YouTube

They weren’t going to let this guy get away with such a vicious crime. They were determined to figure out who had done this to their friend. Members of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and the band Soundgarden all donated money toward the cause to finally get justice for Mia.

Demanding Justice

But the biggest cry of support for Mia’s cause came from other women who heard about the young singer’s brutal death and had enough of all this. They were sick and tired of violence against women. They were over their fears and concerns being dismissed.

Women are protesting and demanding justice.
Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis/Getty Images

They were outraged that law enforcement failed to protect women from domestic violence as well as other heinous crimes. Inga Muscio, a journalist at Seattle’s The Stranger magazine, wrote a raging manifesto for young women demanding justice entitled Cunt: A Declaration of Independence. She wrote:

Reporting Rape in the ’90s

“I clung to the fact the newspaper and word of mouth accounts did not mention the word rape. Strangled, murdered, killed. Those words were already quite unbearable. No sooner would the word rape flit through my mind than I’d remind myself none of the newscasters mentioned it.”

Two police officers after declaring at the police disciplinary tribunal.
Photo by White/Fairfax Media/Getty Images

“I felt the world could still seem a halfway decent place so long as Mia Zapata wasn’t raped.” Somebody had to say it. Thankfully, rape and sexual assault are taken much more seriously today, but that certainly wasn’t the case back in the ’90s.

Raising Awareness

Muscio didn’t even know Mia but was angered at what had happened to her like many other women across America and the rest of the world. She was infuriated by the trivialization of Mia’s violent and inexplicable death and demanded solutions. The solution was Home Alive.

Home Alive Street sign at the entrance of Home Alive self-defense classes.
Source: Flickr

According to Home Alive’s Wikipedia page: “Violence occurs in childhood sexual abuse, date rape, intimate partner violence, and sexual harassment. The founders tried out other self-defense classes, but they found them lacking due to prices, and they offered restrictive rules for women. These rules included how women should dress conservatively and to never walk alone; thus, this was another decision to create Home Alive.”

A Women’s Self-Defense Program

Home Alive is a self-defense program for women. Twenty-seven years after the horrific murder of singer Mia Zapata, Home Alive is perhaps her greatest legacy. She inspired those who created the organization in the first place.

A woman demonstrates kicking a would-be attacker at a women's self-defense class.
Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photo/Getty Images

Mia’s friends from Seven Years Bitch also helped fund Home Alive, along with the profits from their 1994 album, Viva Zapata, which was also inspired by the loss of their friend. Singers Joan Jett and Kathleen Hannah of Bikini Kill also helped the organization by writing songs together and independently in order to raise money and awareness.

It Used to Be a Fun Scene

In the wake of Mia’s death, the carefree, chill vibe in Seattle turned into something much more serious. First, people were scared. A murderer was still out there and could strike someone else at any moment. People were worried, and the area was considered dangerous.

Mia is drinking with her best friend at a party.
Source: Instagram/@nehistripesseattle

Soon after, its reputation became a reality. The grudge scene was not the safest or healthiest environment. Months after Mia was murdered, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana took his own life, and his wife It definitely didn’t seem like the safest atmosphere.

Seattle Turned Scary

Many people went to Seattle in search of art, friendship, and most importantly, without the fear of what might happen. It was a place where a woman could feel safe going out to a bar with some friends and walking to catch a cab didn’t seal her fate.

A photo of Mia in the streets of Seattle before her death.
Mia Zapata. Source: Facebook

But Seattle was no longer that place. Some people moved out of the area and never looked back. Finally in 2003, a man was finally arrested for the murder of Mia Zapata. The evidence left on the singer’s body was saliva from the attacker biting her breast.

DNA Testing Technology

In 1993, they couldn’t do much with that saliva other than save it. But years went by, and methods to solve crimes advanced. There was now technology that was able to which was able to identify DNA using saliva. Then there was CODIS (combined DNA index system) for a possible match. CODIS found that match in 2002.

A scientific police is reading a DNA test.
Photo by Georges MERILLON/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

A fisherman named Jesus Mezquia, originally from Haiti was on probation in Florida on charges of theft. Of course, he denied both raping and killing Mia, stating he wasn’t in or near Seattle at the time.

Caught Him Red-Handed

But evidence proved otherwise. Traffic tickets showed where he was as well as an indecent exposure arrest just two weeks before Mia was murdered. Furthermore, after he was identified, a Seattle woman called police to report that this was the guy who sexually assaulted her just months after Mia was murdered. However, the woman didn’t file a police report at the time of the assault.

Mezquia is taken by police officers inside the police station / Mezquia mugshot.
Jesus Mezquia. Source: Tumblr / Tumblr

Mezquia has a long history of violence toward women and spent time behind bars for sexual assault and domestic battery. Every single one of his ex-girlfriends and his ex-wife made it clear that he abused them.

History of Violence Toward Women

Mezquia never confessed or admitted his guilt in Mia Zapata’s murder. In 2004, he was convicted of first-degree felony murder and sentenced to 37 years in the slammer, where he still remains today.

The Comet Tavern, the last place where Mia was seen alive.
Source: Instagram/@misskrash

The prosecution claimed that Mezquia saw Mia leave the studio and decided to follow her. Of course, she had no idea someone was following her, especially since she had her earphones in. The last thing she expected was for someone to grab her from behind before raping and killing her.

Science Doesn’t Lie

Once she was dead, Mezquia dragged her body into the alley, where he laid out her arms and crossed her feet. It’s also possible that he took her identification to slow down the investigation and gave himself time to escape. But DNA evidence doesn’t lie.

A criminalist is conducting a DNA test.
Photo by Steve Osman/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Mia Zapata has become a symbol of suffering like the icons Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday. Her early death was definitely not what she deserved. She is remembered for her voice, lyrics, life, and unfortunate death. After years of investigating, Mia got justice.

Found Guilty

After just three days of deliberation, the jury found Jesus Mezquia guilty on March 24, 2004. Judge Sharon Armstrong was able to give him the strong sentence of 37 years, exceeding the maximum amount, because of the “particularly painful injuries” that Mia suffered.

Steve Moriarty, drummer for The Gits, and Emily Marsh, Mia's friend, standing and crying after the verdict.
Steve Moriarty, Emily Marsh. Photo by Karen Ducey

King Country Judge Timothy Bradshaw said that the guilty verdict was “very gratifying.” “The friends, family, and band members who were in the courtroom that’s what they’ve been waiting to hear. But you realize when a measure of justice has been achieved, there’s also this sadness that sets in. You realize that it’s not going to bring her back.”

He Tortured Her

When Mia was found at 3:30 a.m. her body had been brutalized. Her sweatshirt was pulled underneath her arms, and her hood was tightly tied around her face and under her throat. Her torn bra, underwear, and wallet were shoved in the pocket of her jeans. This was clearly a murder.

Jesus Mezquia stands in the courtroom, handcuffed.
Jesus Mezquia. Source: Facebook

The singer had internal injuries, and her body showed obvious signs of rape. She was covered in scrapes and bruises, “including abrasions along the sides of her nipples,” according to Find Law. The medical examiner ruled that Mia was strangled to death with the drawstring on her sweatshirt.

10 Years Later…

As brutal as the horrific murder was, they had a few clues to go on. There wasn’t blood or semen found on the scene. There were no eyewitnesses either. The only thing they did find on Mia’s battered body was saliva from where she was bitten. Law enforcement saved it.

Portrait of Mia Zapata.
Source: Tumblr

In 1993, DNA evidence wasn’t as advanced as it is now, but in 2002, investigators took another look at the cold case and entered the unknown saliva into the DNA database, and they found a match: Jesus Mezquia, who is currently rotting in jail, as he deserves.

The Cold-Case Gets Hot

Although he was living in Florida when he was named a suspect in the Mia Zapata case, police quickly found out that he was in Seattle from 1992 to 1994; he lived just a mile and a half from the dead-end street where Mia’s body was found. His DNA had just entered the database after he was convicted of possessing burglary tools in 2002.

A toolbox full of burglary tools.
Photo by Holger Hollemann/picture alliance/Getty Images

Reportedly, his criminal history record included robbery, aggravated battery, and kidnapping. He was ultimately convicted and was sentenced to 36 years of prison in 2004. In 2005, his sentencing was overturned, according to The Seattle Times. But don’t worry, it was reinstated in 2009, and Mezquia has been locked up since 2003.

Mia’s Beautiful Legacy

Although Mia Zapata died at the tender age of 27, she still left a strong impact on the world. First off, she was an incredible talent and loved living an authentic, stress-free life of self-expression and creativity. She really changed the way people associated women in the punk world.

Valerie Agnew is playing on stage, displaying a shirt with the name Zapata / Portrait of Mia Zapata.
Valerie Agnew, Mia Zapata. Source: Facebook

But other than her undeniable talent, she inspired women everywhere to fight for other people who were sexually assaulted. Not only did they cause awareness, but they founded solutions and organizations dedicated to protecting women. As we mentioned, the organization Mia Zapata inspired is called Home Alive.

Home Alive

This anti-violence organization is truly committed to helping women in numerous ways. They even offer self-defense classes. The organization is still active and continues to operate as a volunteer collective. In addition to self-defense lessons, they offer classes in boundary setting and advanced multi-week courses.

Women self-dense class.
Photo by Gerald Martineau/The The Washington Post/Getty Images

Mia’s murder really brought attention to sexual violence against women. Home Alive raised awareness, and although they weren’t able to help Mia Zapata, they have certainly prevented other women from getting into dangerous situations. The organization made sure the singer’s death would not be in vain.