The Murder of Mia Zapata

The fiery punk singer’s star was on the rise, only to be brutally snuffed out

DeLani R. Bartlette
6 min readFeb 22, 2021
Mia Zapata. Image courtesy of Jackie Ransier.

In the early 1990s, punk band The Gits were on their way up. Nirvana had recently moved the capital of rock music to Seattle, The Gits’ adopted hometown, and major record labels were scouting the city for the next big thing.

The Gits, fronted by 27-year-old singer Mia Zapata, had moved to Seattle from Ohio in 1989. Over the next four years, they lived and recorded at “the Rathouse,” an abandoned house in the low-rent, high-crime Capitol Hill neighborhood. The band soon became part of the innovative local music scene and built up a respectable fan base thanks to their intense live shows and Zapata’s powerful bluesy vocal style.

They also toured extensively along the West Coast, often performing with more widely known bands like Nirvana, Sublime, Beck, and Green Day. In 1991, they released three singles with three different indy labels and embarked on a European tour. The following year, they released their first album, Frenching the Bully, with indy label C/Z.

In the summer of 1993, while The Gits were recording their second album, they were offered a contract with Atlantic Records. Their hard work and dedication to their music was on the cusp of paying off.

On July 6 of that year, The Gits had just returned to Seattle from another West Coast tour; they were only going to be in town for a few days before embarking on yet another tour, this time across the US and Europe. Their upcoming tour would follow the Pope, in protest, and would include New York City — their first-ever gig there.

That night Zapata was celebrating with friends at her favorite hangout, the Comet Tavern, which was also in the Capitol Hill area. She left, on foot, around midnight to go look for her boyfriend, another musician, who recorded in an apartment building a few blocks away.

Not finding her boyfriend, she stopped by to visit a friend who lived in the same building. The two visited for a while, then Zapata left around 2 a.m. the morning of July 7. The friend said she tried to convince Zapata to stay the night, but Zapata said she’d just get a cab home.

It was the last time anyone would see her alive.

Only 80 minutes later, around 3:20 a.m., a woman walking along the street in the Central area of town, about two miles away from the Comet Tavern, saw Zapata lying in a deserted parking lot. Zapata was lying on her back, her ankles crossed, her arms out to her sides as though she were being crucified. She was fully clothed, and the hood of her sweatshirt had been pulled down over her face. The string from the hoodie was wrapped around her neck.

The woman ran to the nearby fire department and reported it. When first responders arrived, Zapata’s body was still warm, but despite their best efforts, she couldn’t be revived.

Even though she didn’t have any ID on her, the medical examiner — a fan of The Gits — recognized her. The autopsy showed that Zapata had been sexually assaulted and strangled with the string from her hoodie. Afterwards, her killer had re-dressed her and stuffed her bra and underwear into her pockets. One of the cups of her bra had been cut off.

Though there was no DNA left from the sexual assault, the medical examiner noticed a ring of small bruises on her breast, resembling a bite mark. The mark wasn’t clear enough to obtain a bite pattern, but it was swabbed. Tests showed the presence of amylase, an enzyme found in saliva, meaning that there was likely to be DNA present as well. However, the sample was so small, it couldn’t be analyzed with the technology of the time.

In 1993, the technology for obtaining DNA profiles from very small samples — polymerase chain reaction, or PCR — had been invented, but it would be several more years before that technology was widely available to investigators. So the sample sat on an evidence shelf.

Meanwhile, the Seattle Police Department ran down every angle they could imagine: jealous boyfriend, stalker fan, angry ex. But nothing panned out.

Frustrated with the lack of progress in the case, the remaining Gits held benefit shows to raise money to hire a private investigator. The private investigator was able to build a few leads, which she always turned over to police, but none of those led anywhere either.

Zapata’s murder — and the fact that her killer still hadn’t been caught — shook the Seattle music scene. The once carefree, easy-going vibe turned into suspicion and fear. This hit her female fans particularly hard. One of her friends, Valerie Agnew of the band 7 Year Bitch, started an organization called Home Alive, which offered self-defense and firearms training.

Despite everyone’s work, years went by with no leads.

As Zapata’s case grew colder, The Gits and other bands would hold benefit concerts — which featured Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Joan Jett, and other big names — to keep her case in the public eye. Her case was even featured on Unsolved Mysteries in 1996, earning it national media attention. But it didn’t result in a single viable lead.

Though Zapata’s case had gone cold, her friends and fans kept her memory alive. Joan Jett, 7 Year Bitch, and alt-country band Richmond Fontaine wrote tribute songs to Zapata. Her singing career and murder were featured in Hype! (affiliate link), a documentary about the 1990s Seattle music scene.

It wasn’t until 2001 when investigators could finally use the PCR test to analyze the one piece of evidence found at the scene: the DNA sample. Once the profile was created, it was entered in CODIS, the national DNA database. But, to the disappointment of everyone involved, it turned up no matches.

The Seattle PD continued to run the sample through CODIS at weekly intervals, hoping a new entry would provide a match. Nearly a year went by with no luck.

Then, in December 2002, the final break in the case came. The DNA found on Zapata’s body was matched to a man arrested on burglary charges in Florida: Jesus Mezquia.

A background check showed Mezquia, who had been kicked out of his native Cuba, had a violent streak, with convictions of assault, domestic battery, and robbery. His last known address was in Marathon, Florida. The Seattle PD requested the US Marshals, who have jurisdiction across the nation, to put Mezquia under surveillance. But when officers arrived to question him, he was gone.

Upon questioning Mezquia’s wife, they learned that he had just left that day to go to Miami. Florida authorities quickly found him and brought him in.

Mezquia, who stood 6 foot 4 inches, was, at first, cooperative. He admitted that he had lived in Seattle in 1993, in an apartment just blocks from where Zapata’s body was found. But he denied ever having met Zapata, let alone killing her.

He had no explanation for why his saliva was on her breast.

At trial, Mezquia pled not guilty; his defense tried to explain away the DNA evidence by claiming it could have gotten there by simply floating through the air.

On March 24, 2004, after three days of deliberation, a jury found Mezquia guilty of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 36 years, the maximum allowed by Washington state law.

In the years since her death, Mia Zapata’s story has been told numerous times. Her case was featured on several popular true-crime shows, such as Forensic Files, American Justice, Cold Case Files, and others. A documentary film, The Gits (affiliate link), covered the band’s history as well as her murder and the eventual conviction of her killer. It screened at the Seattle International Film Festival in 2005, where it won the Seattle Filmmakers Award. In 2007, it screened at SXSW and several international film festivals.

Her fans and friends always believed that Zapata would leave a mark on the Seattle music scene. It was only pure bad luck that she only made it after her death.


Chiu, David. “Mia Zapata Murdered in 1993, Changing Seattle Grunge Scene,” Rolling Stone, July 9, 2018.

“The Day the Music Died,” Forensic Files, Season 12 Episode 7.

“The Murder of Mia Zapata,” Crime Documentary.

Unsolved Mysteries, Season 8 Episode 9.