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The Gits – Who Killed Mia Zapata?

Not only Kurt Cobain: a brutal murder shocks Seattle underground

The history of punk rock, through many of its most exposed personalities, made us aware of the extreme, of the “no future” attitude, of auto-celebration until self-destruction or of the pain deriving from lack of self-acceptance or lack of acceptance of one’s relevance within a certain scene, always with tragic endings.

Universally known and acknowledged figures are part of the public domain, even on the silver screen: Sid Vicious’ history with the Sex Pistols (portrayed by Alex Cox in the wonderous “Sid & Nancy”, from  1986), or the downward spiral of Germs’ Darby Crash (the controversial “What we do is secret” by Rodger Grossman was released in 2008), up to Joy Division’s Ian Curtis (Anton Corbijn’s “Control” biopic was released in 2007).

The list of artists, singers and frontmen that lost their bet against life or got out of it irreversibly damaged in their bodies and souls is way too long.

There’s, none the less, a crime news story that took place in the early 90’s American punk scene about which (almost) nobody said much and about which pieces of news or leads concerning the motive are hard to find.

First things first.

We’re in Ohio, it’s 1986.

Andrew Kessler, Matt Dresdner e Steve Moriarty, respectively guitarist, bass player and drummer, decide to form a band.

They need a singer and decide to ask to a friend of theirs that immediately accepts: this girl has been playing guitar and piano since she was nine, her idols are Ray Charles, Hank Williams and  Billie Holiday above them all, and she couldn’t wait to be in a band.

Her name is Mia.

Mia Katherine Zapata.

She comes from a well to do family but she doesn’t want any help from her parents, in fact, she decided to move to Ohio to go to college and work to pay for her tuition.

After three years spent writing and playing songs the four-piece (that, meanwhile, chose the name “The Gits”) moves to Seattle where the music scene seems to flourish and expand even to the venues, Mia will find work as a waitress in one of the said venues. 

The four youngsters start living in an old abandoned house that will later become their practice room too, they will name it “The Rathouse”.

Things are looking good for The Gits, the first promotional singles given to local radio stations and independent record labels are well received, they’re making a name for themselves and the band starts playing frequently throughout the area.

The band’s first album is released in 1992, “Frenching the bully”, a powerhouse of rough rock’n’roll mixed with some ’77 punk residues, in which Mia’s voice towers with fury and energetic confidence, lyrics aren’t particularly original, but the girl’s scenic presence and even more her attitude while singing are a catalyst.

At that time the scene in Seattle took off dramatically and the band, after the first enthusiastic feedbacks, was planning a European tour and the new album release in 1993.

The night between  July 6th and the 7th  of that year, after her shift at work, Mia takes a walk around the block to go to a friend’s house.

At 3:30 a.m. her body is found near a crossing in Central District Seattle, the coroner’s findings are unforgiving: she was beaten, raped and strangled.

Moreover being a fan of the band the coroner recognizes her, on the contrary, the police after some observations and in the absence of documents labelled her as a Jane Doe.

From here on we could consider the case as filed.

Nobody really seems to worry about finding a responsible or a motive.

Meanwhile, through their concerts and personal initiatives, Soundgarden, Nirvana and Pearl Jam raise, behind the scenes, almost 70.000 dollars to pay for a detective agency.

Press doesn’t cover the news, just like anyone else outside Settle’s community (and probably not even all of it), Mia Zapata’s name seems to be forgotten.

Obviously music will keep her memory alive: her friends, along with ex-members from the band and other bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Heart, and The Presidents Of The United States Of America create a self-defence group called “Home alive”, organizing benefit gigs and events to sustain women on their own or in trouble.

Meanwhile, Joan Jett records an album with the ex-Gits, “Evil Stig” (the palindrome for “Gits Live”) and along with Kathleen Hanna from Bikini Kill writes a song, “Go home”, in which video a girl is being stalked and then assaulted on the streets by a stranger, she manages to keep her calm and defend and repel the attacker…there’s no need to say all the international networks refused to show the video.

Sadly, what will happen to Kurt Cobain in April 1994, will just cloud even more the participation to the initiative honouring miss Zapata, whose homicide is still without both a killer and a motive.

We’ll have to wait until 2003, ten years after her death, when Jesus Mezquia, a fisherman from Florida, will be framed by some saliva traces found on the girl’s corpse.

Supporting this undeniable evidence, Mezquila has a history of arrests and accusations concerning domestic abuse and violence towards his girlfriends and ex-girlfriends.

There are no common threads between him and Mia Zapata before the aggression, but that’s the man that killed her.

Within feminist communities throughout America Mia Zapata’s name has become a symbol as an activist and artist free from preconceptions thanks to her freedom and autonomy.

The Gits have been a great band despite their singer’s wings were clipped just before the great breakthrough.

They’re a band that should be (re)discovered.

And Mia’s story should be rediscovered too, since it’s been buried and kept out of the spotlight for too long.

Que Viva Mia Zapata!

‘Heavy Angel – Mia Zapata: Exploring the living memory of a Seattle legend’ – Margaret O’Neil Girouard
‘The Tragic Murder of Mia Zapata’ – Gregg Davidson
‘The Gits: The Band The Music The Legacy’ – directed by Kerry O’Kane (DVD)
Atlanti Musicali Giunti: ‘Punk’ – Federico Guglielmi 

Who Killed Mia Zapata – Article by Ricky Koppo
Translation by Ivan

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