By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
So here we are, on a black vinyl gynecologist table, in a dungeon full of strangers . . . and I've just discovered something pretty intriguing about my new boyfriend. Mistress Belladonna appears in front of us, nodding approvingly as she checks our work. Then she realizes we're attached. She yanks our connected arms up, yelling to the entire class, "Look at the lovebirds! THEY'VE TIED THEMSELVES TOGETHER! Isn't that cute?"
For a few panicky seconds, I fear we've unwittingly committed a huge BDSM social faux pas. And then, as if on cue, like guests at a wedding, everyone smiles our way and sighs in unison, "Aaaaaaw!"
IN LATE AUGUST OF 1993, I STOOD BESIDE the grave of a woman I'd never met and tried to say something meaningful to a patch of Kentucky dirt. The grave belonged to a 27-year-old musician named Mia Zapata, the lead singer in a punk rock band called The Gits. She'd been found dead on a Seattle street that July. In a few hours I'd be flying back to Seattle to write something about Zapata for the Seattle Timesthat I hoped would be more eloquent. Her unsolved murder was my obsession that long, overcast summer.
This week my mind was catapulted back to that awkward moment by the news that the police finally had a suspect in custody, a 48-year-old Florida fisherman named Jesus C. Mezquia. He was charged with first-degree murder after DNA evidence allegedly linked him to a saliva sample taken from the breasts of Zapata's raped and beaten body. If he's extradited back to Washington, he could face the death penalty for Zapata's murder.
Zapata was buried in Louisville, Kentucky, because she'd spent her youth there. Back in Seattle, where she and her band mates had lived since 1989, the mourning in the music community was in full force. Her friends, including the members of Seven Year Bitch, had already started raising money to try to catch her killer. Eventually, Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Joan Jett would do benefits in Zapata's honor. Her bereft and angry friends would form a self-defense collective called Home Alive. It was the beginning of what would, eventually, be dubbed the end of the Seattle music scene's innocence. Seven Year Bitch guitarist Stefanie Sargent had died of a heroin overdose the year before. In less than a year, Kurt Cobain would kill himself.
All I really knew then was that I was looking at the fresh grave of a young woman just a couple of years younger than I, who lived in a neighborhood I knew, who went to bars I liked. I'd watched tapes of her singing, heard the husky force of her voice, the ferocity of her lyrics, looked at her artwork, read excerpts from her diary, and talked to her friends and family. There were rumors that she'd been raped, that maybe an obsessed fan or an angry ex-boyfriend had done it. Perhaps that staple of Northwest bogeymen, the Green River killer, had resurfaced. Because she was a musician with tattoos and unconventional hair, there were knee-jerk suppositions that drugs or alcohol somehow had to be involved.
For me, young and imaginative, the crime felt like a reflection of the Northwest. Choked with clouds, the place seemed riddled with a sense of doom, filled with outwardly cheery but inwardly bleak people. I wanted to know what wrong turn Zapata might have taken so I could avoid it. She'd been drinking at the Comet, a Capitol Hill bar, dropped by a friend's house, then supposedly went to catch a cab sometime around 2 a.m. It was the sensible-girl thing to do, spending a few dollars she didn't have (her day job was washing dishes at a pizzeria) to get home safely. A prostitute found her body about 90 minutes later. She'd been strangled with the cord of her Gits sweatshirt.
I was in Kentucky on other business, but I'd gone to her grave to pay my respects. I was also hoping for a piece of the story, to provide closure. In retrospect, one of those inadequate, facile swipes journalists take at trying to put things into context. In light of how many years it has taken to arrest someone, that now seems laughable. So do the dozens of stories others have written since, connecting Zapata's death with the passing of a great musical era.
Because, in the end, it was not about drugs, the times she lived in or the treachery of fame, which she reportedly never courted and achieved only posthumously. She was just a girl alone on a city street, perhaps bolstered by a tough exterior and the sense of empowerment that comes from captivating a live audience, but who was still ultimately wrenchingly vulnerable because of her sex.
If Mezquia is indeed the culprit, the Mia Zapata mystery was no crime of passion, just the act of an angry drifter who saw an opportunity and took it, every woman's elemental fear, no less so today than it was then. When it comes down to a man and a woman in an alley, the woman fighting for her life, the man fighting for whatever sick gratification he's after, the bitter truth is, the average woman will almost always lose the physical battle. That context is, sadly, ageless, and means far more in the long run than the end of the Seattle grunge scene.