The Gits and Mia Zapata

The Gits band photo, Mia Zapata in foreground.

The Gits band photo, Mia Zapata in foreground.

I was sleeping with the tv on this afternoon when a cold case crime show on A&E reached thru my slumber. I kept hearing the name “Mia Zapata” and “rape and murder” conversations with her father “Richard Zapata.” I awoke and watched the last 15 minutes of the show. It told the story of the 1993 murder & rape of an up and coming singer named Mia Zapata. My curiosity was peaked and so I googled “Mia Zapata” and found that there had been a film made entitled “The Gits” that documented not just her murder but the her band The Gits as well. So I followed the link to SnagFilms and watched it. What joy was mine!
Note: follow this link to view
“The Gits” on SnagFilms.

I was very moved by this documentary as it followed the formation and career rise of The Gits, a band that migrated from their starting point as undergrads at Antioch College in Ohio, to Seattle, WA. We follow their early days when they had to fight to get a gig at the one of the city’s hot spots for live alternative music to their being approached by Atlantic Records for a deal. This was Seattle in the early 1990′s, when the record industry first caught wind of the burgeoning grunge music scene. Mia was well liked, young and attractive with a lovely soulful deep voice. She was a girl of her time, with blonde dreads, tee shirt, torn off shorts, tights and combat boots. Mia along with her band-mates, fellow musicians and artists were living in a rich time of creative expression: living on the edge, broke, but making their art and loving it. They lived together in a big old house, wrote music, played shows, went to shows and encouraged others to do the same.

Then life’s random hand struck down and snatched up their rising star.

Mia had been hanging with friends, happy and triumphant after playing a solo gig in LA that “she got paid for.” At around midnight, she bid her buddies farewell – I’m sure with the promise to “see ya later” – and said she was going to grab a cab and drop by another friend’s apartment… She was never seen alive again.

Her battered, raped and strangled body was found abandoned on a deserted road a mile and half away.

One of her friends is seated looks at the camera and says: “I got a call from Steve saying that Mia was missing…” You see her reliving that very moment – it broke my heart.

After waiting for her return and calling around, Mia’s band-mates finally broke down and decided to check the morgue. And there she was, tagged as a Jane Doe, identified by the rooster tattoo on her leg. Mia’s circle of friends and fellow musicians (whom we’d gotten to know pretty well by this time) try to describe their shock, devastation, and horror. It was unreal. The tragedy of the situation struck me and I didn’t even know the girl.

I am always moved when someone goes missing. I am always hopeful -when the search is on- that there will be a happy ending. More often than not, I am forced to face the usual outcome: death by violence and molestation. I can only imagine the terror and worry that these kids must have felt.

And then the worst is yet to come: no leads, no suspects and the subsequent police questioning of all of Mia’s male friends and acquaintances. This intimate group was getting shook up pretty badly. And still nothing. The case grows cold. Mia’s friends start hosting fundraisers to hire a private detective and rock stars like Nirvana and Joan Jett become involved

Money is raised and still, nothing.

And then – the very issue that made this story palatable for Cold Case – a sample of human saliva taken and preserved from her body is brought back into play. DNA samples were being taken in 1993 but the technology was not perfected to extract viable DNA profiles from smaller samples. Not like today.

Everyone had given up hope that the killer would ever be found.

Then, more than a decade later, a DNA profile was extracted and processed and entered into a DNA profile datbase and they got a hit. The killer was found living in Florida and the absolute randomness of the violence hit home, again. This man was a complete stranger -a predator. Mia was a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The killer never testified and so we never know the exact details of the attack but it’s our imagination that creates the worst picture. He was convicted and sentenced to 36 years in prison.

The killer was big, mean and powerful looking. One of Mia’s friends says she is horrified that his was the last face Mia saw as she was savagely beaten, raped and strangled. It was a vicious crime… and so incredibly random.

That poor, poor girl.

The film cuts to her father who talks about the wake and the long line of people waiting to see Mia and show their respects. He speaks of another wake held by her peers and how lost he and the family were as they drove around trying to find the location. Then he remembered that admission to the wake was one yellow rose and he turns to his wife and says “Honey, let’s just follow all the people carrying the yellow roses, I know we’ll get there.” And that’s how they found the second wake.

I am weeping as I write this.

People talk about how she influenced their lives and their music. And one might wonder how someone so young who never reached national acclaim could affect anyone. I guess it’s the tragedy of it, the promise of a young life snuffed out for no reason and the film, which keeps the story alive.

I know I have been affected by Mia’s story.

I’m gonna sing better tonight because I saw this film. It truly depicts the great love we artists have for what we do. This economy – the “business” in general sometimes make me lose sight of that fact. I do love what I do and it is all about expression and freedom and the happiness we can bring to others in the mix.

I am another example of how her life has touched someone who did not know her personally. I like her music. She had a good voice.

Viva Zapata!

6 Responses to "The Gits and Mia Zapata"

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