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Why Running a Private Detective Business Is as Wild as You Think It Is

Stashed in: Crime!, Nirvana!, fun, Seattle, Florida!, DNA

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I thought real private detectives did nothing but insurance scam investigations, but apparently that is not true.


Zapata was the charismatic lead singer for a rising punk band called the Gits. In the wee hours of July 7, 1993, she was raped, beaten, and strangled, her body abandoned on a sidewalk. When the police investigation yielded little after five weeks, Zapata's bandmates decided to hire a private detective to keep the case alive. Together with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and other members of Seattle's famous music scene, they threw a benefit concert to raise the money.

"I wanted this job so badly," says Hearon. To land the case, she substantially cut her hourly rate and was soon chasing down and interviewing hundreds of people. "I would get 10 calls a day," she says. "People would say, 'I think you should look into so-and-so. He used to follow her around to concerts.' Or 'Mia had a relationship with this guy and he didn't take it well. I think you need to look at this person.'" She turned leads over to police, a gesture they did not reciprocate. "The cops really did hate me," says Hearon, validating that detective-fiction trope.

After three years, the money ran out. But Hearon kept going on and off for years, trading new theories with the medical examiner who'd performed the autopsy and chasing leads that continued to pour in by phone, until she'd eliminated virtually everyone in Zapata's very wide orbit. In 2003, police finally fingered the killer, a Cuban immigrant who had struck randomly and then lit out for Florida. The break occurred when his DNA turned up in a national database as the result of another crime. "Thank God for DNA," Hearon says.

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