The sun had just come up on March 6, 2011 when a woman walking her dog spotted Zachary Lewis sprawled out in a vacant lot on Capitol Hill. It was around 6:35 AM when she called 911 to report Lewis, 37, had no pulse. Medics who arrived at the corner of E Federal and E Republican found his head covered in blood, brain and bone matter lying beside him. They pronounced him dead at the scene.
Seattle police officers who responded that morning knew they were dealing with a homicide. King County Medical Examiners would concur a day later — Lewis had been beaten to death.
Five years later, no suspect has been publicly named in connection to Lewis’s death. Court documents show Lewis tried to break up an altercation earlier in the night before his body was found.
Like many others who have died on the streets of Capitol Hill, Lewis struggled with addiction and mental health. He was living at 1811 Eastlake, a housing project for alcoholics at the base of Capitol Hill that allows residents to continue drinking.
The night before his body was found at the future Broadway Hill Park, Lewis had a run-in with police. Around 11 PM on March 5th officers responded to Broadway and E Republican regarding a fight (two blocks from where Lewis’s body would later be found). Four men, including Lewis, were interviewed by police and released. Lewis said he was simply trying to break up the scuffle.
An hour later, video surveillance footage shows Lewis returned to his apartment for about ten minutes and then left. One of the men involved with the fight later told police that he had met back up with Lewis that night. He said he was fighting with the two other men and denied having any problems with Lewis. The two walked along Broadway and then went their separate ways, he said.
A resident near the vacant lot told police he heard a group of men outside laughing around 3 AM that night. Another witness said he saw a man lying on the ground and making noises around 4 AM, but assumed he was snoring.
Eighteen months after Lewis died, there was a promising development in the case. The Washington State Patrol crime lab notified SPD that trace DNA not belonging to Lewis was found on his body. Technicians found DNA matching one individual in finger nail clippings, penile swabs, and neck swabs. Trace DNA belonging to a second individual was also found on Lewis.
Naturally, detectives wanted to test the DNA for a match against Lewis’s last known contact before his death. But Detectives learned that man, the one who met Lewis after the fight, died of natural causes two months earlier.
Because the man was a convicted felon, his DNA information was stored in a national database. In March 2013, detectives filed for a warrant to obtain his DNA profile and match it against the DNA found on Lewis. What transpired after that is still part of the sealed homicide investigation. Detectives could have closed the case if they believed the DNA testing clearly identified a suspect. Instead, it remains open and ongoing.
This week, Seattle Police declined to comment on the case citing a policy about open investigations. A photograph of Lewis joins 18 others in SPD’s list of cold cases since 2010.