The Gospel According to John Lennon

That’s what Mark Chapman scribbled in his bible the night before he assassinated one of the world’s most peaceful and celebrated musicians. He turned to the New Testament of the King James Bible, located the Book of John and scrawled Lennon beside Jesus’ disciple’s name. He wrote “This is my statement,” and signed it Holden Caulfield inside a copy of the novel Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Somehow the disturbed man saw a parallel between himself and the profoundly disturbed Caulfield, an intrinsically good yet tormented character, who pictured himself saving wayward children as they came running through fields of rye. He would bring the novel with him to kill Lennon and, after shooting the rock star, police would find him reading a chapter.

mark_david_chapmanChapman, like Bardo from the previous blog, was an obsessed, demented stalker who believed his mission in life was to assassinate John Lennon. His reasoning? Lennon sang about peace and a non-materialistic lifestyle but he lived a wealthy life himself. Chapman later said that “He told us to imagine no possessions and there he was, with millions of dollars and yachts and farms and country estates, laughing at people like me who had believed the lies and bought the records and built a big part of their lives around his music.” The picture above is of Chapman in 2012, twelve years after the shooting. He is still incarcerated in Attica prison outside of Buffalo, New York.

He idolized Lennon, and played guitar himself, but turned on him after becoming born-again; he was angered at Lennon’s comment that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.Chapman disapproved; it was blasphemy. That would never do. Lennon had to go.

Walking on Thin Ice
On December 9, 1980, a celebrity photographer went to the Lennons’ apartment to do a photo shoot (pun) for Rolling Stone  magazine. Leibovitz promised Lennon that a photo with Ono would make the front cover of the magazine, even though she initially tried to get a picture with Lennon by himself.  Leibovitz claimed, “Nobody wanted [Ono] on the cover“. Lennon insisted, and after taking the pictures, Leibovitz left their apartment at 3:30 p.m. After the photo shoot, Lennon unknowingly gave what would be his last interview to San Francisco DJ Dave Sholin for a music show to be broadcast on the RKO Radio Network.

At 5:40 p.m., December 8, 1980, Lennon and Ono, delayed by a late limousine, left their apartment to mix the song, ironically titled “Walking on Thin Ice” (an Ono song featuring Lennon on lead guitar) at the Record Plant Studio. None of Ono’s songs ever made the charts in the U.S. or anywhere in the world. Well, she tried. Would it have mattered if the limousine that arrived to pick up the famous duo had been on time? We’ll never know.

Is this all you want?
Lennon_and_ChapmanAs Lennon and Ono walked to a limousine, shared with the RKO Radio crew, they were approached by several people seeking autographs. Among them was Mark David Chapman, a 25-year-old security guard from Hawaii who had previously travelled to New York to murder Lennon in October (before the release of Double Fantasy), but had changed his mind (chickened out) and returned home.  Chapman silently handed Lennon a copy of Double Fantasy, and Lennon obliged with an autograph. After signing the album, Lennon asked, almost as if a premonition, “Is this all you want?” Chapman smiled and nodded in agreement. Well, not quite. He wanted Lennon’s life too.

Chapman had been waiting for Lennon outside the Dakota since mid-morning, and had even approached the Lennons’ five-year-old son, Sean, who was with the family nanny, Helen Seaman, when they returned home in the afternoon.  According to Chapman, he briefly touched the boy’s hand.

At 10:50 p.m., Lennon had decided against dining out so he could be home in time to say goodnight to his son, another fortuitous occurrence. Lennon liked to oblige any fans who had been waiting for long periods of time to meet him with autographs or pictures, once saying during an interview with BBC Radio’s Andy Peebles on 6 December 1980: “People come and ask for autographs, or say ‘Hi’, but they don’t bug you.” I should imagine they don’t normally shoot celebrities either. The Lennons exited their limousine on 72nd Street instead of driving into the more secure courtyard of the Dakota.

“Mr. Lennon.”
The Dakota’s doorman, ex-CIA Agent Jose Sanjenis Perdom, and a nearby cab driver saw Chapman standing in the shadows by the archway. As Lennon passed by, he glanced briefly at Chapman, appearing to recognise him from earlier. Seconds later, Chapman, in the most cowardly manner possible, took aim directly at the center of Lennon’s back and fired five hollow-point bullets at him from a Charter Arms.38 Special revolver in rapid succession from a range of about nine or ten feet away. Based on statements made that night by NYPD Chief of Detectives, James Sullivan, numerous radio, television, and newspaper reports claimed at the time that, before firing, Chapman called out “Mr. Lennon” and dropped into a combat stance.

Later court hearings and witness interviews did not include either “Mr. Lennon” or the “combat stance” description. Chapman has said he does not remember calling out Lennon’s name but he dropped into a combat stance.Mark David Chapman The Lennon’s name before he fired, but he claimed to have taken a “combat stance” in a 1992 interview with Barbara Walters. The first bullet missed, passing over Lennon’s head and hitting a window of the Dakota building. Two of the next bullets struck Lennon in the left side of his back, and two more penetrated his left shoulder. Lennon, bleeding profusely from external wounds and also from his mouth, staggered up five steps to the security/reception area, saying, “I’m shot, I’m shot“. He then fell to the floor, scattering cassettes that he had been carrying. The first of the Fab Four comprising the legendary rock and roll band The Beatles, was dead.

Thy Will be Done
Chapman’s legal team put forward an insanity defense based on expert testimony that he was in a delusional, psychotic state at the time, but Chapman instructed his lawyer that he wanted to plead guilty, based on what he had decided was the will of God. Judge Edwards allowed the plea change without further psychiatric assessment after Chapman denied hearing voices, and sentenced him to a prison term of twenty years to life with a stipulation that mental health treatment be provided. Chapman was imprisoned in 1981 and has been denied parole eight times amidst campaigns against his release, It is unlikely that the delusional man will ever be released. Probably just as well. We don’t want Paul McCartney to be the next Beatle to take a bullet in the back. For his part, upon hearing about his former band mate’s murder, McCartney made the perverse statement, “a drag, isn’t it?”

Mark David Chapman
Chapman stated that as a boy, he lived in fear of his father, who he said was physically abusive towards his mother and unloving towards him. Chapman fantasized about having king-like power over a group of imaginary “little people” who lived in the walls of his bedroom. By the time he was fourteen, Chapman was using drugs, skipping classes, and he once ran away from home to live on the streets of Atlanta for two weeks. He said that he was bullied at school because he was not a good athlete. I believe he was bullied at school but I have my doubts that athletics had anything to do with it. Perhaps he conversed with the imaginary little people in the presence of his peers a little too often.

In 1977 Chapman attempted suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning with his car but the attempt failed. Around that time, his mother began divorce proceedings against his father. Chapman met Goria Abe, his travel agent, and they married on June 2, 1979. Chapman went to work at Castle Memorial Hospital as a printer, working alone rather than with staff and patients. He was fired by the Castle Memorial Hospital, rehired, then got into a shouting match with a nurse and quit. He took a job as a night security guard and began drinking heavily. Chapman developed a series of obsessions, including artwork, The Catcher in the Rye, music, and John Lennon. He also started talking with the imaginary ‘little people’ in his head again. In September 1980, he wrote a letter to a friend, Lynda Irish, in which he stated, “I’m going nuts.”

Holden_CaulfieldI would listen to this music and I would get angry at him, for saying that he didn’t believe in God… and that he didn’t believe in the Beatles. This was another thing that angered me, even though this record had been done at least 10 years previously. I just wanted to scream out loud, ‘Who does he think he is, saying these things about God and heaven and the Beatles?’ Saying that he doesn’t believe in Jesus and things like that. At that point, my mind was going through a total blackness of anger and rage. So I brought the Lennon book home, into this The Catcher in the Rye milieu where my mindset is Holden Caulfield and anti-phoniness.”

After being inspired by the film Ordinary People, starring Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore, a story about a couple whose son drowns during a boating accident, Chapman returned to Hawaii, telling his wife he had been obsessed with killing Lennon. He showed her the gun and bullets, but she did not inform the police or mental health services. He made an appointment to see a clinical psychologist but later cancelled it.

In 1981, Chapman was imprisoned at Attica outside of Buffalo, New York. After Chapman fasted for 26 (ironically) days in February 1982, the New York State Supreme Court authorized the state to force feed him. Martin Von Holden, the director of the Central New York Psychiatric Center, said that Chapman still refused to eat with other inmates but agreed to take liquid nutrients. Chapman was confined to a Special Handling Unit (SHU) for violent and at-risk prisoners, in part due to concern that he might be harmed by Lennon’s fans in the general population.

chapter27Today Chapman is in the Family Reunion Program, and is allowed one conjugal visit a year with his wife.  To date, Chapman has given three television interviews about the murder. One occurred on December 8, 1980.  On December 4, 1992, 20/20 aired an interview with Barbara Walters his first television interview in  12 years since the shooting. On December 17, 1992, Larry King  interviewed Chapman on the program Larry King Live. Chapman’s experiences during the weekend on which he committed the murder have been turned into an interesting, albeit inaccurate feature-length movie called Chapter 27, in which he was brilliantly played by Jared Leto (pictured). When denying Chapman parole for the seventh time, the three-member parole board stated that Chapman showed a continued interest in “maintaining your notoriety,” by granting media interviews…. [They] also do not want to risk the “political heat” of releasing Lennon’s killer. Chapman is scheduled for another parole hearing in August 2016. Hopefully the parole committee maintains the same level-headedness they have displayed so far in denying the killer parole.

And as far as anyone knows,  John Lennon is in an imaginary place with no heaven and no hell.

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