Mark David Chapman—the man who shot John Lennon—was obsessed with delusions of grandeur. He fancied himself John Lennon and shot the famous musician to get rid of the “double”.
In the seventies, the famous and much-admired John Lennon lived almost as a hermit in a New York house facing the Central Park. Although he enjoyed the freedom of morals and the wild, carefree life of New York, he was paranoid about his privacy and his own safety. The first time he received death threats was in 1964, when the famous foursome known to the world as the Beatles performed in France. During the concert, John Lennon was handed a note stating that he would die that night. However, this threat, as well as several others that followed it, was not carried out. Obviously, someone wanted just to scare the singer. Still, John was aware of his vulnerability and preferred to spend time in a huge bed with Yoko Ono, shutting out the dangerous outside world and the envious public. But six thousand miles and four time zones away, there was a man whose desire to kill John Lennon had become an all-consuming passion. Mark Chapman has been an ardent fan of Lennon since the musician began his star trek as part of the legendary four. Chapman loved the philosophy of his songs and idolized Lennon as a preacher of love and peace. But somewhere in the depths of Chapman’s soul, the spark of love was fading and the flames of envy and hatred were kindled. To better understand the reasons for the transformation of Mark David Chapman into the man who shot John Lennon, you need to know some episodes of his childhood and his interests.
The Man Who Shot John Lennon
The man who shot John Lennon was born to David and Diane Chapman in Atlanta, the capital of a southern state, in May 1955. His father, a former air force sergeant, was a bank employee; his mother, a homemaker, was a charity worker. There was nothing unusual about his childhood. This was the life of millions of his peers around the world: usual disappointment in love affairs, a couple of puffs of dope, a few cans of beer at the appropriate age. At fourteen, he ran away from home for a week; at fifteen, he became a “follower of Christ” with long hair, a shirt tied with a rope, a large cross around his neck, and the ever-present Bible under his arm. Always impressionable, in a state of constant high tension and with a keen desire to assert himself, he rushed from one whim to another, including drugs. Drugged with marijuana, he liked to fall into a ghostly dream.
“The Lord God spoke to me”
When Mark was sixteen, he quit marijuana and declared: “An event occurred in my life that is much more significant than anything I have experienced before. The Lord God spoke to me and made me understand that I had to show the best that is in me.” Chapman became assistant director of the Christian Youth Union summer camp. Tony Adams, Mark’s boss, recalled: “He had all the qualities of a leader; he was very attentive, sensitive, there was not even the word “hate” in his vocabulary. He admitted that in his youth he used drugs, but then he felt that God touched him and his whole life turned upside down. I think the summer camp years were the best years of his life. This may be the last time he experienced happiness.” Children were fascinated by him. He knew a lot of fairy tales and always captured their attention for a long time.
But in 1974, Mark read a book that changed his life. Someone gave him “The Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger. This novel about a beauty-sensitive, dreamy teenager, Holden Colefield, standing alone against the cruel and hostile world, touched Chapman’s naked nerves deeply. He compared himself to the main character and quoted his favorite passage from the book to anyone who would listen: ” I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around—nobody big, I mean—except me.” The book has become an anthem, a symbol for disillusioned teenagers all over the world. But no one took it to heart and no one distorted its meaning as much as Mark Chapman. At that time, rock music broke into his complicated life. Tod Rundgren, Jimi Hendrix, and Bob Dylan became his favorites. But the Beatles remained at the top of his reverence, and his favorite singer was still John Lennon. No, he didn’t love Lennon’s music, he loved his philosophy, his revelations about peace, love and justice. Mark even played guitar and tried to copy his idol in everything, although he realized that he was far from the genius of Lennon. So, he concentrated on his studies, hoping to get a full-time paid job at the Christian Youth Union later. In 1975, after attending a course of lectures at a college, Mark Chapman was sent to Beirut by the Youth Union. But his mission soon ended, as civil war broke out in Lebanon. After Lebanon, Chapman went to Arkansas, where the Christian Youth Union camp moved to help Vietnamese refugees. Once again, he achieved popularity, this time among Asian immigrants, and earned deep gratitude of the people for whom he worked. There were changes in his personal life. Mark met a girl—Jessica Blankenship. He adored her, but after leaving Fort Chaffee in December 1975, his mood changed dramatically. Jessica recalled that Mark began to talk about death more and more often, about how the history of the human race is a history of struggle. He fell into a state of long-term depression and constantly talked about suicide.
In search of love and kindness
Jessica convinced Mark to continue his studies. He needed an education to fulfill his dream to become leader of the Christian Youth Union. But after one semester, Chapman dropped out of college. Jessica left him soon afterwards. He spent the summer of 1976 in a camp, but in the fall he got a job as a security guard and became an excellent marksman. It seemed that everything was going well. But unexpectedly for himself, Mark began to gain weight quickly. His own appearance irritated him, and every day he became more and more embittered. In 1977, after his parents’ divorce, Chapman flew to Honolulu, Hawaii. One day, he rented a car and went to a place with a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean. He attached one end of the hose to the exhaust pipe of the car, and the other led to the salon. He was saved by a passerby who knocked on the window. Chapman had been in the gas-filled cabin for fifteen minutes and then wondered why he hadn’t died. He realized this when he looked at the outside of the hose: the hot exhaust gas had burned a hole in it. Chapman was angry that his suicide plan had failed. But after this incident, he went to a clinic, where he was advised to undergo a long course of treatment by psychiatrists. His mother flew to Hawaii to be with him, but she couldn’t help Mark’s state of mind. He was saddened that with a record of attempted suicide, he would never get a decent job at the Christian Youth Union.
In 1978, when he saved some money, he went on a trip around the world. His route was Tokyo—Seoul—Singapore—Kathmandu—Delhi—Tel Aviv—Paris—London. After returning to Honolulu, he worked in a hospital. The need in an intimate relationship became so acute that he decided to formalize his relationship with Gloria Abe, an American of Japanese origin. They were married in June 1979, eighteen months before John Lennon was killed. But because of Mark’s erratic behavior, their marriage soon fell apart: he spent hundreds of dollars to purchase expensive works of art, which he could hardly afford. It was at that time when the would-be killer began to talk about John Lennon’s “betrayal”. Gloria listened to his pompous monologues, in which he blamed the singer for his wealth and views on life, on the world, on love. On October 23, he affixed a piece of paper with the words “John Lennon” above his desk, and four days later bought a short-barreled gun for $169. A few days later, Mark Chapman was in New York. Then, he visited his hometown of Atlanta, where he told a local priest that there was a constant struggle between good and evil in his soul, but refused to give any details. He also visited Jessica. She would later say that Mark looked very crestfallen.
Chapman returned to New York even more depressed, as his visit to the Christian Youth Union, where he spent several happy summers, showed that he was completely forgotten there. Chapman began hanging around the house where Lennon lived, trying to get lost in the crowd of onlookers and passers-by who wanted to catch a glimpse of their idol. After Mark’s arrest one man exclaimed: “I saw him on the day of the murder! I live not far from here, and I remember seeing this guy a few days earlier. It’s always full of people waiting for John. But this one stood out. He went back and forth as if he was impatient.” Chapman was staying at the Christian Youth Union of New York. On December 7, Sunday, he checked in there and moved to an expensive hotel. All the next day, he was back in front of Lennon’s house with a fourteen-hour tape of Beatles songs in his hands and a new album of Lennon and Yoko under his arm. He also had a gun and a constant companion of his life, The Catcher in the Rye. In the crowd of fans, Mark started talking to a young blonde. They had a meal together in a restaurant, and after lunch they were joined by Paul Goresh, an amateur photographer who was also an ardent fan of the musician. In a few minutes, exactly at 16.30, Lennon came out into the street, accompanied by Yoko. As he started toward the limo, Chapman stepped out of the crowd and handed him the album. “Autograph, please,” he said, his voice breaking with excitement. John paused for a moment, while Goresh took a picture of him.
“I just shot John Lennon”
John Lennon returned home at 11.30 PM. Mark Chapman was waiting for him in the shadows. “Mr. Lennon!” he called. John turned to see who had hailed him, and then, torn by the most conflicting emotions, Chapman fired five bullets at the musician. Yoko Ono knelt down and cradled her husband’s head in her hands as the doorman shouted to Chapman: “Do you know what you’ve done?” “I just shot John Lennon,” Mark replied calmly. He was arrested immediately, near the house, and Lennon was rushed to the Roosevelt hospital. He was semi-conscious, but still alive, although he had lost a great deal of blood. “It was impossible to save him by any means,” said Dr. Stephen Lynn, head of the ambulance service, a few hours later. “He lost too much blood, about eighty percent of the total. Yoko has already been informed of his death.” The news spread through New York city at night at lightning speed. In about an hour, thousands of people gathered outside the house where John Lennon lived. They stood with lighted candles in memory of him. The crowd sang Lennon’s songs, and the telegraphs carried the details of this terrible murder to all the newspapers of the world. President Jimmy Carter spoke of the irony that “Lennon fell victim to violence, although he always fought for peace”, and the new President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, called the murder “the greatest tragedy”. The world went into mourning.
Chapman was charged with murder and ordered to undergo a thirty-day psychiatric evaluation. Under heavy guard, Chapman was placed in a separate room in one of the hospitals, where they kept an eye on him round-the-clock to prevent him from committing suicide. It was feared that the man who shot John Lennon might be killed by Lennon fans. So, he was transferred to the city jail. The second lawyer—the first lawyer refused to conduct the case, as the indignation of people grew day by day, and with it the threat of reprisals against the killer—said that the accused would be acquitted at the trial because of his mental illness. When the case was heard in court in August 1981, the defense attorney Jonathan Marks argued against claims that Mark had stalked Lennon, as if sneaking up on him, and did not feel remorse after the murder. He described him as a person with a deeply disturbed psyche and emphasized: “All reports contain the same conclusion: Mark David Chapman is an abnormal person. This was not a deliberate crime. It was committed in a state of insanity.” But Chapman pleaded guilty to murder. Nevertheless, it is impossible to say for sure that he is a person with a healthy mind. When given the opportunity to say a few words in court, he simply quoted a passage from The Catcher in the Rye, which became his gospel. In a New York TV studio, psychiatrists gathered to try to explain to America why Lennon died. The most convincing version of the motives for the crime was put forward by the Hawaiian psychiatrist Robert Marvit. He said: “Mark began to sign his name as Lennon. It is safe to say that he believed that he was Lennon or was turning into him. At a critical moment Chapman could say to himself: “Jesus, Lennon knows there are two of us. I must reduce them to one.” But if we look at the Mark David Chapman phenomenon in its entirety, I’m not sure we’ll ever know what really drove It, what set this diabolical mechanism in motion.”
Possessed by demons
Many years passed before the man who shot John Lennon first spoke of the demons that led him to murder, how he begged God’s forgiveness for this terrible crime. In 1991, the killer of John Lennon agreed to be interviewed about the events that led to the fatal shots. He claimed to had heard an ominous whisper: “Do it! Do it! Do it!” He claimed that he trained for three days in a hotel room before ambushing Lennon at the entrance to his New York apartment. During his time in prison, Chapman received more death threats than any other inmate in America. Beatles fans did not forgive him for killing the peace and freedom singer John Lennon. Even his father could not forgive him and never visited him in prison.
However, Chapman hopes to eventually beg forgiveness from God and from people. He says: “I felt completely broken. I was infuriated by the knowledge that I was going to be a fake Lennon. I looked at his photos. Put yourself in my place. Here he stands on the roof of a luxury building. So young and beautiful! He encouraged us to develop our imagination, not to be greedy. And I believed him! All the walls of my room were covered with photos of the Beatles. I believed they didn’t do it for money. From the age of ten I was imbued with the rightness of John Lennon, I accepted him with all my heart… But suddenly I found “little men” in my head. I spoke to them every day, asking them what I had to do. And it was they, the “little men”, who convinced me to kill the famous musician John Lennon. They were terrified. They were shocked. They were part of my conscience, and when I didn’t listen to my conscience, there was nothing left in me to control me. I was left alone. And then I would rip off my clothes, play Beatles records, and pray to Satan. I screamed and screamed into the tape recorder: “John Lennon must die! John Lennon is a liar!”
The mad monologue was accompanied by an ominous melody that he taped over the Strawberry Fields song. Chapman said that his hesitation between God and Satan lasted two months in 1980, and then he went to a gun store and bought a rapid-fire pistol. With that weapon, he wrested doubtful laurels of the man who shot John Lennon. He admitted that he was obsessed with the idea of murder for several days. “I prayed and after a long struggle, with God’s help, I won. I called my wife Gloria and said: “Your love saved me. I have won a great victory. I’ll be home soon.” But the demons came back, and I went to New York in December.” Chapman waited for three days and went to the house where Lennon lived, with the new album of the singer. “Lennon was very cordial to me,” Chapman continued. “I handed him the album, and he took out a black pencil and scribbled on the cover as he signed. He tried to write the first letter of his name, then scratched a couple more times and laughed. Then, he wrote: “John Lennon” and below “1980”. Handing me the album, he asked: “Is that all you want?” His wife was waiting in the car. The door was open. And I said: “Thank you, John.” I think now of what he said then: “Is that all you want?” It seems that he had a premonition of his death.”
“I was so happy that John Lennon signed the album for me. So happy that I wanted to take the first taxi I saw and rush home to my wife. I wanted to get out of there. But I didn’t. I couldn’t leave that place because I was completely subordinate to another force.”
He returned there in the evening to complete his mad search and become the man who shot John Lennon.
“Do it! Do it! Do it!” the demons kept saying. And I did it. I did as I had rehearsed dozens of times in my hotel room. When Lennon passed by, I aimed at his back and pulled the trigger five times. I remember that as if someone pushed him forward on the steps, and then he began to fall slowly, in jerks. The doorman, Jose, I remember well, snatched the gun from my hand and shouted: “Look what you’ve done! Get out!” I said: “Where should I go?”
When the police arrived, Chapman was reading his favorite and misinterpreted book, The Catcher in the Rye. The man who shot John Lennon is still in custody. Recently, he spoke because he felt remorse. He said that he was haunted with nightmares. In them, he visited Lennon’s house. “I talked with Yoko and his sons as a friend of the family. We were all saddened by what had happened. They understood that I was very sorry about that. They knew that I didn’t really want to kill him. John Lennon was a seeker of the truth. He knew that there would be no perfect world, but he urged people to think about it. If a person has the power to create this world in his imagination, then he has come close to it. A good idea should not cause pain. I’m sorry I hurt everyone. But now I might be of some use. Still, it is very, very difficult to determine who I really am. I have often experienced great confusion and pain being Mark David Chapman.”