Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mark David Chapman: The Man Who Killed John Lennon

Escape to Paradise

After graduating from Columbia High, Chapman and McFarland moved for a time to Chicago. They put together a comedy act that played in churches and Christian nightspots; Chapman played guitar and McFarland did impersonations.

They soon abandoned their show business ambitions. Back in Georgia, Chapman did odd jobs at the YMCA. In the fall, he enrolled part-time at South De Kalb Community College, hoping eventually to get a degree that would qualify him for a career with the Y. His hopes were lifted when he was one of the applicants selected to spend a summer with the Y's international program.

He was sent to Lebanon, but was quickly caught up in the civil war there. The Y staffers were evacuated, and Chapman was offered an alternative assignment working with Vietnamese refugees in a resettlement camp at Fort Chaffee, Ark.

He quickly became as big a hero to the Vietnamese children as he had been at YMCA summer camps. He was named an area coordinator and a key aide to David Moore, the program director. In 1980 Moore would tell reporters: "He was really caring with the refugees and he worked his tail off to do everything exactly right. He was a super kid."

But the resettlement program was a short-term one that soon ended. In a 1981 story in New York magazine, Craig Unger relates a conversation on its last day as recalled by one of his co-workers:

"We're all going to get together again," Rod Riemersma remembered Chapman saying. "One day one of us is going to be somebody. About five years from now, one of us will do something famous, and it will bring us all together."

Unger adds: "It was December 1975."

******

Jessica Blankenship had visited Mark at Fort Chaffee and the two talked of marriage. In the spring he joined her as a student at Covenant College, a strict Presbyterian college in Lookout Mountain, Tenn. They studied together every night.

But Chapman found himself falling further and further behind in his studies. He was also obsessed with guilt that he had let himself be seduced by a female camp worker at a motel near Fort Chaffee – a sin he couldn't bring himself to confess to the chaste Jessica. His depression grew.

He would later tell Jones that this was the beginning of the suicidal thoughts that would plague him over the next four years. Once he had been a success with the YMCA, he had been chosen for an overseas assignment, he had been an area coordinator for the Vietnamese program. Now he was a failure. He was a nobody.

"And when I had to face that fact, my insides fell in on myself," he told Jones. "I fell down a dark hole."

He dropped out of Covenant College at the end of the semester. Jessica broke off their engagement.

He returned to Decatur and was assistant director of the summer camp again, but quit within a month after an argument with the swimming director. At the suggestion of his friend Dana Reeves, he became a security guard. He was offered a promotion, but turned it down because he feared the responsibility. He became more and more irritable.

At first he was unarmed on the job, but he took a week-long course that qualified him as an armed guard; he scored 80 on the pistol range, well above the passing grade of 60.

Meanwhile, he came across a map of Hawaii in a library. He pored over it, dreaming of himself in an island paradise.

In January 1977, Chapman boarded a plane to Honolulu. He would use his savings -- $1,200 -- for a one-way airline ticket and a final splurge in paradise.

Then he would kill himself.

 

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