Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mark David Chapman: The Man Who Killed John Lennon

A Miracle Fades Away

For five days, Mark David Chapman lived the life of a wealthy tourist. He checked into the Moana Hotel, drank mai tais at its bar, sunned himself on the beaches and cruised the islands.

Life in paradise was good – too good to end so soon. He moved to a cheap room at the YMCA to make his money last. And he got to thinking about home.

He called Jessica, his ex-fiancee. He told her he had planned his death but had regained his desire to live. He pleaded with her to tell him she still loved him and he should come home. Jessica, fearing she would be responsible for his suicide, told him, "Just come home."

He bought another one-way ticket (going to Atlanta), only to discover Jessica had acted out of pity. He got into an argument with his parents and moved briefly to a hotel. Then he used the last of his savings for his third one-way ticket (going to Hawaii again). It was May 1977.

Drinking heavily, he lived at the Y when he had money from some low-paying job. Otherwise, he lived on the streets. The euphoria he had felt on his first visit gave way to hopelessness. He spent hours on the phone with suicide hot lines.

Finally, with the last of his money, he bought a dinner of steak and beer, rented a car and bought a vacuum cleaner hose. He drove to a deserted beach. There he shoved one end of the hose into the car's tailpipe, put the other end in the car and closed the windows. With the motor running, he closed his eyes and slipped into unconsciousness.

He awoke, groggy but, amazingly, alive. A Japanese fisherman was tapping on the window to make sure he was all right. He found that the plastic vacuum cleaner hose had melted in the exhaust pipe.

He told Jones that when he turned, the fisherman was gone. He was, Chapman marveled, an angel sent by God. He prayed fervently for the grace to take advantage of the new chance God had given him.

When a nearby mental health clinic opened the next morning, Chapman was there. A psychiatrist listened to his story and drove him to Castle Memorial Hospital, where he was admitted under suicide watch.

Within a week, his depression lifted and he was playing his guitar and singing to other patients. In another week, the hospital discharged him after finding him a job in a nearby gas station.

In his free time, he volunteered at the hospital. His therapists, pleased at his recovery and his touch with patients, hired him for a maintenance job.

His supervisor, Leilani Siegfried, would later tell reporters, "He was delightful to work with. He tried to please us so. And he was so sympathetic to the old people. He would play them Hawaiian songs on his guitar and pay attention to them when nobody else would. Some of them hadn't spoken to anybody in years, but they started again when Mark showed them some attention."

He socialized with the doctors and nurses, who treated him as a colleague. He found a place to live with a Presbyterian minister. By the spring of 1978 he could once more look at himself as a success, not a failure.

As he had once dreamed of Hawaii, he now dreamed of visiting the Far East. He found he could borrow from the hospital credit union and get a six-week leave of absence. And he began conferring with a travel agent, a Japanese-American woman named Gloria Abe.

Chapman's plans grew, and so did the relationship. In July, Gloria saw him off for what had become a round-the-world trip. Using his YMCA connections to get cheap or free lodging, he visited Japan, Korea and China, which had just opened its borders to Westerners. He went to Thailand, India, Iran, Israel and then to Geneva, Switzerland, where he stayed with his old YMCA boss David Moore. His last stop was in Atlanta, to see his parents and old friends.

Gloria Abe was waiting for him on his return to Honolulu. Soon the two were spending most of their free time together. At Mark's urging, she converted to Christianity from Buddhism.

In January 1979 they were walking along the beach when Mark stopped to write in the sand. Gloria read the words "Will you marry me?" She wrote "Yes!!!" It was, she said later, "the best day of my life, even better than the wedding. He carried me piggyback down the beach, and we were just so happy."

The wedding was June 2. A few months later, eager to make more money, Mark took a job at Castle Memorial as a printer. Now he worked alone, rather than mingling with staff and patients. His bad temper returned. He got into an argument with Gloria's boss at the travel agency and made her quit and find another job. He was fired by the hospital. Rehired, he got into a shouting match with a nurse and quit.

He took a job as a night security guard at a luxury apartment building and began drinking heavily again. He developed the first of a series of obsessions, this one for art. He bought a painting by Salvador Dali for $2,500, then returned it and bought a Norman Rockwell for $7,500, part of it borrowed from his mother.

On March 13, 1980 – he entered the date on his apartment calendar – he launched a new obsession: to get out of debt. He scrimped and saved, and made Gloria scrimp and save.

And he spent hours going over his plans with advisers – advisers from the past.

The Little People had returned.

 

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