Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mark David Chapman: The Man Who Killed John Lennon

To the Brink and Back

By Aug. 15 Mark and Gloria had reached their goal. They were out of debt. But still Mark felt unbearable pressure, pressure he couldn't define.

Now his obsessions changed even more rapidly. He got rid of his records, then scoured record stores to replace them, then sold his new collection. He bought new speakers for his stereo, then broke his turntable and smashed it to pieces. After watching the movie "Network," he got rid of his TV set.

He made loyal Gloria's life miserable. "The only place you could go for privacy was the bathroom," she told Gaines, "and so often at night I'd go in there and lock the door and just cry."

He bought two copies of The Catcher in the Rye and made Gloria read one. He talked of changing his name to Holden Caulfield and even wrote the Hawaii attorney general to ask about the procedure.

On Sept. 20, he wrote a letter to a friend, Lynda Irish, in New Mexico. On it he drew a picture of Diamond Head with the sun, moon and stars above it.

"I'm going nuts," he wrote.

He signed it "The Catcher in the Rye."

He brought home books from the library on one subject after another. One of them was John Lennon: One Day at a Time by Anthony Fawcett. In it he read about Lennon's life in New York. He was furious.

"He was angry that Lennon would preach love and peace but yet have millions," Gloria told Gaines. He began to talk of going to New York.

And he began, he would tell Gaines in prison, to pray to Satan. "There were no candles, no incantations," Gaines writes. "Just Mark, sitting naked, rocking back and forth at the controls of his stereo and tape recorder, splicing together his reasons for killing John Lennon from the lyrics of Beatles songs, the soundtrack of "The Wizard of Oz", and quotations from The Catcher in the Rye.

Yoko Ono and John Lennon in bed in 1969
Yoko Ono and John Lennon in bed in 1969

He told his Little People he intended to go to New York and kill John Lennon. They begged him not to. They said, he told Jack Jones, "Please, think of your wife. Please, Mr. President. Think of your mother. Think of yourself."

He replied his mind was made up. Their reaction was silence, Jones writes. Then,  "One by one, beginning with his defense minister, the Little People rose from their seats and walked from the secret chamber inside the mysterious mind of Mark David Chapman."

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On Oct. 20 Chapman read in the Honolulu Star Bulletin about Lennon's return to recording after a five-year hiatus. Lennon and his wife, the artist Yoko Ono, had cut an album called "Double Fantasy."

On Oct. 23 he quit his security job and signed out for the last time. Instead of the usual "Chappy," he wrote "John Lennon." Then he crossed it out.

On Oct. 27 Chapman went to a Honolulu gun store and, for $169, bought a five-shot, short-barrel .38-caliber Charter Arms Special. Ironically, the salesman was named Ono.

On Oct. 30, wearing a new suit and topcoat, the revolver in his suitcase, he boarded a plane for New York.

He had several thousand dollars with him, what was left of a $5,000 loan from his father-in-law. As with his first visit to Hawaii, Chapman had decided to live it up a little before carrying out his plan. He checked in at the Waldorf and treated himself to a dinner of filet mignon and Heineken beer at its restaurant.

John and Yoko in August 1980
John and Yoko in August 1980

He knew that John Lennon lived in the Dakota, a celebrity-filled apartment hotel across from Central Park at West 72nd St. He spent that day walking around it and studying it, looking for the Lennons' sixth-floor windows. He struck up a conversation with the doorman, getting the standard statement that he didn't know if the Lennons were in town.

He also tried to buy the .38 bullets he hadn't bothered to buy in Honolulu. He found to his chagrin that New York's Sullivan Law forbade their sale.

He called Dana Reeves, now a sheriff's deputy in Georgia, and said he wanted to visit his old friends; Reeves invited him to stay at Reeves' apartment. Chapman flew to Atlanta.

While there, he told Reeves he had bought a gun for personal protection while he was in New York but he needed some bullets "with real stopping power." Reeves supplied him with five hollow-point cartridges – the kind that expand as they pass through their target.

On Nov. 10 he was back in New York. The next night he decided to take in a movie   -- "Ordinary People," in which Timothy Hutton plays a suicidal youth trying to come to terms with his dysfunctional family. When the movie ended, he immediately made a phone call.

In a Jack Jones recording played on the "Mugshots" show, he describes that call:

The experience in that theater, somehow – when I called my wife, I had defeated, I had capped that volcano. And I called Hawaii and I said, "I'm coming home, I won a great victory. Your love has saved me."

It was like a snapback to reality. I realized that I had a wife and she loves me. I told her I was going to kill someone and I whispered -- I remember whispering it in the phone --  "John Lennon. I was going to kill John Lennon." She said, "Come back," and that's when I came back."

 

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