Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mark David Chapman: The Man Who Killed John Lennon

Is That All You Want?

Chapman's demons were gone, but only briefly. Back home, they were soon tormenting him again.

He started making threatening phone calls and bomb threats. He spent his days harassing a group of Hare Krishnas who daily appeared in downtown Honolulu.

He told an alarmed Gloria he was going back to New York – but only for a few weeks, to try to find a new career.

He arrived on Saturday, Dec. 6. He told a credulous cab driver who took him into the city that he was a recording engineer who had just come from a secret session of Lennon and Paul McCartney: They were recording together for the first time since the Beatles split up.

He checked into a $16.50-a-night room at the YMCA on 63rd Street just off Central Park West; this time there was no splurge at the Waldorf. He walked the nine blocks to the Dakota. While waiting on the sidewalk there he struck up a conversation with two women, Jude Stein and Jerry Moll. They told him Lennon knew them by sight and sometimes stopped to chat with them.

When they left, Chapman offered to buy them dinner if they came back later. Meanwhile he waited, a brand new copy of "Double Fantasy" under his arm. At 5 p.m., he gave up the vigil and returned to his hotel. Ironically, the women arrived 15 minutes later, in time to see Lennon and talk with him.

Back at the Y, Chapman was disturbed by the sound of the men in the next room, who obviously were having gay sex. Outraged, he thought of barging in on them with his revolver. He decided to save his ammunition.

However, he checked out of the Y in the morning and moved to the Sheraton Centre at Seventh Avenue and 52nd Street.

It was Sunday, Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day.

He spent three hours waiting outside the Dakota, then, growing hungry, took a taxi back to the Sheraton. On the way, it occurred to him that he hadn't brought a copy of The Catcher in the Rye to New York. In a nearby bookstore, a poster of Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion caught his eye. He bought it.

And on the newsstand he spotted the face of John Lennon! The December Playboy Magazine carried an interview with John and Yoko, their first in five years. Forgetting The Catcher in the Rye for the moment, he bought the magazine and read the interview over his dinner.

The Playboy centerfold reminded him of something that Holden Caulfield had done on his odyssey in New York. Chapman called an "escort service," but when the call girl arrived he told her he merely wanted to talk – just as Holden had done. He paid her $190 when she left at 3 a.m.

  ******

On about 10:30 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 8, Chapman awakened in his room at the Sheraton. Something told him this was the day.

He dressed. Then, on his dresser, he constructed a tableau. He carefully laid out a Todd Rundgren audiotape. He took out the hotel Bible, opened it to the beginning of "The Gospel of John" and wrote in the word "Lennon" after "John." He placed on the dresser a letter praising his efforts at the refugee camp, along with photos of him with Vietnamese children. Behind them was the poster of Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion.

He picked up the "Double Fantasy" album and one more item: the pistol, with cardboard over it to conceal the outline in his pocket.

On his way to the Dakota, he made a stop to buy the copy of The Catcher in the Rye he had forgotten the previous night. He also bought a ballpoint pen, and on the inside cover he wrote " This is my statement." He signed it "Holden Caulfield."

Outside the Dakota, he chatted with the doorman, Patrick O'Loughlin. Then, leaning against a railing, he started to read The Catcher. Engrossed, he missed seeing Lennon get out of a taxi and walk into the building.

Chagrined, he resumed his vigil. Paul Goresh, an amateur photographer who often staked out the Lennons and whom Chapman had seen there on Saturday, joined him. Then Jude Stein appeared again. She told him that she and her friend Jerry had held a conversation with Lennon on Saturday after Chapman left.

Chapman offered to buy her lunch. Afterwards, they returned to the Dakota. Five-year-old Sean Lennon came out with his nanny. Jude introduced Chapman to him and Chapman shook hands with the boy.

Chapman would tell Gaines: "He was the cutest little boy I ever saw. It didn't enter my mind that I was going to kill this poor young boy's father and he won't have a father for the rest of his life. I mean, I love children. I'm the Catcher in the Rye."

******

Chapman recalled seeing Gilda Radner, Lauren Bacall, Paul Simon and Mia Farrow coming or going. But not Lennon.

He chatted with Goresh and with doorman Jose Perdomo, whom he remembered from his visit in November. He showed him the album he had brought for Lennon to autograph.

While they were talking, Chapman heard a familiar voice. He turned. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were emerging from the building with a gaggle of staff members.

He was dumbstruck. Goresh had to push him to approach Lennon. Speechless, he held out the album and the pen. Lennon smiled, took them and wrote "John Lennon, December 1980."

On the "Mugshots" show, Chapman's recorded voice tells the story. He is describing an event that happened 10 years before, but there is still awe in his voice.

He said "Sure" and wrote his name, and when he handed it back to me he looked at me and kind of nodded his head, "Is that all you want?"

Like – just like that, like an inquiry into a different matter, and I said, "Yeah." I said, "Thanks, John."

And he again said, "Is that all you want?" and there was Yoko, she was already in the car, the limo, the door was open and it was running, it was out in the middle of the street and he asked me twice, and I said, "Yeah, thanks, that's all," or something like that. He got into the car and drove away.

Chapman stood amazed, the album in his hands, the gun still in his pocket. He told Goresh, "They're never going to believe this back in Hawaii." He offered the photographer $50 if he had gotten a picture of him with Lennon and could bring it back the next day.

Later, he would tell Gaines: "I was just overwhelmed by his sincerity. I had expected a brushoff, but it was just the opposite. … I was on Cloud Nine. And there was a little bit of me going, 'Why didn't you shoot him?' And I said, `I can't shoot him like this.' … I wanted to get the autograph."

And for the first time in a while, he prayed – to God, for the grace to just take his record and go home.

 

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