Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mark David Chapman: The Man Who Killed John Lennon

Requiem For an Era

At the morgue, the entrance was sealed shut with a lock and chain. Attendants in green mortuary masks moved around in dumb show, their words inaudible, or typed on forms on grim civil-service typewriters. Behind them, in a refrigerator, lay the sixties.

-- Pete Hamill, New York Magazine

An Englishman named Guy Louthan was in an apartment across the street from the Dakota. About midnight, an hour after the shooting, he went to the window.

"It raised the hackles on the back of my neck," he recalled. "First I heard this noise, then I looked toward the park and there were people streaming across the park and then I looked to the other side of 72nd Street, and there were from both sides these two waves of people converging on the Dakota …

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"They literally swept up the road and out of the park and, as the leading people neared the Dakota, people behind were catching up with them so it was this sort of surge, a vast mass of people running alongside, moving in among the cars. … And then when they all got to the Dakota, they just stood and sang or chanted. Some of them had candles. I just had to go down and find out what had happened."

Another crowd gathered outside Roosevelt General Hospital, some on their knees in prayer. At the request of Yoko Ono, doctors there delayed the formal announcement of his death; she did not want Sean to hear it on the radio before she got back home.

By 1 a.m. the New York Times estimated the crowd outside the Dakota at 1,000. They included young parents who had brought their children. Some were singing "All My Loving." Much of the crowd joined in for the last line, "And I'll send all my loving to you." Many were in tears.

Others sang or chanted "Give Peace a Chance," a Lennon's song that had become the anthem of the peace movement.

Up on the sixth floor of the Dakota, a detective was gently questioning Yoko. Lennon staffer Fred Seaman would later write, "The plaintive sounds of those singing John's songs could be heard drifting up from the street."

At 4 a.m., Seaman went out on a balcony. There were still a thousand people on the street, singing Beatles music, drinking beer and smoking pot. He went down and tried to spread the word that Yoko was trying to sleep. "There was a brief interlude in which the fans kept up a nearly silent vigil, playing their radios softly, holding their lighted candles, passing joints and drinking beer in the chill air. But as soon as the sun began coming up, the chanting resumed as more people gathered on the street."

******

The news spread around the world with electronic speed. Hundreds gathered for a silent tribute at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. A crowd of 2,000 joined in a candlelight tribute at Century City in Los Angeles. In the next few days, a teen-age girl in Florida and a man of 30 in Utah killed themselves, leaving notes telling of depression over Lennon's death.

Nothing had moved Americans so much since the death of John F. Kennedy. As with Kennedy's assassination, people shared stories of what they were doing when they heard the news.

Yoko Ono asked Lennon's fans to "pray for John's soul" by observing 10 minutes of silence at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 14. Radio stations from Luxembourg to Omaha announced they would go off the air for that period.

At 6 a.m. Sunday – which was 2 p.m. in London – several thousand people gathered in the city square of Melbourne, Australia, to watch a video of a Beatles concert. More than 1,000 took part in Columbia, S.C., 3,000 in Seattle, 1,000 in Chicago, 1,200 at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. In Kenosha, Wis., 150 stood in 20-degree weather for the tribute.

In New York, the crowd in Central Park was estimated at 50,000 to 100,000. It included Mayor Edward Koch, who had called for the gathering and ordered flags on public buildings lowered to half-staff. The tribute was followed by a 30-minute concert of Beatles music. Many of the crowd then walked the short distance to stand outside the Dakota. Mailbags containing more than 4,500 telegrams of sympathy had already been hauled into the building.

The only sour note was in Liverpool, the Beatles' home town. A hundred people there were injured when fans swarmed onto a stage when a local band switched from Beatles music to its own composition.

All over the world people came, as Newsweek Magazine put it, "to share their grief and shock at the news. John Lennon, the cheeky and sardonic soul of the Beatles, whose music had touched a generation and enchanted the world, had been slain on his doorstep by a confused, suicidal young man who had apparently idolized him."

Another confused, suicidal young man was among those at the tribute in New York. Three weeks later, he confided his thoughts to a tape recorder.

"I just want to say goodbye to the old year, which was nothing – total misery, total death," he said. "John Lennon is dead, the world is over, forget it.

"Anything I might do in 1981 would be solely for Jodie Foster's sake. Just tell the world in some way that I worship and idolize her.''

The world would hear of John Hinckley three months later.

 

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