Archive for Tuesday, November 29, 2005

John Lennon’s killer marks 25 years of infamy

November 29, 2005

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— Twenty-five years ago, Mark David Chapman stamped his name into history by shooting four bullets into John Lennon's back - a desperate, senseless grab for the kind of fame the voice of a generation was so steeped in. Instead, all he gained was infamy.

"I want to be important," Chapman later said of his mind-set before the murder. "I want to be somebody. I was never anybody."

The journey from nobody to notorious started in Decatur, Ga., where he grew up. After high school, Chapman worked as a camp counselor at an Atlanta YMCA and briefly was enrolled at Covenant College, a Christian university in Georgia. But he dropped out, broke off an engagement and entered a dark depression.

In the spring of 1977, Chapman moved to Honolulu, where he attempted to kill himself. Later, Chapman, a devout Christian, would take exception to Lennon's perceived anti-religion beliefs. At the height of Beatlemania, Lennon had proclaimed the Beatles "more popular than Jesus," and later sang in "Imagine": "Imagine there's no heaven."

At the same time, Chapman developed an obsession with "The Catcher in the Rye," the novel that focuses on a disaffected youth, Holden Caulfield.

Though previously a great fan of the Beatles, Chapman began attaching Caulfield's slander - "phony" - to Lennon. He made that assessment after seeing photos of Lennon atop his Manhattan apartment building, the Dakota.

Correction officers escort Mark David Chapman, center with coat over head, into the prison ward at Bellevue Hospital in New York City on Dec. 11, 1980. Chapman, charged with slaying former Beatle John Lennon three days earlier, was returning from an appearance at Manhattan criminal court.

Correction officers escort Mark David Chapman, center with coat over head, into the prison ward at Bellevue Hospital in New York City on Dec. 11, 1980. Chapman, charged with slaying former Beatle John Lennon three days earlier, was returning from an appearance at Manhattan criminal court.

"At some point, after looking at those pictures, I became enraged at him and something in me just broke," Chapman would explain later. "I remember saying in my mind, 'What if I killed him?'"

"I felt that perhaps my identity would be found in the killing of John Lennon."

Believing himself the embodiment of Holden Caulfield, Chapman, then 25, arrived in New York City on Dec. 6, 1980. Two days later, he bought another copy of Salinger's book and wrote in it, "This is my statement." He went to the Dakota and waited for Lennon.

When he arrived, Lennon signed an autograph for the ordinary-looking fan. Chapman stayed, waiting for Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, to return that evening.

"It was like a runaway train," Chapman would later say of his desire to kill Lennon. "There was no stopping it."

Just after 10:50 p.m., the couple exited their limousine and began walking into the Dakota. Chapman unloaded, hitting the 40-year-old Lennon with all but one shot. Then, without a word, he sat down and opened "The Catcher in the Rye."

The man whose songs and lyrics had meant so much to so many died on the way to the hospital.

Chapman signed a statement to police that evening: "I have a small part of me that cannot understand the world and what goes on it. I did not want to kill anybody and I really don't know why I did it."

A brief 1981 trial offered few answers. Chapman was expected to mount an insanity defense; a psychologist diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic. Instead, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years to life. He has since resided in New York's Attica Correctional facility.

Chapman has not been silent since being jailed. He has given several interviews, most extensively to Jack Jones, who turned their conversations into a book entitled "Let Me Take You Down: Inside the Mind of Mark David Chapman."

It was announced just weeks ago that a movie is in the works about Chapman and the days leading up to the murder.

Though Ono has not publicly commented on the film, her spokesman, Elliot Mintz, has criticized a recent two-hour "Dateline NBC" special on Chapman.

"The timing of this is macabre," Mintz said. "(Ono) thinks it's outrageous. ... It sends out a message to other disturbed people that killing is a way to fame."

Chapman has come up for parole three times, and each time been denied. He'll again be eligible next October.

Speaking to the parole board in 2004, Chapman, who has apologized a number of times for the murder, acknowledged the depravity of his notoriety:

"I deserve nothing," he said. "In some ways I'm a bigger nobody than I was before because, you know, people hate me."

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