Mark David Chapman
Most Notorious Assassins
Mark David Chapman
Chapman was born on May 10, 1955, in Fort Worth, Texas. His father, David Chapman, was a staff sergeant in the US Air Force and his mother, Diane (née Pease), was a nurse. His younger sister, Susan, was born seven years later. As a boy, Chapman stated that he lived in fear of his father, whom he said was physically abusive towards his mother and unloving towards him. Chapman began to fantasize about having king-like power over a group of imaginary "little people" who lived in the walls of his bedroom. Chapman attended Columbia High School in Decatur, Georgia. By the time he was fourteen, Chapman was using drugs and skipping classes; he once ran away from home to live on the streets of Atlanta for two weeks. He said that he was bullied at school because he was not a good athlete.
In 1971, Chapman became a born-again Presbyterian and distributed Biblical tracts. He met his first girlfriend, Jessica Blankenship. He began work as a YMCA summer camp counselor; he was very popular with the children, who nicknamed him "Nemo". He won an award for Outstanding Counselor and was made assistant director. Those who knew him in the caretaking professions unanimously called him an outstanding worker. A friend recommended The Catcher in the Rye to Chapman and the story eventually took on great personal significance for him, to the extent that he reportedly wished to model his life after its protagonist, Holden Caulfield. After graduating from Columbia High School, Chapman moved for a time to Chicago and played guitar in churches and Christian night spots while his friend did impersonations. He worked successfully for World Vision with Vietnamese refugees at a resettlement camp at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas, after a brief visit to Lebanon for the same work. He was named an area coordinator and a key aide to the program director, David Moore, who later said that Chapman cared deeply for the children and worked hard. Chapman accompanied Moore to meetings with government officials, and President Gerald Ford shook his hand.
Chapman joined his girlfriend, Jessica Blankenship, as a student at Covenant College, an evangelical Presbyterian liberal arts college in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. However, Chapman fell behind in his studies and became obsessed with guilt over having an affair. He started having suicidal thoughts and began to feel like a failure. He dropped out of Covenant College after just one semester and his girlfriend broke off their relationship soon after. He returned to work at the resettlement camp but left after an argument. Chapman worked as a security guard, eventually taking a week-long course to qualify as an armed guard. He again attempted college but dropped out. He went to Hawaii and then began contemplating suicide. In 1977, Chapman attempted suicide by carbon monoxide asphyxiation. He connected a hose to his car's exhaust pipe but the hose melted and the attempt failed. A psychiatrist admitted him to Castle Memorial Hospital for clinical depression. Upon his release, he began working at the hospital. His parents began divorce proceedings and his mother joined Chapman in Hawaii.
In 1978, Chapman went on a six-week trip around the world; the vacation was partly inspired by the film Around the World in Eighty Days. He visited Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Delhi, Beirut, Geneva, London, Paris and Dublin. He began a relationship with his travel agent, a Japanese-American woman named Gloria Abe. They married on June 2, 1979. Chapman went to work at Castle Memorial Hospital as a printer, working alone rather than with staff and patients. He was fired by the Castle Memorial Hospital, rehired, then got into a shouting match with a nurse and quit. He took a job as a night security guard and began drinking heavily. Chapman developed a series of obsessions, including artwork, The Catcher in the Rye, music and John Lennon. In September 1980, he wrote a letter to a friend, Lynda Irish, in which he stated, "I'm going nuts." He signed the letter, "The Catcher in the Rye." Chapman had no criminal convictions prior to his trip to New York City to kill Lennon.
Plan to murder John Lennon
Chapman allegedly started planning to kill Lennon three months prior to the murder.
He had been a big Beatles fan who had idolized Lennon. Chapman played the guitar himself but turned against Lennon after he became a Christian; he was angry about Lennon's 1966 well-publicized comment that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus." In the South, there were demonstrations, album burnings, boycotts and projectiles were thrown. Some members of Chapman's prayer group made a joke in reference to Lennon's song "Imagine". "It went, 'Imagine, imagine if John Lennon was dead.'" Chapman's childhood friend Miles McManushe recalled that he referred to the song as "communist." Jan Reeves, the sister of one of Chapman's best friends, reported that Chapman "seemed really angry toward John Lennon and he kept saying he could not understand why John Lennon had said it [that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus]. According to Mark, there should be nobody more popular than the Lord Jesus Christ. He said it was blasphemy."
Chapman had also been influenced by reading in a library book (John Lennon: One Day at a Time by Anthony Fawcett) about Lennon's lifestyle in New York. According to his wife Gloria, "He was angry that Lennon would preach love and peace but yet have millions [of dollars]." Chapman later said that "He told us to imagine no possessions and there he was, with millions of dollars and yachts and farms and country estates, laughing at people like me who had believed the lies and bought the records and built a big part of their lives around his music."
He said that he chose Lennon after seeing him on the cover of the Beatles' album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. He also recalled having listened to Lennon's John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album in the weeks before the murder and has stated: "I would listen to this music and I would get angry at him, for saying that he didn't believe in God... and that he didn't believe in the Beatles. This was another thing that angered me, even though this record had been done at least 10 years previously. I just wanted to scream out loud, 'Who does he think he is, saying these things about God and heaven and the Beatles?' Saying that he doesn't believe in Jesus and things like that. At that point, my mind was going through a total blackness of anger and rage. So I brought the Lennon book home, into this The Catcher in the Rye milieu where my mindset is Holden Caulfield and anti-phoniness."
Chapman also said that he had an alternate hit list of people in mind, including David Bowie, Johnny Carson, Marlon Brando, Walter Cronkite, Elizabeth Taylor, George C. Scott and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, but John Lennon seemed to be the easiest to find. He separately said that he was particularly infatuated by Lennon. Chapman's planning has been described as "muddled." Chapman went to New York in October 1980, intending to kill Lennon. He left in order to obtain ammunition from his unwitting friend in Atlanta, Dana Reeves, and returned to New York in November.
After being inspired by the film Ordinary People, Chapman returned to Hawaii, telling his wife he had been obsessed with killing Lennon. He showed her the gun and bullets but she did not inform the police or mental health services. He made an appointment to see a clinical psychologist, but he didn't keep the appointment and flew back to New York on December 6, 1980. At one point, he considered committing suicide by jumping from the Statue of Liberty. Chapman says the message "Thou Shalt Not Kill" flashed on the TV at him and was also on a wall hanging put up by his wife in their apartment. On the night before the murder, Chapman and his wife discussed on the phone about getting help with his problems by first working on his relationship with God.
On the day before the killing, Chapman accosted singer-songwriter James Taylor at the 72nd Street subway station. According to Taylor, "The guy had sort of pinned me to the wall and was glistening with maniacal sweat and talking some freak speak about what he was going to do and his stuff with how John was interested and he was going to get in touch with John Lennon." He also reportedly offered cocaine to a taxi driver.
On the day of the murder, David Bowie was appearing on Broadway in the play The Elephant Man. "I was second on his list," Bowie later said. "Chapman had a front-row ticket to The Elephant Man the next night. John and Yoko were supposed to sit front-row for that show too. So the night after John was killed there were three empty seats in the front row. I can't tell you how difficult that was to go on. I almost didn't make it through the performance."
Murder of John Lennon
On December 8, 1980, Chapman left his room at the Sheraton Hotel, leaving personal items behind that the police would later find. He bought a copy of The Catcher in the Rye in which he wrote "This is my statement", signing it "Holden Caulfield." He then spent most of the day near the entrance to the Dakota apartment building where Lennon lived, talking to fans and the doorman. Early in the morning, a distracted Chapman missed seeing Lennon step out of a cab and enter the Dakota. Later in the morning, Chapman met Lennon's housekeeper who was returning from a walk with their five-year-old son Sean. Chapman reached in front of the housekeeper to shake Sean's hand and said that he was a beautiful boy, quoting Lennon's song "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)." Around 5:00 p.m., Lennon and Ono left the Dakota for a recording session at Record Plant Studios. As they walked toward their limousine, Chapman shook hands with Lennon and asked for him to sign a copy of his album, Double Fantasy. Amateur photographer Paul Goresh took a photo of Lennon signing Chapman's album. In a later interview, Chapman said that he tried to get Goresh to stay and that he asked another Lennon fan who was lingering at the building's entrance to go out with him that night. He suggested that if the girl had accepted his invitation or Goresh had stayed, he would not have murdered Lennon that evening, but he probably would have tried another day.
Around 10:50 p.m., John and Yoko returned to the Dakota in a limousine. They got out of the vehicle, passed Chapman and walked toward the archway entrance of the building. From the street behind them, Chapman fired five shots from a .38 special revolver, four of which hit Lennon in the back and shoulder, puncturing his left lung and left subclavian artery.
At the time, one newspaper reported that before Chapman fired, he softly called out "Mr. Lennon" and dropped into a crouched position. Chapman said that he does not recall saying anything and that Lennon did not turn around.
Chapman remained at the scene and appeared to be reading The Catcher in the Rye when the police arrived and immediately arrested him without incident. The first responders recognized that Lennon's wounds were severe and decided not to wait for an ambulance. They rushed the mortally wounded musician to Roosevelt Hospital in a squad car, but nothing could be done to save him. Lennon was pronounced dead by Dr. Stephan Lynn at 11:07 p.m. In his statement to police three hours later, Chapman stated, "I'm sure the big part of me is Holden Caulfield, who is the main person in the book. The small part of me must be the Devil."
Chapman was charged with second degree murder. He told police that he had used hollow-point bullets "because they are more deadly" and "to ensure Lennon's death". Gloria Chapman, who had known of her husband's preparations for killing Lennon but took no action, was not charged. Chapman later said that he harbored a "deep-seated resentment" toward his wife, "that she didn't go to somebody, even the police, and say, 'Look, my husband's bought a gun and he says he's going to kill John Lennon'."
Mental state assessment
More than a dozen psychologists and psychiatrists interviewed Chapman in the six months prior to the trial that never took place-three for the prosecution, six for the defense, and several more on behalf of the court. A battery of standard diagnostic procedures and over 200 hours of clinical interviews were conducted. All six defense experts concluded that Chapman was psychotic; five diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia, while the sixth felt his symptoms were more consistent with manic depression. The three prosecution experts declared that his delusions fell short of psychosis and instead diagnosed various personality disorders. The court-appointed experts concurred with the prosecution's examiners that he was delusional, yet competent to stand trial. In the examinations, Chapman was more cooperative with the prosecution's mental health experts than with those for the defense, possibly (according to one psychiatrist) because he did not wish to be considered "crazy", and persuaded himself that the defense experts only declared him insane because they were hired to do so.
The Rev. Charles McGowan, who had been pastor of Chapman's old church, Chapel Woods Presbyterian in Decatur, Ga., visited Chapman as well, and told him of his conviction that religion held the key to his crime. "I believe there was a demonic power at work," he said. Chapman initially embraced his old religion with new fervor as a result; but after McGowan revealed information to the press that Chapman had told him in confidence, Chapman disavowed his renewed interest in Christianity and reverted to his initial explanation: that he had killed Lennon to promote the reading of The Catcher in the Rye. When asked why it was so important for people to read the book, Chapman said he "didn't know" and "didn't really care either-that was not his job."
Chapman's first court-appointed lawyer, Herbert Adlerberg, withdrew from the case amid threats of lynching. Police feared that Lennon fans might storm the hospital so they transferred Chapman to Rikers Island for his personal safety.
At the initial hearing in January 1981, Chapman's new lawyer, Jonathan Marks, instructed him to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. In February, Chapman sent a handwritten statement to The New York Times urging everyone to read The Catcher in the Rye, calling it an "extraordinary book that holds many answers." The defense team sought to establish witnesses as to Chapman's mental state at the time of the killing. It was reported they were confident he would be found not guilty by reason of insanity, in which case he would have been committed to a state mental hospital and received treatment.
However, in June, Chapman told Marks that he wanted to drop the insanity defense and plead guilty. Marks objected with "serious questions" over Chapman's sanity, and legally challenged his competence to make this decision. In the pursuant hearing on June 22, Chapman said that God had told him to plead guilty and that he would not change his plea or ever appeal, regardless of his sentence. Marks told the court that he opposed Chapman's change of plea but that Chapman would not listen to him. Judge Dennis Edwards refused a further assessment, saying that Chapman had made the decision of his own free will, and declared him competent to plead guilty.
On August 24, 1981, the sentencing hearing took place. Two experts gave evidence on Chapman's behalf. Judge Edwards interrupted Dorothy Lewis, a research psychiatrist who was relatively inexperienced in the courtroom, indicating that the purpose of the hearing was to determine the sentence and that there was no question of Chapman's criminal responsibility. Lewis had maintained that Chapman's decision to change his plea did not appear reasonable or explicable, and she implied that the judge did not want to allow an independent competency assessment. The district attorney argued that Chapman committed the murder as an easy route to fame. When Chapman was asked if he had anything to say, he rose and read the passage from The Catcher in the Rye, when Holden tells his little sister, Phoebe, what he wants to do with his life:
Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all.
The judge ordered psychiatric treatment for Chapman during his incarceration and sentenced him to 20-years-to-life, 5 years less than the maximum sentence of 25-years-to-life. Chapman was given five years less than the maximum because he pleaded guilty to second degree murder, thereby avoiding the time and expense of a trial.
In 1981, Chapman was imprisoned at Attica, outside of Buffalo, New York. After Chapman fasted for 26 days in February 1982, the New York State Supreme Court authorized the state to force feed him. Martin Von Holden, the director of the Central New York Psychiatric Center, said that Chapman still refused to eat with other inmates but agreed to take liquid nutrients. Chapman was confined to a special handling unit (SHU) for violent and at-risk prisoners, in part due to concern that he might be harmed by Lennon's fans in the general population. There were 105 prisoners in the building who were "not considered a threat to him," according to the New York State Department of Correctional Services. He had his own prison cell, but spent "most of his day outside his cell working on housekeeping and in the library."
Chapman worked in the prison as a legal clerk and kitchen helper. He was barred from participating in the Cephas Attica workshops, a charitable organization that helps inmates to adjust to life outside prison. He was also prohibited from attending the prison's violence and anger management classes due to concern for his safety. Chapman reportedly likes to read and write short stories. At his parole board hearing in 2004, he described his plans; "I would immediately try to find a job, and I really want to go from place to place, at least in the state, church to church, and tell people what happened to me and point them the way to Christ." He also said that he thought that there was a possibility he could find work as a farmhand or return to his previous trade as a printer.
Chapman is in the Family Reunion Program, and is allowed one conjugal visit a year with his wife, since he accepted solitary confinement. The program allows him to spend up to 42 hours alone with his wife in a specially built prison home. He also gets occasional visits from his sister, clergy, and a few friends. In 2004, James Flateau, a spokesman for the state's Department of Correctional Services, said that Chapman had been involved in three "minor incidents" between 1989 and 1994 for delaying an inmate count and refusing to follow an order. On May 15, 2012, Chapman was transferred to the Wende Correctional Facility in Alden, New York, which is east of Buffalo.
Parole applications and campaigns
As the result of his sentence of 20-years-to-life, Chapman first became eligible for parole in 2000 and is required by law to have a hearing every two years from that year onwards. Since that time, a three-member board has denied Chapman parole nine times. Shortly before Chapman's first hearing, Yoko Ono sent a letter to the board, opposing his release from prison. In addition, New York State Senator Michael Nozzolio, chairman of the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee, wrote to Parole Board Chairman Brion Travis saying: "It is the responsibility of the New York State Parole Board to ensure that public safety is protected from the release of dangerous criminals like Chapman."
- At the 50-minute hearing in 2000, Chapman said that he was not a danger to society. The parole board concluded that releasing Chapman would "deprecate the seriousness of the crime and serve to undermine respect for the law" and that Chapman's granting of media interviews represented a continued interest in "maintaining his notoriety." They noted that although Chapman had a good disciplinary record while in prison, he had been in the SHU and did not access "anti-violence and/or anti-aggression programming." Robert Gangi, a lawyer for the Correctional Association of New York, said that he thought it unlikely Chapman would ever be freed because the board would not risk the "political heat" of releasing Lennon's killer.
- In 2002, the parole board stated again that releasing Chapman after 22 years in prison would "deprecate the seriousness" of the crime, and that while his behavioral record continued to be positive, it was no predictor of his potential community behavior.
- The parole board held a third hearing in 2004, and declined parole yet again. One of the reasons given by the board was that Chapman had subjected Ono to "monumental suffering by her witnessing the crime." Another factor was concern for Chapman's safety; several Lennon fans had threatened to kill him if he were released. Ono's letter opposing his release stated that Chapman would not be safe outside of prison. The board reported that its decision was based on the interview, a review of records and deliberation. By this time, approximately 6,000 people had signed an online petition opposing Chapman's release.
- In 2006, the parole board held a 16-minute hearing and concluded that his release would not be in the best interest of the community or his own personal safety. On the 26th anniversary of Lennon's death, Yoko Ono published a one-page advertisement in several newspapers, saying that December 8 should be a "day of forgiveness," and that she was not yet sure if she was ready to forgive Chapman.
- Chapman's fifth hearing took place in 2008, but he was denied parole "due to concern for the public safety and welfare."
- In 2010, in advance of Chapman's scheduled sixth parole hearing, Ono said that she would again oppose parole for Chapman stating that her safety, that of John's sons, and Chapman's would be at risk. She added, "I am afraid it will bring back the nightmare, the chaos and confusion [of that night] once again." The parole board postponed the hearing in September, stating that it was awaiting the receipt of additional information to complete Chapman's record. On September 7, the board denied Chapman's latest parole application, with the panel stating "release remains inappropriate at this time and incompatible with the welfare of the community."
- Chapman's seventh parole hearing was held before a three-member board in 2012. The following day, the denial of his application was announced, with the board stating, "Despite your positive efforts while incarcerated, your release at this time would greatly undermine respect for the law and tend to trivialize the tragic loss of life which you caused as a result of this heinous, unprovoked, violent, cold and calculated crime."
- Chapman's eighth parole application was denied in 2014. At the hearing, Chapman said, "I am sorry for being such an idiot and choosing the wrong way for glory." "I found my peace in Jesus," he continued. "I know him. He loves me. He has forgiven me. He has helped in my life like you wouldn't believe."
- Chapman's ninth parole application was denied in 2016, at which Chapman said he now saw his crime as being "premeditated, selfish and evil".
- His next parole hearing is scheduled for August 2018.
Chapman refused all requests for interviews following the murder and during his first six years at Attica. James R. Gaines interviewed him and wrote a three-part, 18,000-word People magazineseries in February and March 1987. Chapman told the parole board he regretted the interview. Chapman later gave a series of audio-taped interviews to Jack Jones of the Democrat and Chronicle. In 1992 Jones published a book, Let Me Take You Down: Inside the Mind of Mark David Chapman, the Man Who Killed John Lennon.
Also in 1992, Chapman gave two television interviews. On December 4, 1992, 20/20 aired an interview that he gave to Barbara Walters, his first television interview since the shooting. On December 17, 1992, Larry King interviewed Chapman on his program Larry King Live. In 2000, with his first parole hearing approaching, Jack Jones asked Chapman to tell his story for Mugshots, a CourtTV program. Chapman refused to go on camera but, after praying over it, consented to tell his story in a series of audiotapes.
Chapman's experiences during the weekend on which he committed the murder have been turned into a feature-length movie called Chapter 27, in which he is played by Jared Leto. The film was written and directed by Jarrett Schaefer and is based on the Jones book. The film's title is a reference to The Catcher in the Rye, which has 26 chapters. Chapter 27 premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2007 and received polarized reactions from critics. The film had a limited release in theaters in the United States in March 2008. Chapter 27 was released widely onto DVD on September 30, 2008. Another film was made before the feature film entitled The Killing of John Lennon starring Jonas Ball as Chapman, which documents Chapman's life before and up to the murder and portrays Chapman in a somewhat sympathetic light. The film features Ball as Chapman narrating the film and states that all the words are Chapman's own.
A number of conspiracy theories have been published, based on CIA and FBI surveillance of Lennon due to his left-wing activism, and on the actions of Mark Chapman in the murder or subsequent legal proceedings. Barrister and journalist Fenton Bresler raised the idea in a book published in 1990. Liverpool playwright Ian Carroll, who has staged a drama conveying the theory that Chapman was manipulated by a rogue wing of the CIA, suggests Chapman was not so crazy that he could not manage a long trip from Hawaii to New York shortly prior to the murder. Claims include that Chapman was a Manchurian candidate, including speculation on links to the CIA's Project MKULTRA. At least one author has argued that forensic evidenceproves Chapman did not commit the murder, while others[who?] have criticized the theories as based on possible or suspected connections and circumstances.
In 1982, Rhino Records released a compilation of Beatles-related novelty and parody songs, called Beatlesongs. It featured a cover caricature of Chapman by William Stout. Following its release, Rhino recalled the record and replaced it with another cover. New York-based band Mindless Self Indulgence released a track entitled "Mark David Chapman" on their album If. Irish band the Cranberries recorded a song called "I Just Shot John Lennon" for their 1996 album To the Faithful Departed. It cites events that took place outside the Dakota on the night of Lennon's murder. The title of the song comes from Chapman's own words.
Austin, Texas-based art rock band ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead have also released a song called "Mark David Chapman" from their 1999 album Madonna. Julian Cope's 1988 album Autogeddon contains a song called "Don't Call Me Mark Chapman" whose lyrics suggest it is told from the point of view of Lennon's murderer. Filipino band Rivermaya released a song called "Hangman (I Shot the Walrus)" on their album Atomic Bomb (1997), supposedly written from Mark Chapman's point of view.
Chapman's obsession with the central character and message of The Catcher in the Rye added to controversy about the novel. Some links have been drawn between Chapman and the book's themes of adolescent sensitivity and depression on the one hand, and anti-social and violent thoughts on the other. This connection was made in the play Six Degrees of Separation and its film adaptation by the character played by Will Smith.
Links have sometimes been drawn between Chapman's actions and those of other killers or attempted killers. John Hinckley, who only months later tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, was also associated with The Catcher in the Rye. It has been said that Hinckley mourned Lennon's death. Furthermore, John Hinckley's father, John Hinckley, Sr, was president of World Vision, for whom Chapman was employed. A writer who experienced mental illness in the same city as Jared Loughner has suggested that examples such as Chapman's show the need to challenge stigma about mental health problems and ensure there are good community mental health services including crisis intervention.