The John Lennon Letters:
Edited and with an Introduction by Hunter Davies
9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980
The Assassination of John Lennon
On the evening of 8 December 1980, English musician John Lennon, formerly of the Beatles, was shot dead in the archway of the Dakota, his residence in New York City. The perpetrator was Mark David Chapman, an American Beatles fan who had travelled from Hawaii.
Chapman stated that he was angered by Lennon’s lifestyle and public statements, especially his much-publicised remark about the Beatles being “more popular than Jesus” and the lyrics of his later songs “God” and “Imagine“. Chapman also said he was inspired by the fictional character Holden Caulfield from J. D. Salinger‘s novel The Catcher in the Rye.
John Lennon – Making of Imagine (song) – from Gimme Some Truth HD
Chapman planned the killing over the course of several months and waited for Lennon at the Dakota on the morning of 8 December. During the evening, he met Lennon, who signed his copy of the album Double Fantasy. Lennon left with his wife, Yoko Ono, for a recording session at Record Plant Studio. Later that night, Lennon and Ono returned to the Dakota. As Lennon and Ono walked towards the archway entrance of the building, Chapman fired five hollow-point bullets from a .38 special revolver, four of which hit Lennon in the back. Chapman remained at the scene reading The Catcher in the Rye until he was arrested. Lennon was rushed to hospital in a police car where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
A worldwide outpouring of grief ensued on an unprecedented scale. Crowds gathered at Roosevelt Hospital and in front of the Dakota. People in nearby buildings placed lit candles in their windows, and at least three Beatles fans committed suicide. Lennon was cremated at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, on 12 December; the ashes were given to Ono, who requested 10 minutes of silence around the world instead of holding a funeral. Chapman pleaded guilty to murdering Lennon and was given a sentence of 20-years-to-life imprisonment in an Upstate New York prison. He has been denied parole eleven times after he became eligible in 2000.
Events preceding the murder
8 December 1980
Portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz went to the Lennons’ apartment to do a photo shoot for Rolling Stone magazine.
Leibovitz promised them that a photo of the two of them together would make the front cover of the magazine. Leibovitz had taken several photos of John Lennon alone and one was originally set to be on the cover.
Leibovitz said, “Nobody wanted [Ono] on the cover”. Lennon insisted that both he and his wife be on the cover, and after taking the pictures, Leibovitz left their apartment at 3:30. After the photo shoot, Lennon gave what would be his last interview, to San Francisco DJ Dave Sholin, for a music show to be broadcast on the RKO Radio Network.
John and Yoko RKO Interview December 8, 1980
At around 5 p.m., Lennon and Ono, delayed by a late limousine, left their apartment to mix the song “Walking on Thin Ice” (an Ono song featuring Lennon on lead guitar) at the Record Plant Studio
The Lennons spent several hours at the Record Plant studio before returning to the Dakota at approximately 10:50 p.m. Lennon had decided against dining out so he could be home in time to say goodnight to his son, before going on to the Stage Deli restaurant with Ono.
The Lennons exited their limousine on 72nd Street instead of driving into the more secure courtyard of the Dakota.
The Dakota doorman Jose Perdomo and a nearby taxi driver saw Chapman standing in the shadows by the archway. The Lennons passed Chapman and walked toward the archway entrance of the building. As Ono passed by, Chapman nodded at her. As Lennon passed by, he glanced briefly at Chapman, appearing to recognise him from earlier.
Seconds later, Chapman withdrew a Charter Arms .38 caliber revolver that he had hidden in his coat pocket, took aim directly at the center of Lennon’s back and fired five hollow-point bullets at him in rapid succession, from a distance of about nine or ten feet (about 3 m).
Based on statements made that night by NYPD Chief of Detectives James Sullivan, numerous radio, television, and newspaper reports claimed at the time that, before firing, Chapman called out, “Mr. Lennon”, and dropped into a combat stance.
Later court hearings and witness interviews did not include either “Mr. Lennon” or the “combat stance” description. Chapman has said that he does not remember calling out to Lennon before he fired, and that Lennon did not turn around. He claimed to have taken a “combat stance” in a 1992 interview with Barbara Walters.
One bullet missed Lennon and struck a window of the Dakota building. The other four hit Lennon in the back and shoulder, puncturing his left lung and left subclavian artery. Lennon, bleeding profusely from external wounds and from his mouth, staggered up five steps to the security/reception area where he said,:
“I’m shot! I’m shot!”
He then fell to the floor, scattering cassettes that he had been carrying. Perdomo ran inside and told concierge worker Jay Hastings that the attacker had dropped his gun on the pavement. Hastings first started to make a tourniquet, but upon ripping open Lennon’s blood-stained shirt and realising the severity of the musician’s multiple injuries, he covered Lennon’s chest with his uniform jacket, removed his blood-covered glasses, and summoned the police.
Chapman then removed his coat and hat in preparation for the arrival of police—to show he was not carrying any concealed weapons—and remained standing on West 72nd Street. Underneath his coat, he wore a promotional T-shirt for the musician Todd Rundgren’s album Hermit of Mink Hollow. Perdomo shouted at Chapman,
“Do you know what you’ve done?”,
to which Chapman calmly replied,
“Yes, I just shot John Lennon.”
Officers Steven Spiro and Peter Cullen were the first policemen to arrive at the scene; they were at 72nd Street and Broadway when they heard a report of shots fired at the Dakota. The officers arrived around two minutes later and found Chapman standing very calmly on West 72nd Street. They reported that Chapman had dropped the revolver to the ground and was holding a paperback book, J. D. Salinger‘s The Catcher in the Rye. Later, he claimed,
“If you were able to view the actual copy of The Catcher in the Rye that was taken from me on the night of Dec. 8, you would find in it the handwritten words, ‘This is my statement.'”
They immediately put Chapman in handcuffs and placed him in the back seat of their squad car. Chapman made no attempt to flee nor resist arrest.
Officer Herb Frauenberger and his partner Tony Palma were the second team, arriving a few minutes later. They found Lennon lying face down on the floor of the reception area, blood pouring from his mouth and his clothing already soaked with it, with Hastings attending to him.
Realizing the extent of Lennon’s injuries, the policemen decided not to wait for an ambulance and immediately carried Lennon into their squad car. He was rushed to Roosevelt Hospital on West 59th Street. Officer James Moran said they placed Lennon in the back seat.
Reportedly, Moran asked, “Are you John Lennon?” to which Lennon nodded and replied, “Yes.” According to another account by officer Bill Gamble, Lennon nodded slightly and tried to speak, but could only manage to make a gurgling sound, and lost consciousness shortly thereafter.
A few minutes before 11:00 p.m., Moran arrived at Roosevelt Hospital with Lennon in his squad car. Moran was carrying Lennon on his back and onto a gurney, demanding a doctor for a multiple gunshot wound victim. When Lennon was brought in, he was not breathing, and had no pulse. Three doctors, a nurse, and two or three other medical attendants worked on Lennon for 10 to 20 minutes in an attempt to resuscitate him.
As a last resort, the doctors cut open Lennon’s chest and attempted manual heart massage to restore circulation, but they quickly discovered that the damage to the blood vessels above and around Lennon’s heart from the multiple bullet wounds was too great.
Lennon had been shot four times at close range with hollow-point bullets
Three of the four bullets that struck Lennon’s back passed completely through his body and out of his chest, while the fourth lodged itself in his aorta beside his heart. One of the exiting bullets from his chest hit and became lodged in his upper left arm. Nearly all of them would have been fatal by themselves, because each bullet had ruptured vital arteries around the heart. Lennon had been shot four times at close range with hollow-point bullets and his affected organs—particularly his left lung and major blood vessels above his heart—were virtually destroyed upon impact.
Information regarding who operated on and attempted to resuscitate Lennon has varied. Many reports credit Stephan Lynn, the head of the Emergency Department at Roosevelt Hospital, with performing Lennon’s surgery. In 2005, Lynn recalled being the one massaging Lennon’s heart and attempting to resuscitate him for 20 minutes, that two other doctors were present, and that the three of them together declared Lennon’s death.
Conversely in 1990, Richard Marks, an emergency room surgeon at Roosevelt Hospital, stated he operated on Lennon, administered a “massive” blood transfusion, and provided heart massage to no avail.
“When I realized he wasn’t going to make it,” said Marks, “I just sewed him back up. I felt helpless.”
In 2015, surgeon David Halleran disputed the accounts of both Marks and Lynn, stating that the two doctors “didn’t do anything.” Halleran also stated that he did not realise who he was operating on initially, and that Lynn only came to assist him when he heard that it was Lennon. At the time, Halleran was a third-year general surgery resident at Roosevelt Hospital.
Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival at 11:15 p.m., but the time of 11:07 p.m. has also been reported.
Witnesses noted that the Beatles song “All My Loving” came over the hospital’s sound system at the moment Lennon was pronounced dead. His body was then taken to the city morgue at 520 First Avenue for an autopsy. The cause of death was reported on his death certificate as “hypovolemic shock, caused by the loss of more than 80% of blood volume due to multiple through-and-through gunshot wounds to the left shoulder and left chest resulting in damage to the left lung, the left subclavian artery, and both the aorta and aortic arch“.
According to the report, even with prompt medical treatment, no person could have lived for more than a few minutes with multiple bullet wounds affecting all of the major arteries and veins around the heart.
Dr. Lynn informed Ono of her husband’s death. According to Lynn, Ono started sobbing and said, “Oh no, no, no, no … tell me it’s not true!” He said that Ono then lay down and began hitting her head against the floor, but calmed down when a nurse gave Lennon’s wedding ring to her.
His account is disputed by two of the nurses who were there. In a 2015 interview, Ono denied hitting her head on a concrete floor and stated that her chief concern at the time was to remain calm and take care of her son Sean. She was led away from Roosevelt Hospital by a policeman and Geffen Records’ president, David Geffen.
Read more: The Death of John Lennon -Wikipedia
The John Lennon Letters:
Edited and with an Introduction by Hunter Davies