Mark David Chapman
Let Me Take You Down
Inside The Mind Of Mark David Chapman, The Man Who Shot John Lennon:
Mark David Chapman (born May 10, 1955) is an American prison inmate who murdered John Lennon on December 8, 1980. Chapman shot Lennon outside The Dakota apartment building in New York City. Chapman fired at Lennon five times, hitting him four times in the back. Chapman later remained at the crime scene reading J. D. Salinger‘s novel The Catcher in the Rye until the police arrived and arrested him. Chapman repeatedly said that the novel was his statement.
Interview With Mark David Chapman John Lennon’s Assassin
Chapman’s legal team put forward an insanity defense based on expert testimony that he was in a delusional and possibly psychotic state at the time, but nearing the trial, Chapman instructed his lawyer that he wanted to plead guilty, based on what he had decided was the will of God. The judge allowed the plea change without further psychiatric assessment after Chapman denied hearing voices, and sentenced him to a prison term of twenty years to life with a stipulation that mental health treatment be provided. Chapman was imprisoned in 1981 and has been denied parole eight times amidst campaigns against his release
Chapman was born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1955. His father, David Curtis Chapman, was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, and his mother, Diane Elizabeth (née Pease), was a nurse. His younger sister, Susan, was born seven years later. Chapman stated that as a boy, he lived in fear of his father, who 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, skipping classes, and 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 named 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 nightspots 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, 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, inspired partly by the film Around the World in Eighty Days, visiting 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. He also started talking with the imaginary ‘little people’ again. 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 up to this point.
Plan to murder John Lennon
Chapman allegedly started planning to kill Lennon up to three months prior to the murder.
He had been a big Beatles fan, idolizing Lennon, and played guitar himself, but turned on him after becoming born-again; he was angered at Lennon’s 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 “It went, ‘Imagine, imagine if John Lennon was dead.'” Chapman’s childhood friend Miles McManushe recalls his referring to the song as “communist”. Jan Reeves, sister of one of Chapman’s best friends, reports 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 later also been influenced by reading in a library book (John Lennon: One Day at a Time by Anthony Fawcett) about Lennon’s life 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 recalls 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 a further list of people in mind, including Johnny Carson, Marlon Brando, Walter Cronkite, Elizabeth Taylor, George C. Scott, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, but that John Lennon seemed to be the easiest to find. He separately said that he was particularly infatuated by Lennon. He also considered committing suicide by jumping from the Statue of Liberty. Chapman’s planning has been described as ‘muddled’. Chapman went to New York in October 1980, intending to kill Lennon. He left for a short while 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 before it occurred he flew back to New York, on December 6, 1980. Chapman says that 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 December 7, 1980, 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.
Murder of John Lennon
On December 8, 1980, Chapman left his room at the Sheraton Hotel, leaving personal items behind which the police would later find, and 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 and Yoko Ono 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. Photographer Paul Goresh took a photo of Lennon signing Chapman’s album. Chapman reported that, “At that point my big part won and I wanted to go back to my hotel, but I couldn’t. I waited until he came back. He knew where the ducks went in winter, and I needed to know this” (a reference to The Catcher in the Rye).
Around 10:49 p.m., the Lennons’ limousine returned to the Dakota. Lennon and Ono got out, 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 left shoulder. The death certificate gives the following description: “Multiple gunshot wounds of left shoulder and chest; Left lung and left subclavian artery; External and internal hemorrhage. Shock.”
At the time, one newspaper reported that, before firing, Chapman 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, appearing to be reading The Catcher in the Rye, until the police arrived. The New York City Police Department officers who first responded, recognizing that Lennon’s wounds were severe, decided to transport him to Roosevelt Hospital. Chapman was arrested without incident. 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.” Lennon was pronounced dead by Dr. Stephan Lynn at 11:07 p.m. at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center.
Gloria Chapman, who had known of Chapman’s preparations for killing Lennon, hired an attorney who stated at a press conference: “Gloria did not do anything or participate in any way in this trip in a knowing way or in a way in which she did consciously in any way lend any support to Mark’s actions”.
Mental state assessment
More than a dozen psychologists and psychiatrists studied Chapman in the six months before the scheduled trial – three for the prosecution, six for the defense and several more on behalf of the court – involving batteries of tests and over 200 hours of clinical interviews. None concluded that he was feigning or malingering. In fact, Chapman cooperated more with the prosecution experts than the defense. The court experts who examined Chapman at Bellevue Hospital concluded that he was delusional yet competent to stand trial. However their report stated that he “may continue to have psychotic episodes” and warned of “fluctuations of mood and…cooperation” with his legal counsel.
The six defense experts declared that Chapman was psychotic (five making a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia and one of psychotic manic depression) while the three prosecution experts declared that his delusions fell short of psychosis and instead diagnosed various personality disorders.
Chapman was also seen by religious officials, initially by Rev. Charles McGowan, pastor of Chapman’s old church Chapel Woods Presbyterian, which resulted in Chapman renewing his belief in God and Satan. However they fell out when McGowan released personal details to the media, and for the time being Chapman returned to emphasizing The Catcher in the Rye and wanting a trial to publicize it further.
Lawyer Herbert Adlerberg was assigned to represent Chapman but, amid threats of lynching, withdrew. Police feared that Lennon fans might storm the hospital so they transferred Chapman to Rikers Island.
In January 1981, at the initial hearing, Chapman’s new lawyer, Jonathan Marks, entered 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 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 Otnow Lewis, a research psychiatrist then 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 has maintained that Chapman’s decision to change his plea did not appear reasonable or explicable, and she implies 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 in prison and sentenced Chapman 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 pled 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 which 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. The Daily Mirror reported he wanted to set up a church with his wife.
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. Chapman was transferred to the Wende Correctional Facility in Alden, New York, which is east of Buffalo, on May 15, 2012.
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 entitled to a hearing every two years. Since that time, Chapman has been denied parole eight times by a three-member board. 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 your notoriety.” They noted that although Chapman had a good disciplinary record while in prison, he had been in the SHU and didn’t 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 having 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. Around 6,000 people had signed an online petition against Chapman’s release by this time.
In October 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 December 8, 2006, 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 was on August 12, 2008. He was denied parole “due to concern for the public safety and welfare.” On July 27, 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.” On August 11, 2010, the parole board postponed the hearing until 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.”
It was announced on August 18, 2012, that Chapman would have his seventh parole hearing the week beginning August 20. However, Chapman was denied parole by a three-member board who stated, “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 August 2014. At the hearing, Chapman said, “I am sorry for being such an idiot and choosing the wrong way for glory.” “I have peace now in Jesus,” he continued. “He has forgiven me and loves me. He has helped me in my life like you wouldn’t believe.” Chapman’s next scheduled parole hearing will be in August 2016.
Following the murder, and for the first six years in Attica, Chapman refused all requests for interviews. James R. Gaines interviewed him and wrote a three-part, 18,000-word People magazine series 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 was 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 wasn’t so crazy that he couldn’t 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 evidence proves Chapman did not commit the murder, while others 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 The Catcher in the Rye added to controversy about the novel. Some links have been drawn between Chapman’s 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. Further, John Hinckley’s father, John Hinckley, Sr, was president of World Vision, for whom Chapman was employed. More recently, 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.
Let Me Take You Down
Inside The Mind Of Mark David Chapman, The Man Who Shot John Lennon: