From 1980-1981, a number of attempted and successful assassination attempts made many people wonder if the motive behind so many lone-nut shootings were to gain fame by simply killing someone famous. Certainly, there’s something to this reasoning. After all, about the only thing that we know of John Hinckley is that he was hung up on actress Jodie Foster, and he tried to kill Ronald Reagan in the spring of 1981. Mark Chapman is certainly famous. In addition to the fact that any biography of the Beatles from then on would almost have to mention him, he has become the subject of books and movies. In a 1992 interview with Barbara Walters of 20/20, he affirmed that he shot John Lennon for no other reason than to “acquire his fame.”
Figure 1. Mark Chapman 20/20 interview excerpt
Of course, there’s a limit to this premise. Sure, many are familiar with the names Hinckley and Chapman. But many would be hard pressed to come up with the names of the shooter who made an attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II, or the guy who assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.* In other words, murdering the famous doesn’t necessarily lead to glorious infamy. And in Chapman’s case, he hasn’t really sought fame all that hard. As Fenton Bresler has noticed, he’s given few interviews out of thousands of requests. He doesn’t like to talk about the incident, according to a number of sources. Contrast him with, say, Charles Manson, who gives lots of interviews and replies to correspondence sent him from all over the world, and you seem to have someone shy about the limelight, and ashamed of what he has done.
Furthermore, unlike Manson, Chapman doesn’t have the history of trying to seek legitimate fame. He never held any belief that he could make it big as a musician, or an actor. In fact, the only vocation he seemed to want badly was with the YMCA. While many could sing the praises of the Y as a noble institution, it’s hardly an employer who could make one famous. One would have considerably less fame as a retired janitor and security guard, which was, according to defense sources, his only ambition prior to acquiring a kill-Lennon jones.
What made this a potential motive early on was his alleged admission to his defense team about a list of possible victims. According to Steve Spiro, the police officer who arrested Chapman after the shooting, the list contained four names: talk show host Johnny Carson, actor George C. Scott, TV journalist Walter Cronkite, and former first lady Jacqueline Onassis. Later writers, among them Jim Gaines, claimed that it was much longer. In addition to Lennon and the others mentioned above, it supposedly included former Beatle Paul McCartney, actress Elizabeth Taylor, Hawaii Governor George Ariyoshi, and (then) President-Elect Ronald Reagan.
Gaines apparently got these other names from Chapman’s defense team, who might have gotten them orally from their interviews, hence their absence on the list that Chapman gave to Spiro. But the names themselves are interesting. For example, Gaines said that Chapman had selected McCartney (in London) as his first target, but settled on Lennon, who was closer. Granted, trying to smuggle firearms internationally might have proved a rather difficult challenge. Then too, New York is indeed closer to Hawaii than London. Still, Los Angeles, where many of the others on his list resided, is much closer still, and considerably cheaper for him to fly to from Hawaii—something of expected importance when talking about a guy who didn’t have money. Moreover, were he to kill Gov. Ariyoshi, he would have needed no plane ticket at all. And as a world-renown tourist destination, Hawaii attracts famous visitors from all over. He could have simply waited for one to come there, were he simply trying to gain fame by shooting a celebrity.
More to the point, before Chapman left for New York in December 1980, he left the Apple a month earlier for the same dedicated purpose: to eliminate John Lennon. He gave up this first quest only after he got word that Lennon had left town. But if killing a celebrity were his only goal, he had more than Lennon to choose from, for other famous people lived at the Dakota during this time, among them Lauren Bacall, Leonard Bernstein and Gilda Radner. On his second trip to New York, he saw Mia Farrow from a distance.
Chapman passed up numerous chances to kill other celebrities. Because of that, I’m inclined to believe that the list either deliberately misleading, or not serious in the first place. From November to December, the only person in Chapman’s sights was John Lennon. Chapman went out of his way to stalk the man, even going so far as to have a brief conversation with his son, Sean, the afternoon of the murder. Because Lennon was his only target, it’s difficult to reconcile his actions with someone who simply wanted fame by killing someone famous.
*That would be Mehmet Ali Ağca and Lt. Khalid Ahmed Showky Al-Islambouli (Egyptian Army), respectively.
Mark Chapman did indeed suffer from a mental illness that is well documented. Specifically, he suffered from depression and suicidal tendencies that became apparent shortly after his move from Georgia to Hawaii. While this does show some instability in his past, it isn’t that sensational, especially when you consider his circumstances. Of course, the defense experts for Chapman’s trial-that-never-came seized upon these traits to develop a motive for the killing.
As Rev. Newton Hendrix observed (see previous post), there was nothing inherently odd about Chapman during his teenage years. But after graduation from high school, his life began a slow downward spiral. Most of his peers and classmates went to college. Many of them became professional people. Chapman, however, didn’t go to college. Instead he went to work. While he would have other employers, the one for which he shined the brightest was the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). The YMCA had already played a large role in his life. His father taught young people how to play guitar in one of the local chapters, and that’s where a young Mark Chapman learned too.
Later on, Chapman took either temporary or part-time jobs at the Y of DeKalb, GA. He even participated in an international YMCA program that sent him to Beirut, of all places. As a temporary counselor helping young Vietnamese refugees acclimate to life in the US at Ft. Chaffee, he really seemed to have found his niche.
Chapman would probably have relished a career with the YMCA. And his supervisors welcomed the possibility that he would take a permanent job with them. But there was one small problem. In order to become a permanent full-time employee, he would need a college degree.
Chapman’s long-time sweetheart, Jessica Blankenship, encouraged him to finally get that degree. When she visited him at Ft. Chaffee, they discussed this as a possibility. They decided to go to college together, once the Y gig ended. They enrolled at Covenant College, a Presbyterian school located in Lookout Mountain, GA. Blankenship did okay. But Chapman couldn’t get his act together. He left after the first semester of a four-year program.
Blankenship had known Chapman for years, by that time. Many of their friends assumed they’d get hitched one day. Chapman assumed that too. But without direction, or purpose, or a steady job even, Blankenship could not wait for him to grow up and find himself. Judging from her actions (which I’ll mention later on), I would guess that she loved him dearly. But after Ft. Chaffee, she would love him only as a friend.
After the breakup with Blankenship, Chapman decided to get as far away from Georgia as he could, hence his move to Hawaii. He had saved up some money from his job as an armed security guard, a gig he got through his friend, DeKalb Co. Deputy Sheriff Dana Reeves, who, unsuccessfully, tried to get him to stay in his hometown.
Immediately upon landing on the sunny shores of Oahu, Chapman checked himself into an upscale hotel and lived large. Of course, his money didn’t last too long. The depression came shortly after, punctuated by a suicide attempt (carbon monoxide poisoning).
When one considers what Chapman lost in that brief period of time—his beau, his dream job, proximity to family and friends, etc.—then one could understand him being depressed. He went to the Waikiki Counseling Clinic for help. His therapist, Anne Jones, helped him through his crisis and suicide attempt. It wouldn’t take him long to recover. He wound up working there as a janitor. He would later get an office job at the clinic for Gloria.
Chapman’s defense psychiatrists combined this very real aspect of his mental health with something completely erroneous—his supposed obsession with John Lennon.
One could correctly identify Chapman—and millions of others—as a Beatlephile, if you’re talking about his childhood and early teenage years. His mother noted the times he would play their music on his guitar. Of course, as a young teenybopper, Chapman also indulged in booze and Mary Jane—as did his friends. His substance abuse ended, however, when he found religion. As Hendrix would note, his conversion was nearly instantaneous and permanent.
As a newbie conservative (Chapman’s characterization) Christian, he reassessed everything in his life, including his love for the Beatles. He didn’t suddenly hate them, or anything. Rather, he felt that they had become meaningless—Lennon, because of his flippant “We’re bigger than Jesus Christ” comment, especially so. Some of those in Chapman's church youth group had pretty virulent feelings about the former Beatle. Some even took to singing a song they called “Imagine John Lennon Dead,” a parody of “Imagine.” Chapman, however, wasn’t in for the vitriol. He simply didn’t think of Lennon, unless somebody else brought up the subject. David Moore, his supervisor at Ft. Chaffee, brought up the subject once, and Chapman’s response was more one of disappointment in the man rather than hatred of him, commenting, “He shouldn’t have said those things.”
On the other hand, Chapman did obsess over another rock star, Todd Rundgren, formerly of the Nazz. Rundgren had criticized Lennon in song and print.
Since his days as a kiddie stoner, Chapman didn’t obsess over Lennon. Instead, he was indifferent to him. He owned no Beatle albums, for example, although his wife owned several. He didn’t erect a shrine to his victim, as some stalkers do. There was a report early on that he had in his possession, at the time of his arrest, some fourteen hours of Beatles songs on cassette tape. But Fenton Bresler, who went to excruciating lengths to verify his information with the police and prosecutor, often getting them to speak on the record, said that Chapman only took one musical item with him, the copy of Double Fantasy (left) that Lennon would autograph shortly before his death. Fenton asserted that Chapman did this to deflect suspicion as he waited outside the Dakota. Instead of looking like a stalker (which, of course, he was) he would look like simply one more Beadle Peadle* looking for an autograph, and perhaps a picture.
At the time, the press made quite a fuss about something Chapman did prior to the shooting. When leaving his job at the building complex located at 444 Nahua Street in Honolulu, he usually signed out as “Chap.” But on the day he quit, he wrote the name John Lennon, crossed it out, and then wrote his own name underneath.** This led Chapman’s defense experts to the conclusion that Mark had come to believe he and Lennon were one and the same. As Dr. Daniel Schwarz said:
By the fall of 1980…he [Chapman] believed that he would retire. His wife’s income was adequate for both of them at that time, and she enjoyed her work, and he then tried to model himself after John Lennon, who you recall, like himself, was married to a Japanese woman who was the working member of the family.
However, in a way peculiar to schizophrenics, the closest he came to achieving this goal of identifying with Mr. Lennon, the more he came to believe he was John Lennon.
You and I try to model ourselves after somebody, we can try to identify with that person, but we will not run the risk of believing that we are that person. We will always know who we are and who that person is. But I believe that he became perilously close to losing his own identity, and actually, on the day that he retired, 23 October, he signed himself out from work as John Lennon.
Again, Dr. Schwartz is trying to do right by his client. Still, we have to wonder why Chapman would model himself after someone he cared nothing about. If anything, one would think that he would model himself after Todd Rundgren, whom he actually idolized. While Schwartz drew undeniable parallels between Lennon and Chapman, he didn’t mention numerous critical differences. For example, Yoko Ono is Japanese. Gloria Abe Chapman is an American of Japanese ancestry. Yoko Ono is a very strong-willed individual, creative and outspoken. Gloria is, by all accounts, modest, earthy, quiet, and somewhat passive. In short, they are about as different as two women could be, save their ethnicity. If Chapman were the Beatlephile everyone claimed him to be, he would have realized that Gloria was hardly a Yoko substitute. If he were truly modeling his life after Lennon, he would have picked another mate. After all, it’s not like Hawaii has a shortage on women of Japanese descent. Were he to marry a local, which he did, she would have a fair chance of having at least one Japanese ancestor.
Moreover, Chapman’s “retirement” in no way resembled Lennon’s five-year recording hiatus. Lennon stayed at home to keep a promise to Ono that he would raise their son. All the same, John didn’t need to live off of Yoko’s income. He had his own millions--although his wife’s shrewd investments greatly enhanced his portfolio. In short, Lennon might have been emotionally dependent on his wife, but not financially dependent, as Chapman was. And as the world knows by now, Chapman didn’t leave his job to sit around the house all day. He left his job for the sole purpose of going to New York and blowing away Lennon.
Furthermore, as Bresler noticed, the words ‘John Lennon,’ as they appear on the sign-out sheet of 444 Nahua, are crossed out with two very strong lines, followed by his usual ‘Chap.’ If he really thought he were Lennon, why make the correction? By that time, Chapman had already made up his mind to kill John. Moreover, he never intended to flee. And the money he got to go to New York didn’t come from his earnings. So it’s not as though he were running the risk of delaying the paycheck necessary for his date with destiny.
So, again, why make the correction?
Perhaps the scratched out name could be indicative of something else. For the moment, it might be helpful to view it as sort of an inside joke that Chapman had made to himself. You see, he is actually crossing off John Lennon.
Then too, there was the identification with the fictional character, Holden Caulfield, who went on a mission to wipe out phonies. Combining the suicidal history with Chapman’s belief that he had become some amalgamation of himself, Lennon and Caulfield, the defense came up with a rather novel theory of the case. They averred that Chapman wanted to commit suicide, but didn’t want to die. So, he killed his other self—specifically, the phony self. As Dr. Schwartz explained:
I think that what finally happened was this: killing Mr. Lennon was, in his [Chapman’s] schizophrenic reasoning, a compromise, a way of handling these suicidal wishes, but in a sense, staying alive himself. He killed the person who, to him, now represented evil and hypocrisy. He killed him physically, and he killed himself psychologically.
For many, this would be the only explanation of the murder they would need. But considering that experts with an understandable (perhaps, in a strange way, noble) bias glossed over, distorted and omitted fairly strong evidence in order to form this opinion, we can thus see the problems inherent with it, even though some aspects of their characterization are probably accurate.
In some ways, it’s more frightening to think that a sane person would fly thousands of miles to murder someone whom he never met, and rarely thought of. So I, for one, can understand the public’s comfort with the official explanation, despite its problems.
The prosecution had its own theory regarding motive, and this too has received a lot of attention. At times, Chapman himself has stated this to be his reason, only to deny it later. Examining his actions, and the press surrounding them, we have questions to raise about this premise as well.
________________________ *Beadle Peadle: what the Beatles called their fans; sometimes used derisively.
**Bresler notes that this list has only been exhibited as a photograph, and is no longer extant. This makes it difficult to determine who actually wrote the name. Although Bresler is right to point out that it’s not an ironclad fact that Chapman actually penned the name, I would say that it’s a very safe assumption that he did.
Well, as far back as he age of nine or ten, Mr. Chapman had difficulty in socializing or relating with his peers. Instead, he would spend much of his time alone, engrossed in an imaginary world.
--Dr. Daniel Schwartz, Rolling Stone, 15 October, 1981.
As Dr. Philip Melanson could tell you, ‘loner’ is not a technical psychological term. Yet we tend to apply it to people who kill public figures, as if this is in some way explanatory. And in the case of Mark Chapman, this term doesn’t apply at all. Diane Chapman, in 1987, put it very succinctly to Jim Gaines of People:
I’ve seen him [Mark] being described as a loner. Are you kidding? He had lots of friends. I never had to tell him to go out and play. And when he was inside he was always on the couch talking to me. I was the one who wanted to be a loner.
In researching his book Who Killed John Lennon, Fenton Bresler not only verified that Mark Chapman had lots of friends, but also managed to get these friends to speak to him on the record. What’s more, said friends continued to speak highly of him for years after the slaying. It’s not that they approve of what Chapman did. Rather, they have a hard time reconciling their knowledge of Chapman with his public perception as a psycho killer. Even more important, the psychosis and pathologies attributed to Chapman by his defense experts supposedly developed earlier in his life. But when you examine his earlier life, they simply do not appear. In fact, his peers didn’t see him as anything but normal, like themselves. As one old friend, Rev. Newton Hendrix, told Bresler:
Obviously there’s a lot of water under the bridge from ’73 to ’80 but still, looking back, you can see all these things and think: well, maybe that was part of it, you can maybe see some instability there. But, I mean, you can look back on me and see the same thing, you know....
Even so, there was nothing about Mark’s behaviour, nothing he ever said to me, that would make me want to say: ‘John Lennon had better be careful because he’s [Chapman’s] coming after him.’ Nothing he ever did that made me think he would not end up just a normal person.
Rev. Hendrix, like Diane Chapman, was trying to piece together in retrospect all the things that supposedly contributed to madness. But in doing so, he compared Mark to himself and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.
David Moore, Chapman’s YMCA supervisor, held a similar view. Like the Rev. Hendrix, he could see nothing in Chapman’s past that would lead him on a collision course with infamy. Furthermore, the Chapman he knew before the murder seemed quite like the Chapman he knew after the murder. As he told Bresler:
I have recently re-established communications with Mark at Attica Prison [spring 1988], and I am not prepared to say anything that might endanger that. Nor would I want to. The fact is I value his friendship, always did and always will. The Mark that I knew was this protective, loving, nurturing person that abhorred violence.
Diane Chapman also saw nothing out of the ordinary. Countering Dr. Lee Salk’s characterization of her son’s father as abusive,* she explained that the one night David became physically violent was a singular occurrence not indicative of the rest of their relationship. It was never the case that he repeatedly beat her while she called on Mark for assistance, and after finding none slipped into bed with her son. Moreover, the perpetual violence that Mark supposedly endured as a youth at the hands of his father didn't happen, according to both her and David Chapman. And try as she might, she still couldn’t endorse the defense experts version of Mark’s childhood:
But I don’t understand Mark’s [alleged] anger against Dave…. I didn’t call him [Mark] to intercede or anything. I just wanted somebody to be aware. I just wasn’t thinking. I had never been hit before in my life…. The fact is Dave kept a darn good roof over our heads for all those years, and I would say he was a better parent to Mark than I was....
I pretty well know there was nothing that drastic in our lives that would cause anything like that [the murder of Lennon]…. As far as I can see, we were pretty normal. It’s true that Dave didn’t show his emotions, but he would do anything for Mark. That’s where it’s [the vilification of David Chapman] so unfair….Dave was really proud of Mark.
Diane Chapman divorced David in 1978, the year she left Georgia to live near Mark and Gloria in Hawaii. So it’s not as though she were in a situation where she had to watch what she said about her ex-husband, lest she face retribution. Of course, some people would deny both publicly and to themselves that something untoward occurred during their child’s formative years, and perhaps Diane did so in 1987 when talking to Gaines. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. She acknowledged that her ex-husband wasn’t perfect. She seemed to be genuinely perplexed, and at a loss to explain her son’s actions.
Captain Louis Souza, the detective who headed the Honolulu police investigation into Lennon’s death, looked extensively for evidence of insanity, mostly because New York prosecutors and cops worried that defense investigators would find evidence of it in his past, especially during the previous year. In this case, it would be in Souza’s interest to find this evidence so the prosecution could form a response to it early on, and not get ambushed by the defense. Problem was, he found none:
Chapman is not insane. I am not a physician but I had been eighteen years in the service then, and I wouldn’t consider him a nut. I believe he was well aware of what he was doing in relation to John Lennon’s death. His actions here to my investigation didn’t find that he was ‘nuts.’
The bottom line: the social pathologies, as well as the psychological ones, that Chapman’s defense experts said he manifested in his youth were never corroborated by those who actually knew him during his youth. From all the evidence we have, Chapman wasn’t angry at the world because of a violent and neglectful father. No one notes any evidence of psychosis at the time. Nor was he a loner. In fact, Chapman was rather outgoing and gregarious. His job, counseling young Vietnamese refugees at Ft. Chaffee, relied upon this very trait. And according to Moore and everyone else connected to him, Chapman performed his YMCA duties exceptionally well.
Figure 1. Chapman at Ft. Chaffee
Moreover, his outgoingness is evident literally minutes before the shooting when, waiting for Lennon to show up at the Dakota, he befriended three others who were also waiting for a glimpse of the former-Beatle: Jerri Moll, Jude Stein and Paul Goresh.
Despite the problems with their most fundamental assumptions, defense expert witnesses nevertheless formulated an overall theory of motive which has served as the quasi-official story ever since. Like their other assertions, these too are hampered by the lack of corroboration from those who actually knew Chapman (in fact, they often contradict this scenario). Then too, these scenarios were rather farfetched in the first place. Nevertheless, they had the benefit of being sensational, to the point where the explanation could capture the public’s attention. In fact, they would become the basis of two recent Hollywood movies. So despite the problems with this hypothesis, many people were still willing to believe it because it was so “out there that it must be true.”
______________________ *In fairness to Dr. Salk, Chapman himself was the source of the perpetual abuse story, saying, “He would beat her up. I’d wake up hearing my mother screaming my name, and it just scared the fire out of me, and I’d run in there and put up my fists and make him go away.” Both David and Diane Chapman denied this.
By 1980, the stereotype of the lone angry nut had become firmly entrenched in American political consciousness, with the likes of Lee Oswald, James Ray and Sirhan Sirhan serving as prime examples. So violent acts against public figures, perpetrated by someone out of the blue, now seems like a normal thing. Yet digging below the surface, we can often see something drastically different. In this particular case, one can easily show that Mark Chapman was neither a loner, nor particularly angry. Moreover, we have reason to doubt his nuttiness.*
Two genuine symptoms of potential brain disorder in Chapman have surfaced, one shortly before the trial, and one after. In her 1987 interview with People reporter Jim Gaines, Diane Chapman disclosed that during infancy and childhood, Mark had a condition that sounds a lot like seizures:
...the shaking, the rocking….We had to take the casters off his crib, because he would rock it right across the room, and it carried on to quite an old age—maybe 12—just rocking back and forth all the time. I know my mom thinks that’s what the problem was—that with all that rocking he hit his head one too many times. But our doctor didn’t make anything of it; she said it could be a sign of musical talent.
Here, we can sympathize with Diane and Grandma as they attempt to explain, to their own satisfaction, why Mark would murder John Lennon, something uncharacteristic of their son and grandson. But it’s not as though Chapman's mother neglected this problem. She had a doctor evaluate him. The doctor reassured her that everything was fine. And the fact that Mark actually had musical talent—not to mention a higher-than-normal IQ (tested in the 115-125 range)—most likely persuaded her early on that she needn’t worry about the seizures. Besides, Mark grew out of the rocking, and it doesn't appear to have been a factor later in life.
When Chapman told prosecutor Allen Sullivan and Judge Dennis Edwards that he did not suffer from auditory hallucinations, he contradicted the understanding of his attorney and his expert defense witnesses. He might have also possibly contradicted the understanding of his wife. On his previous trip to New York, in November 1980, he phoned her, saying, “I’ve won a great victory.” After returning to Hawaii, he confessed to her that some sinister urge compelled him to go to the Big Apple for the express purpose of murdering Lennon. Whether or not he told her that he actually heard voices telling to do this, only the Chapmans know for sure. Yet, this is doubtful.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the mind-control conspiracy theory has no merit whatsoever. If that’s the case, no one would have reason to coach Chapman to change his plea from insanity to guilty. If anything, his wife, his friends, his attorney and his expert witnesses would have coached him to do the opposite, for an insanity plea represented his only real hope against an extremely serious charge. Chapman showed that he fully understood the nature of the insanity defense in his testimony (see previous post). He knew that if he said he heard voices, that would postpone, and possibly nullify a guilty plea.
Between incarceration and sentencing, defense experts made a big deal about Chapman’s childhood and adolescent fantasy of ruling over thousands of invisible little people. According to Dr. Daniel Schwartz, these people had become “quite real to him.” But other than Dr. Schwartz’s word—and keep in mind that he is trying to help Chapman’s lawyer, Jonathan Marks, establish an insanity defense—we have little reason to believe that Chapman saw the little people as anything other than a fantasy. In fact, we have every reason to believe that he understood them as a fantasy, just as he understood that there weren't really any detonators embedded in the living room Lazy-Boy with which to blow them up. After all, millions of little kids have imaginary friends. Almost all of them, Chapman included, outgrow them. There’s no evidence that he maintained this fantasy into adulthood. So far from demonstrating a break from reality, the little people almost certainly indicate a person with a vivid imagination.
It’s then quite possible that Chapman’s account of battling demons and communicating with God in his cell represent more of the same. While awaiting trial, he realized that something compelled him to fire at Lennon—something that went against his every belief and emotion. In that light, he could very well imagine that some demonic force had seized him. By the same token, he could imagine what God would have wanted him to do, especially given his Christian background. But imagination is not hallucination. In other words, he didn’t hear voices in his head, but rather in his mind’s ear. And this is precisely what he told Sullivan and Judge Edwards.
Chapman might have faced psychotic episodes while in prison for a number of reasons. Yet, as the prosecution experts stated in their reports, there was no compelling evidence that he suffered from schizophrenia, or that he exhibited psychosis during their examinations, much less at the time of the shooting itself.
The defense experts gave other reasons for Chapman’s insanity, which involved his history of depression and suicide attempts, his social maladjustment, and his self-identification and obsession with both John Lennon and the fictional Holden Caulfield. However, one doesn’t have to look at these explanations too deeply to see that they simply cannot be true.
______________________ *Our friend Dr. Alistair has offered a new insight into this case, and I am currently following up on it. I will introduce some of his suggestions and my own findings later on in the series. For the present time, I wish to concentrate on how Chapman's condition would have appeared to the psychiatrists examining him from 1980-1981.
The basic point of contention concerning Mark Chapman’s motivation stems from his popular image as a lunatic. There’s no question that Chapman suffered from mental illness, specifically depression. And his behavior between the night of the murder and his eventual disposition was downright odd. But with respect to the psychoses and neuroses that characterize borderline personality disorders, we only have evidence of that after the fact. In other words, Chapman didn’t display any hint of schizophrenia until the murder—and even the expert witnesses testifying in the case disagreed with each other whether or not Chapman in fact had psychotic tendencies afterward.
At the same time, many of Chapman’s past actions were reinterpreted to fit the narrative of a paranoid schizophrenic. In many cases, the tales of his past were distorted. In some instances, they were provably false. Other aspects are true, but at the same time could indicate any number of things.
In order to assess Chapman’s state of mind, we really have to go where his expert witnesses did, and examine his entire life to that point. Defense witnesses delved into his interpersonal relationships and determined that Chapman was a loner, a social maladroit who had difficulty making friends. As one of his shrinks, Dr. Daniel Schwartz, stated in a Rolling Stone interview dated 15 October 1981:
Well, as far back as he age of nine or ten, Mr. Chapman had difficulty in socializing or relating with his peers. Instead, he would spend much of his time alone, engrossed in an imaginary world.
Dr. Schwartz’ observation affirmed earlier lay descriptions. In a Newsweek article dated 22 December 1980, Tom Matthews, Pamela Abramson, Holly Morris and Frank Maier wrote, “Mark David Chapman was a loner in flight from the barren world of Eleanor Rigby, and he lived in an odd little dream.”
Chapman’s attorney, Jonathan Marks, arranged an informal jail meeting between Chapman and psychologist Dr. Lee Salk. At the time, Salk was researching a book on the relationship between fathers and sons. Although not retained as a defense witness, Salk bolstered the lawyer's belief that Chapman’s relationship with his father had become the source of Mark’s flight from reality, a theme he reiterated in a June 1982 McCall’s piece (“John Lennon’s Killer Talks about His Father”), and subsequently furthered by Jack Jones and later writers.
What emerges from these investigations into Chapman’s family life is a portrait of a son of an abusive father who barely acknowledged his existence. As Chapman told Dr. Salk:
My father was never very emotional; I don’t think I ever hugged my father. He never told me he loved me, and he never said he was sorry. We just never ever really got along. He smashed my head down in a plate of spaghetti one time.
Not only did David Chapman allegedly show indifference to his son, Mark, but he beat his mother, Diane, as well. Moreover, Diane supposedly withdrew from David, and clung to Mark for emotional support—almost to the point of sexual (or at least psycho-sexual) intimacy. There were reports of parental fights that would drive Diane from the master bed into Mark’s.
Mark Chapman responded to this by withdrawing into a world of fantasy and drugs, mainly booze and pot. Chapman’s childhood fantasies, however, would become of special interest to his expert witnesses, who, as much as they could, drew a parallel between these imaginings and the actual shooting of John Lennon. Again, Dr. Scwartz:
Initially, it [Chapman’s fantasy world] consisted of thousands of what he called ‘little people’ living in the walls of his living room. [Said Chapman,] ‘I had control over their lives. They would worship me like a king.’
At times, he likened this relationship even to that of man and God. The little people’ in this grandiose delusion were quite real to him, and it made him [feel] very good to feel loved by them.
In addition, this kingdom also satisfied his need to discharge any aggressive feelings that he might have, which was an emotion, I am afraid, that he never really learned to mollify or deal with effectively or constructively. Specifically, if any of these ‘little people’ angered him, he would wreak havoc on them by pushing the imaginary destruct button, which was on the arm of his sofa.
What one sees in this line of thinking is something akin to the infamous Stockholm Syndrome--Chapman identifying with a bullying father who was next to impossible to please, and imagining himself with similar power to reward and punish. Like the fictional Holden Caulfield of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Chapman presumably took on the role of the exterminator of phonies, deciding who should live and who should die. In essence, he expanded his self-view as the meter of justice from the king (later president) of little people to the arbiter of worthy and unworthy celebrities.
After his arrest, Chapman exhibited many signs of repeated psychotic episodes. For one thing, he claimed that demons tortured him regularly. He also told Marks that God had told him to change his insanity plea to a guilty plea. Marks understood this as Chapman’s belief that he had actually heard the voice of the Almighty, a clear sign of schizophrenia. Marks therefore pressed the court to rule Chapman incompetent to make such a plea, based on the delusions of conversing with imaginary voices.
Were Judge Dennis Edwards to find that Chapman indeed suffered from auditory hallucinations, then he would have to vacate the plea. But Chapman, apparently sensing the ramifications of his earlier conversations with his attorney, changed his tune in front of the court:
[Deputy District Attorney Allen] Sullivan: When you say it is God’s decision [to change pleas], and I ask this advisedly since certain representations have been made to me by Mr. Marks, did you hear any voices actually in your ears?
Chapman: Any audible voices?
Sullivan: Any audible voices?
Chapman: No, sir.
Sullivan: Before you made this decision did you indulge in any prayer?
Chapman: Yes, there were a number of prayers.
Sullivan: After you prayed did you come to the realization which you understand to come from God that you should plead guilty?
Chapman: Yes, that is His directive, command.
Judge Edwards, himself a deeply religious man, interpreted this response to indicate, contrary to Marks’ understanding, that Chapman wasn’t suffering from hallucinations when he said that God told him to change his plea. Instead, the judge understood it in the context of God revealing Himself through meditation or prayer, something that occurs within religious thought all the time. Nevertheless, Judge Edwards left open the possibility that additional psychiatric tests might contradict his findings, and gave Marks the opportunity to argue incompetence after they came back.
Almost all the arguments of schizophrenia are based in the defense assertions and by public incredulity that anyone other than a madman could have committed this crime. Not surprisingly, four of the psychiatrists utilized by the defense all characterized Chapman as a paranoid schizophrenic, with one, Dr. Dorothy Lewis, classifying him as a psychotic schizophrenic. Of course, Marks knew full well that his client fired a gun at the decedent, and that the decedent died of bullet wounds. Even if Marks suspected (and there’s no indication that he ever did) his client were brainwashed into killing Lennon, the attorney would have to have realize that he stood little chance of making a case for that in court.
The only hope Marks had of preventing the conviction of his client was an insanity defense. Likewise, the expert defense witnesses almost certainly realized the importance of establishing Chapman’s craziness in court. It’s in this context that we should understand the genesis of the Mark-as-madman hypothesis. It is also in this context that we should understand Sullivan and Edward’s rejection of the insanity notion, especially since the prosecution’s expert witnesses testified to Chapman’s sanity. Dr. A. Louis McGarry found Chapman had “A narcissistic personality disorder….not mentally ill.” According to Dr. Martin Lubin, Chapman “…suffered from a borderline personality disorder…without being psychotic.” Dr. Emmanuel Hammer simply called him “a narcissistic and immature personality,” while Dr. Stone noted that Chapman was “a little depressed, and a little off his food.”
Examination of Chapman’s sanity thus results in a he-said-she-said type of argument that we will table for the moment. The focus here should be on the validity of the assessments, particularly the ones finding him schizophrenic, and especially those that take into account his life before the incident. After all, incarceration does change a person, especially since she or he has left their normal environment into a particularly violent and/or structured one. Worse, there aren’t as many witnesses to confirm or dispute the expert impressions.
In this particular case, we have many reasons to question the validity of Chapman’s image as an angry, lone nut.
Most opinions concerning the shooting death of John Lennon agree on many key points. The killer, Mark David Chapman, flew to New York from Hawaii, with a gun he purchased there. After arriving in Manhattan, he realized that he could not buy ammunition without a NY state ID. He subsequently flew to Georgia, where a friend gave him bullets, and flew back to New York, but flew back to Hawaii after someone told him the Lennons were out of town. Weeks later, he came back to New York via Chicago. He stalked Lennon at the Dakota, going so far as to gaining an autograph from him only hours before the event. When Lennon and his wife returned from a music studio with mixes of various songs on tape, Chapman ambushed the former Beatle, shooting five times.
A bullet pierced Lennon’s aorta, and three more bullets entered into his body, yet he managed to run into the lobby of the Dakota. Because of massive bleeding, police decided to rush him to Roosevelt Hospital in a squad car instead of waiting for an ambulance. Despite desperate attempts to resuscitate him, Lennon died.
There were sufficient eyewitnesses to this crime to verify the official version of events—at least to a point. Yet, the real problem arises due to a lack of other forms of evidence.
Worse, no one has really sufficiently explained why Lennon died on that night. Chapman, the man almost universally stipulated as Lennon’s killer, didn’t really know his own motivation. Over the years, he has given a number of conflicting reasons for why he shot at Lennon. But many times he has told researchers that he just doesn’t know why.
Of course, the fact that Chapman had no idea why he went to New York to kill John Lennon has never stopped people from taking their best guess. Many popular accounts describe him as just plain crazy, with hallucinations of invisible little people and demons, along with delusions of embodying the soul of a fictional character. Evidence exists to back up this point of view.
Some have guessed that Chapman murdered Lennon to become famous. In fact, Chapman has stated this on television (although the segment was clearly edited—so we don’t really know the context of the statement). He’s also vehemently denied this on numerous occasions before and after, only to state it as fact again. It’s never been clear whether or not he believes this, even if intermittently. Yet, because he sometimes says this is so, it remains a possibility.
Many people think that Chapman became obsessed with Lennon, and came to believe that he was the rock star. He therefore had to eliminate this other self in order to become whole. This story gained legs early on, especially when Honolulu police produced a time sheet where Chapman allegedly signed off as “John Lennon,” crossed out the name, and wrote his own underneath. Because of the early credence given to it, one must consider this a possibility as well.
Many, many, many researchers have felt that Chapman saw himself as Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Like the protagonist, Chapman supposedly felt that he had a unique duty to rid the world of “phonies.” He saw Lennon as a hypocritically wealthy socialist, a vain man who would gladly proclaim himself bigger than Christ, and champion the plight of the poor and oppressed so long as he didn’t have to become one of them. So Chapman decided to off him first, and then work his way to Johnny Carson, Elizabeth Taylor and other celebrities later. There is evidence to back up this theory too.
And then there are those who believe that Mark David Chapman was a mind-controlled, CIA-trained assassin, a Manchurian Candidate. While that might seem far-fetched, note several things: (1) the ability to program an assassin isn’t a chimera, as many studies done by Drs. Martin Orne, Herbert Spiegel and George Estabrooks indicate that it had been quite possible for many years prior to 1980; (2) with the exception of one criterion (which we’ll look at later), Chapman’s psychology, movements and associations were consistent with someone who could be manipulated in this manner.
And then there’s the third thing: the detective officially assigned the case never personally dismissed the conspiracy scenario as a possibility. In fact, he would become a key witness to Chapman’s state of mind in the moments after the crime.
If you’re wondering why, if they suspected someone of hypnoprogramming Chapman, the police never followed through on the conspiracy angle, the truth is that there were many clues they didn’t pursue, for reasons that I will specify later. That's according to the chief investigator’s terse admission. Consequently, much of the forensic evidence that would put certain matters to rest is simply unavailable to us. What we’re left with are the witness statements of police, civilians and experts, along with the histories and plights of both shooter and victim.
Curiously, neither the shooter nor the victim are in a position to voice their opinion of this matter; the former because he doesn’t know what he thinks, the latter because he’s dead. And because of the lack of evidence, we can only review and critique these positions and how they developed. In doing so we can construct—borrowing from Dr. Fred Fogo—a social drama of Lennon’s death, examining what it meant at the time, and continues to mean today. In doing so we have to examine both the accurate data, and the inaccurate ones that seem true only because others have repeated them time and again.