For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Dr. Veteran’s observations and recollections are accurate as stated. Let’s also assume that Yoko Ono, Mark Chapman, and Maury Solomon’s observations are correct. If so, the New York Times’ depiction of the crime scene, cannot be true. We have to alter some things
Figure 1. New York Times sketch of the Lennon murder with some additions by X. Dell
Let’s suppose that after giving Chapman a quizzical look John Lennon crossed the entryway to Mark’s left, and then drifted towards the lobby steps. John’s path might then resemble the one laid out in the original Times diagram. Chapman would have had a much better angle in which to hit Lennon with four shots from the left at Point 5. We can improve the angle a bit if we imagine Chapman moving over a couple of feet before he shot. We might then have an angle to put bullet holes in the door without serious ricocheting from “secondary missiles” as explained in the previous post.
If we place Chapman too far to the left (point 6), next to Jose Perdomo, then we would have to wonder why the doorman/security guard didn’t try to take the gun away from him. After all, how could he know that Chapman wouldn’t just turn the gun on him and blow him away for being a witness? Simply out of self-preservation, you think the man would either try to gain control of the weapon, or run. But Perdomo did neither. He stood by passively, walked up to Chapman (still armed) and asked if he knew what he had done. It’s only at that point that Chapman throws, or lays down the gun.
We also have two additional problems: (1) the bullets are not behaving like hollow-points, (2) there would be no GSR or anything at all to suggest to a doctor a point-blank gunshot wound, and (3) we have to account for the holes in the glass. In fact, try as I might, I can’t find a scenario in which you could really keep all of those factors consistent. I can, however, think of a scenario that would explain everything with a minimum tweaking of details.
Add a second gunman.
As I stated earlier, I first came across this hypothesis through the work of Salvador Astucia‘s Rethinking John Lennon‘s Assassination, a source I consider highly dubious. I have to admit it would probably taken me awhile to consider the possibility all by myself. But I do have the means to test and consider it. As bizarre as this hypothesis sounds, it’s not really all that farfetched.
Unseen in the Times diagram is a door that leads to the service elevator (point 7). Astucia has posted a photograph of the door on his website, and I have seen it myself when physically at the Dakota, so I can vouch for its existence.
Let’s speculate that Lennon got out of the car (point 1) after Ono. They passed by Chapman (point 2), Ono some twenty to twenty-five feet ahead of her husband. Lennon gave Chapman a funny look before marching ahead, more or less in a straight line. Chapman fired shots when Lennon was approximately twenty feet away. Lennon, perhaps thinking to himself, perhaps interpreting the sound as a car backfiring, continues to walk until he’s parallel to the door of the lobby, and very close to the door that leads to the service elevator. Chapman either hit Lennon only once (the hollow-point bullet that, by design, stayed in Lennon’s body), or missed him altogether. Another shooter (a real pro), from the service elevator door, perhaps using a silenced pistol (or perhaps using Chapman's own gun), fired three or four full metal jacketed bullets directly at the point where he knew Lennon could not possibly survive. It might have taken Lennon a couple of moments to realize he had been hit. But when he did, he ran into the lobby to tell Ono and Jay Hastings he’d been shot.
This what-if scenario fits better with the information above. The shooter is close enough so that gunshot residue would give an attending physician the impression of a point-blank shooting. Full metal jacket bullets would have stood a much better chance of passing through Lennon, and hitting the glass door than Chapman‘s .38 hollow-points. The bullet could have easily hit Lennon in the upper-left arm, gone through the left subclavian artery, and gone right through the aorta, and out the chest with no ricocheting to account for. And for all we know, the shooter could have used a .357 magnum. While this would have conflicted with the ammo used by Chapman, the shooter might have been more concerned with getting the job done, and more comfortable with that particular gun and ammo. Plus, if the shooter knew there would be a patsy, who would present himself to police, then he might have counted on a limited, “grounded” investigation that wouldn’t examine such things in detail.
As Yoko Ono told Detective Peter Mangicavallo, “Got out walked past gate. John was walking past the door, he was walking fast. I heard shots. I heard shots. He walked to door upstairs. Said, ‘I’m shot.’” Ono placed herself in close proximity to Lennon, but everyone else (including Chapman) puts her much farther ahead. So if she were at some distance from Lennon, she would most likely have had her back to both him and Chapman. That means before she saw anything, she would have heard something. And this she emphasizes through repetition. Granted it might have taken Lennon a couple of moments to realize that someone had hit him. But it could have been the case that John kept walking at that point because Chapman’s bullets missed him. Another shooter could have hit him for the first time moments later, as he approached the lobby stairs.
There’s something else. Dakota employee Joseph Many came up because he, along with coworkers Victor Cruz and Joe Grezik, heard three shots from downstairs. Granted, acoustics are a tricky thing, but if Chapman’s standing in the same position at the same place, the other two shots should have been audible. Okay, maybe they were chatting at the time, and missed a bullet or two. One could still hypothesize that the only shots they heard came from the shooter at the service elevator door, which would have been much closer to their position. If the shooter there got off three rounds, which passed through Lennon and entered the lobby door, and if Chapman hit Lennon with one round with a hollow-point that did what it‘s supposed to, that would account for John’s four injuries.
When Perdomo instructed fellow Dakota employee Joseph Many to take the gun away, he went downstairs via elevator to the basement. I tried to find which elevator he used. If he used the elevators in the lobby, we have the problem of verifying the custody of that evidence. Some have speculated that Chapman might have exchanged guns on one of his stops during the cab ride with Mark Snyder, two days earlier. If the shooter used Mark’s original gun to kill Lennon, and then went into that drawer to switch weapons, ballistics would prove it to be the murder weapon, thus giving further evidence of Mark as the lone shooter, especially if that gun were the same Charter Arms Undercover .38 Special Chapman registered in Hawaii.
Of course, if Many was referring to the service elevator, then a whole lot of problems arise, since the gun would have been stashed close to where the killer had shot.
Fenton Bresler specifically asked Daniel Sheehan, who’s Christic Institute had looked into such things as Manchurian Candidate scenarios, for his take on the MC hypothesis. Sheehan opined that Chapman’s actions were inconsistent with those of a programmed assassin. Instead of exploring that angle, or considering Sheehan’s advice, Bresler simply dismissed, and in the process might have missed the most plausible conspiracy scenario.
Sure, it looks easy in TV and the movies. A person who’s never fired a sidearm before at a living target points the gun, pulls the trigger, and BANG! The bad guy falls over dead. And it’s true amateurs kill people every day with handguns, too many of them by accident. On the other hand, a lot of people survive gunshot wounds. People are more vulnerable in some spots than they are in others, and the amateur might have not have the facility with the weapon to use it accurately or efficiently.
If you really need someone dead, as opposed to shot and wounded, and you had to make sure the job’s done right, you'd have to know what you’re doing. Were you part of any organization that had contracted a hit, would you entrust the job to an amateur? Someone who’s never killed before (as far as we know)? Even if he’s had some type of weapon’s training? If so, then you’d be taking a crap shot. That’s why crime syndicates the world over use professionals.
Now if you hired a pro, it might help distance you from the crime if your hired gun has a patsy to take the blame. And if you have a patsy on tap, who you could use whenever you want, all the better.
Bresler really missed this possibility in his examination of Lennon’s murder, and thus never explored it--which is a shame, for the man really knew how to dig up information, despite minor factual errors here and there. Perhaps he could have presented a stronger case.
Chapman might not have been a programmed assassin so much as a programmed patsy. His actions are somewhat akin to suspected programmed patsy Sirhan Sirhan, who like Chapman, shot at his victim in front of witnesses during a dissociative state. In Sirhan’s case, Dr. Thomas Noguchi, the pathologist who conducted the autopsy, could not reconcile Senator Robert Kennedy’s fatal wound with Sirhan’s position. Maybe a more detailed investigation and trial--which would force such information out into the open--might have introduced more similarities.
The existence of a second gunman would go a long way to proving Chapman’s innocence, and give us the best evidence of (1) a conspiracy to murder John Lennon, and (2) Chapman’s programming as a patsy.
As it is we can’t really can’t prove any of this. After all, it’s highly speculative, and depends on (1) an interpretation of the death certificate, (2) Dr. Frank Veteran’s initial observations and subsequent recollection almost twenty years after the fact, and (3) numerous witness statements. All of these have varying degrees of unreliability. For all we know, Dana Reeves could have given Chapman a box of wacky hollow-points, only one of which disintegrated, with two of its pieces exiting Lennon’s left arm. Maybe the bullet holes in the glass door were put there another night. Maybe the lobby door holes were made by something else, despite Officer Steve’s Spiro’s concern that they were bullet holes, and possibly indicated a second gunman running around loose in the building. Maybe Chapman actually stood next to Perdomo, and maybe Perdomo let him because the doorman simply didn’t like John, or his politics.
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
We're coming into the homestretch of this series. But for now, I'm going to interrupt it with a brief unreleated series before coming back with a summary and epilogue. I thank you for your patience in reading along this far.
The morgue attendants, the death certificate, and Dr. Frank Veteran indicated that the bullets entered John Lennon on his left side. All agreed that the most devastating shot was the one to the aorta. Dr. Veteran stated specifically, “Lennon had been shot four times from the left at point blank range.” Veteran further stated that the shot appeared to have come from a .357 magnum.
Everyone now knows, as Dr. Veteran could have very easily learned by 2000, that Mark Chapman used not a .357 magnum, but rather a Charter Arms Undercover .38 Special. In assessing the source of this discrepancy we could speculate that (a) Veteran had a faulty memory; (b) the damage done by the hollow-point bullets given to Mark by Dana Reeves might have confused the young doctor (only thirty years old at the time); (c) one of his colleagues might have initially guessed a .357 magnum because of the hollow-point damage, and he took that assessment at face value; or (d) he really was looking at wounds made by a .357 magnum. I wouldn’t doubt that over the years, Veteran had some difficulty in remembering details that he didn’t witness personally. But as to what he actually observed, he probably has it indelibly etched in his mind, for the physicians at Roosevelt Hospital mounted an intense, dramatic (perhaps you could say heroic) effort. So I couldn’t say there’s much wrong with his memory. And as a surgical resident on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Veteran would have treated other gunshot victims before he treated Lennon. Perhaps the only type of carnage that he had seen on that level came from a .357 magnum, so he made the association. He most likely would have also have recognized the gunshot residue pattern on the victim as indicative of a point-blank shooting. And because doctors would have had to consider removing bullets still in the victim (in this case, only one was), they really have to know from what direction the shots came from.
The death certificate indicates that the fatal bullet had a specific route passing through the (1) left shoulder, (2) left subclavian arterery, (3) the left lung, and (4) the aorta. That’s a bit of an area to cover, but it does narrow things down a bit, and supports Dr. Veteran’s recollection that the shots came from the left side, two of them passing through Lennon‘s arm. When you put together the information from Dr. Veteran, the morgue attendants and the death certificate, and take into account that they passed through the aorta (Figures 1 and 2) the possible bullet trajectories would appear as described in Figure 3.
Figure 1. Medical diagram of the human cardiovascular system, showing the location of the aorta
Figure 2. Medical diagram showing the location of the subclavian artery
Figure 3. Potential bullet paths through Lennon’s body
We have four wounds that constitute a “good shot group.” That means their entry points were very close. The shooter really hammered in on that spot. If the person were standing directly off Lennon’s left, then one would expect the three exiting bullets to have entered the side, and exited as shown by Potential Bullet Path 2 (or PBP2, as marked on Figure 3). Were someone to have shot Lennon from behind, and considerably to the left, the bullet path might more resemble PBP1. If we imagined that Lennon had an exaggerated arm swing when he walked (and there’s no indication that he did--I’m just supposing), then it’s possible that the path entry wound could have been more toward the back, as pictured in PBP3. Then again, the definition of left shoulder is in itself rather broad (no pun intended), so someone could say that it included the part of the shoulder up to where we would cease to define it as a shoulder, and regard it as a neck, or upper back. If Dr. Elliot Gross, the pathologist who conducted the autopsy and signed the death certificate, saw the bullet wound right where the shoulder met the neck, and then described that as being the shoulder, then the bullet’s trajectory would correspond to the path marked PBP4.
In other words, it’s reasonable to think that the bullets entered Lennon somewhere between PBP1 and PBP2, but it’s possible that the bullets could have entered anywhere between PBP2 and PBP4, given the limited description afforded by the death certificate. However, given Dr Veteran’s recollection that two shots went through Lennon‘s left arm, the vicinity of PBP1 would be the most likely point of entry--provided the doctor‘s memory and observations are accurate.
Because of where witnesses placed the principles in this event, we have a severe problem reconciling the shots with Mark Chapman’s position. Compiling together witness accounts and police reconstructions, the New York Times published a sketch of where everyone was in its December 10, 1980 final edition:
Figure 4. New York Times sketch of the crime scene.
Witnesses placed Chapman on the right side of the arch at the time of the shooting, with Lennon and Ono passing to his left. If this sketch were accurate, then one would have difficulty assessing how Chapman might have done the shooting, because he‘s standing on the right side, and the bullets are moving from left to right. The distance, as depicted here, would be about five or six feet between Lennon and Chapman, much closer together than others say they were (Chapman estimates twenty feet, while Ono says John was almost to the door; conceivably, they are placing him in roughly the same position--were Lennon, say ten to twelve feet away from the door, he would have been a little over twenty feet from Chapman).
I stress that I’m no forensic expert, but it’s difficult to understand how, standing to his right, Chapman managed to get off a shot that went through Lennon’s left upper arm and shoulder--especially if Lennon started to turn because someone called out his name, as the early reports said. Were the point of entry closer to PBP4, then we might surmise that the bullet could have deflected slightly. It might, at first blush, seem possible that the bullets could have ricocheted off the wall before hitting Lennon, although that would have been really fancy shooting.
Complicating this is the fact that as bullets go through bodies, they don’t always travel in a straight line as depicted in Figure 3, because dense muscle and bone tissue can alter their course. In fact, bullets have been known to take right angle turns upon entering the body. However, such is usually only the case with full and partial metal jacket bullets. Full and partial metal jackets can also ricochet, even inside the body (when hitting bone or other dense material). These bullets are far more likely to leave exit wounds.
For handgun cartridges, hollow-point projectiles produce the greatest increase in volume of disrupted tissue, along with fragmentation, and are unlikely to produce an exit wound. Full metal jacket projectiles are more likely to exit. Both full and partial metal jacket projectiles may ricochet off bone.
It could be the case that once inside the body, the bullet’s fragmentation might cause injuries that aren’t in line with the point of entry. Once again, the Internet Pathology Laboratory for Medical Education:
Fragmentation of the bullet may produce secondary missiles, one or more of which may have exit wounds. The bullet path may be altered by striking bone or other firm tissues, such that the bullet track may not be linear, and exit wounds may not appear directly opposite entrance wounds.
So it’s possible, for example, that if Chapman hit Lennon from the right, at or around PBP4, a little piece of the bullet could have broken off to the right, injuring the left subclavian artery, and piercing the aorta. Conceivably another piece from the same, or another bullet could have broken off, and gone through his left arm, thus explaining Dr. Veteran’s observation.
It’s clear that Dr. Veteran saw the arm injuries as entry wounds. In general, entry wounds are much smaller than exit wounds. However, if the victim is wearing tight fitting clothing at the time of the shooting, the exit hole might not be significantly larger than the entrance wound. Once more, the Internet Pathology Laboratory for Medical Education:
If the exit wound is ‘shored’ or abutted by a firm support such as clothing, furniture, or building materials, then the exit wound may take on appearances of an entrance wound, such as a circular defect with an abraded margin. This can occur with contact, close range, or distant shots. 92% of shored exit wounds in one study had a round or ovoid defect, and all had some degree of abrasion. The degree of shoring abrasion increased directly with the KE [kinetic energy] of the projectile and the rigidity of the shoring material.
If we posit Chapman as the lone shooter, and wish to keep that hypothesis consistent with the death certificate, Dr. Veteran’s observations, the position of the principles as depicted in the Times sketch (Figure 4) and the physical environs of the Dakota, then we could speculate that he hit Lennon some place between PBP1 and PBP4. The fatal bullet then broke up with one portion taking a detour towards his aorta, the other taking a left and heading to the left arm on a day that Lennon happened to prefer a snug fit.
Unfortunately, we have a number of problems with this scenario as stated. As Maury Solomon and other witnesses pointed out, there were three bullet holes in the door after the shots ended. These are supposedly hollow-point bullets. One wouldn’t expect that there would be three exit wounds to hit the glass, since the bullets are designed not to leave the body--in fact, some people use them precisely to keep innocent bystanders from getting hit by a bullet leaving the victim‘s body. Also, the bullet’s not supposed to ricochet. If Chapman shot Lennon from that angle, and put holes in the door, the bullet would have had to ricochet off of either Lennon’s bones, or the wall after the bullet pierced his body--and that’s after we scratch our heads wondering why the bullet didn’t break up on hitting one object, let alone two. Secondly, if we explain the injury on Lennon’s upper left arm as an exit wound from a “secondary missile,” that poses a bit of a problem, for only one of the bullets stayed in the body, while the other three passed through. Okay, maybe two pieces of the same bullet broke off into the left arm. But Dr. Veteran would have probably judged them entrance wounds because of the GSR pattern and size of the wounds, and not just the size alone.
Under certain circumstances, Chapman might have possibly caused an injury resembling a point blank shooting from the distance depicted in the Times‘ diagram. The problem is, the sketch places him to the right of Lennon, not his left-hand side where GSR would be present. We also have one bullet acting as expected, and three behaving as though they were a different type of ammo altogether (although a hollow-point can conceivably cause an exit wound, that’s not what one would expect from one, let alone three).
In short, assuming Chapman alone shot Lennon, then he probably didn’t do it in the way depicted in Figure 4. What‘s worse, even if you dismiss Figure 4, then you’re hard-pressed to come up with a scenario in which Chapman, firing from the right, could have struck Lennon from the left, and at point blank range, especially if he were twenty feet away--the distance Ono and Chapman indicated.
Earlier in this series, I stated that I would use a source that I considered a bad one. Normally, I avoid citing problematic sources. Often their facts are wrong, their biases overwhelming any kind of sense, common or uncommon. But just as a clock that doesn’t work at all is correct twice a day, sometimes a bad source will contain a valid point that requires attention.
The source in question is Rethinking John Lennon’s Assassination by a writer going by the handle of Salvador Astucia. The main problem with the source is that it overreaches with respect to its conclusions. Moreover, the author betrays increasing amounts of anti-Semitism and paranoia as his cyberbook progresses (he even has a chapter accusing fellow posters on various Beatles boards of being spies—and amazingly, some respond to him).
Surprisingly, Susan agreed to answer questions over the telephone while I recorded the conversation. On August 4, 2003, I had posted a list of ten suspected FBI informants who police rec.music.beatles. Susan was on the list, along with Charlie Gauger (aka, Mr. Charlie), Ian Hammond, and John Web (aka, Johnny Dupe). When I established telephone contact with Susan, I was amazed that she would reveal so much information. Her Usenet responses to me had been less than cordial to say the least. Susan directed me to a webpage which shows photographs of several regulars on rec.music.beatles. She never admitted that she works for the FBI, but at one point she agreed with me that Lennon’s murder was probably sponsored by the US Government, then she tried to blame it on the CIA, instead of the FBI. When I asked her why she was doing the 'tap dance,' she claimed she cloaked the FBI and the CIA together. Then she also paid me some compliments which was quite unexpected. ‘I have been reading your stuff about the shooter and the different angles,’ Susan said. ‘I’ll not admit on the newsgroup that I’m reading your stuff, but yeah. It’s all very interesting. And I’d like to read a little more about that. I hope you can take it a little further.’
Of course, Astucia has developed a reputation as a crank with other posters, who sometimes simply poke fun at him, and at other times try to probe for the identity of the man behind the mask. Poking a little myself, I found a name associated with him on his website to a handle used by someone on a neo-Nazi site. I won’t assert that the poster there is Astucia, although that would certainly explain the anti-Semitism. And, it made me a bit circumspect about including him as a source.
You never rely on a poor source. And I haven’t here. In fact, I have enough sources—witness statements, death certificate, statements by attending physicians, and my personal on-site inspection of the Dakota--that I guess I could get away without mentioning Astucia at all. Yet, he was the first person I came across—and the only person I’ve found yet—to seriously question whether or not Chapman actually shot Lennon. I feel that to omit his name in this particular discussion would be dishonest.
I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading Rethinking John Lennon’s Assassination. But if you do, bring a salt truck with you.
We knew that when this [the Lennon] case went to trial, no matter what happened, we were gonna be criticized for generations to come. We did our best. There was nothing too insignificant to go into. Nothing! --Detective Ron Hoffman to Albert Goldman
In case you haven‘t noticed, I’ve just put up a ton of posts describing an historical event that lasted for five or six seconds in real-time. That’s because the complexity of the event overshadows its brevity. It’s the reason why, as Det. Hoffman said, police should look at many different angles of a crime, or at least as many angles as they can imagine. After all, a defense attorney might throw a monkey wrench into the prosecution’s case by calling to the juror’s attention bits of evidence that the police have overlooked, or by interpreting evidence in a new way with the help of experts. Simply put, no matter how open-and-shut it might seem, every case has to be adjudicated. And many things can happen between the arrest and the verdict.
Detective Hoffman understood the nature of an investigation. Yet his boss, Lt. Arthur O’Connor, flatly contradicted his characterization of their efforts on the night of John Lennon‘s death. Lt. O’Connor went into some detail with Fenton Bresler about why his investigation into the Lennon murder was shockingly limited, but he sums it up with a very terse explanation.
The case, in his words, was a “grounder.”
In any crime, especially felonies, the policeman’s job consists of finding a viable suspect to present to the District Attorney’s office for prosecution. At the time of Lennon’s death, the resources of the Twentieth Precinct were seriously committed to helping prosecutors try Craig Crimmins for the death of violinist Helen Mintiks. The Phantom of the Metropolitan Opera case was a real-life whodunnit requiring considerable police help to shore up the prosecution’s case. And that was such a difficult case, intellectually, logistically, and emotionally. What’s worse, on December 8, 1980, the department was on the verge of getting back to some sense of normality, especially welcome because of the ongoing holiday season.
And then, the Lennon murder case rears its ugly head. But unlike the Mintiks case, NYPD detectives didn’t have to look long at all to find a viable and cooperative suspect. As O’Connor told Bresler:
This case was a grounder. In any kind of criminal investigation, primarily a homicide investigation, a case in police vernacular in New York City is considered grounded when a case is solved This case was solved with the arrest of Mark Chapman....
As it was, there was no extensive investigation [into the Lennon homicide]: there did not have to be. We had our man! As for [Allen] Sullivan, the assistant district attorney, he did not have too much homework to do either, though I grant you he was a very thorough man: it didn’t matter, he was primarily concerned with Mark’s mental condition. He knew that would be the essential issue at the trial. Mark was going to plead insanity--and that is what occupied Sullivan’s mind.
Investigate a possible conspiracy? Whatever for? Nobody cared to pursue that line. When a case is grounded, it’s grounded--and this one was from the start. Mark acknowledged his guilt that first night at the precinct. What more was there to do? You don’t go looking for a conspiracy. I had no information about one--and I did not look for it.
The New York prosecution primarily focused on Chapman’s state of mind, directing not only the NYPD, but also the Honolulu Police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to assist them in preparing against an insanity defense. As GBI Special Agent Wesley Nunn told Bresler:
Apart from wanting me to go check on where Mark got his bullets from, the primary thrust of my enquiries was into his [Chapman’s] background. What sort of a guy he was, that kind of thing. I got the impression the DA in New York was more concerned with fighting a defence of insanity at the trial than anything else.
Captain Louis Souza, the Honolulu detective who assisted with the Lennon investigation, noted that New York prosecutors seemed particularly myopic. Souza wanted to question Gloria Abe Chapman, but she, perhaps out of grief, wouldn’t talk to him. So he never interviewed her, explaining, “I checked with the New York authorities and they did not want to press the issue so I didn’t pursue it.” Souza also found sort of a lax attitude when Chapman’s credit union refused to give him information that might explain the financing of the trip. “Maybe we could have gone to court to get that information,” he said, “but at the time I guess they didn’t feel in New York that it was important where he got the money from to make the trips. The fact is he made the trips.”
The irony here is that Lt. O’Connor admits to taking short cuts with the Lennon homicide, in contrast to Det. Hoffman who seemed more than somewhat defensive about the investigation.
Without O‘Connor, Bresler would have had no book--or at least a book worth reading. Bresler quoted the retired detective extensively, and what becomes apparent right away is that the ex-cop had given the case considerable thought over the years, for a lot of it didn’t add up, in his opinion. For starters, it boggled his mind that the suspect, metaphorically speaking, came gift wrapped. As he explained:
He [Chapman] remained on the scene voluntarily. He was not physically restrained. Seventy-five feet away was an entrance to the subway. If he wanted to, he could have gotten clean away. He had a 75 per cent chance, in my book, of never being apprehended. But he wanted to get caught. Now, if he had got away, then there would have been one hell of an investigation.
It’s not that the Lieutenant believed in a Manchurian Candidate scenario. It’s more the case that he never ruled it out, personally. Furthermore, he had a long-shot suspicion that there might be some validity in it:
...it’s possible Mark could have been used by somebody. I saw him the night of the murder. I studied him intensely. He looked as if he could have been programmed--and I know what use you [Bresler] are going to make of that word!
Because of the nature of the initial investigation, some answers are lost to us. A good deal of evidence is now gone. We can’t even exhume Lennon, for he was cremated soon after his release from the morgue. The only evidence we can go over now consists of the memories of all of those involved. Unfortunately, memory is oft times a mercurial thing. Because the dominant narrative of this event has received major reinforcement from television programs, two recent feature length movies, and such books as Jack Jones’ Let Me Take You Down, witness memory might have been influenced to fit a coherent and consistent storyline.
As for Chapman, his understanding of these events was always shaky. When Jones approached him with a book idea, he acknowledged Chapman’s confusion about the murder and suggested that they explore the topic together. Consequently, one might feel that Chapman’s later pronouncements seem more compelling. Yet we still don’t really know how much of this represents Chapman’s true recollection as opposed to the imagination and prompting of an author crafting a credible tale.
As for forensic evidence, the public never got to see much, and what little there was doesn’t appear to be extant. What we have of it is piecemeal and unverifiable, for we have to examine it through past descriptions of it. But as much as we can see it in the state it currently exists (i.e., in its unverifiable existence), the forensic evidence is at best confounding, and at worst in direct conflict to the story that most of us know.
Some of you might know, and some of you might not, but our friend Enemy of the Republic is going through some very rough times right now. She could use some moral support. If you can, drop by Cruel Virgin and give her a holler. And the mother of our friend Charles passed away recently. I would greatly appreciate it if you stopped by his site, Razored Zen, and offer support to him as well.
December 8, 1980 (moments after the shooting)--John Lennon enters the Dakota lobby, where he sees Yoko Ono. He explains that he’s been shot.
Elaboration: Ono told Lennon to lie down, while Jay Hastings called police.
Commentary: Although he’s ambulatory at that moment, Lennon had no chance of surviving, because of the blood loss from his aorta.
December 8 (minutes after the shooting)--Perdomo confronts Chapman.
Elaboration: Perdomo asked Chapman if he knew what he’d just done. Chapman replied, “I shot John Lennon,” before either laying or throwing the gun on the ground.
Perdomo kicked the gun away, and told Chapman, “Leave! Get out of here!” Chapman ignoring the request, took out his copy of The Catcher in the Rye, and read.
A few moments later, Joseph Many picked up the gun, per Perdomo’s instruction, and took it to the basement, presumably for safe keeping until the police arrived.
Commentary: Some security guard. Despite the fact that the shooter is disarmed, Perdomo tries to shoo him away. Perdomo also seems to have an aversion to the gun, since he told Many to handle it for him. After all, if his fingerprints were on the gun, he could explain to police that he simply wanted to disarm the assailant. When a NYPD officer named Blake retrieved the gun from Many, he wrapped it up in newspaper. Even if he wanted to add no fingerprint marks on it, Perdomo could have found something with which to pick up Chapman’s gun.
Perhaps even more curious: when offered the chance to run, Chapman does not. Chapman, by his own admission, was terribly confused about that moment. As he told Jack Jones:
I was anxious. I wanted the police to hurry up and come. I was pacing and holding the book [Catcher in the Rye]. I tried to read but the words were crawling all over the pages. Nothing made any sense.
December 8 (minutes after the shooting)--NYPD Officers Steve Spiro and Peter Cullen hear a call of “Shots fired-1 West 72nd Street.” They rush to the scene, where they arrest Chapman.
Elaboration: Cullen and Spiro happened to be around the corner because they were on patrol looking for a thief (or thieves), who had stolen a number of area cars on previous nights. They got out at the Dakota. Spiro frisked, then handcuffed Chapman. In his report, he wrote:
...Upon exiting the car, a male in the street, on the passenger side, is yelling pointing toward the driveway archway. He’s pointing toward the left hand side saying: ‘He’s the one that did the shooting.’
I automatically draw my revolver, pointing it toward the man in the shadows.
I’m still thinking is this for real? (Think…What’s going on around you--get this guy fast.)
As I point a gun at Suspect, a male white starts to put his hands up toward the top of his head. ‘Don’t move! Put your hands on the wall!’ Suspect still has hands on his head. ’Put your hands on the wall and don’t move.’ Suspect does what he is told. ’Please don’t hurt me!’ says the Suspect.
Put gun to subject’s back. I see two males to my left. I don’t know who they are (thinking a robbery--more than one gunman?) I place my left arm around Suspect’s neck moving him against me and using him as a shield to defend myself against other possible gunmen. Turning toward my right with the suspect I see the doorman, another male, and at least three bullet holes in the glass doors. My gun is now pointed toward the doorway. The doorman, who I’ve seen before while working, yells that the man I have is the only one involved. I put the Suspect back up against the wall. Suspect says, ’I acted alone! Don’t hurt me!’ ‘No one is going to hurt you.’
Still thinking that there was a robbery inside the building I start asking Suspect ‘What apartment were you in?’ ‘Who did you shoot?’ No response. I hear Jose, the doorman, yell ‘He shot John Lennon.’ I ask Suspect ‘Did you shoot John Lennon!’--No response. Pete Cullen yells ‘Steve put cuffs on him!’ As I get cuffs on the Suspect asks once again--’Don’t hurt me.’ [underlined emphasis Spiro; italicized emphasis X. Dell]
December 8 (moments after Cullen and Spiro‘s arrival)--NYPD Officers Tony Palma and Herb Frauenberger arrive at the Dakota.
Elaboration: While Officers Cullen and Spiro atteneded to the suspect, Palma and Frauenberger arrived at the lobby, where they found a mortally wounded (yet still living) Lennon. Palma turned him to gauge the extent of injury. It became immediately apparent to him that Lennon could not afford to wait for an ambulance.
December 8 (moments after Palma and Frauenberger’s arrival)--NYPD Officers William Gamble and James Moran arrive at the Dakota.
Elaboration: Officers Palma and Frauenberger carried Lennon out to Gamble and Moran’s car while Roosevelt Hospital confirmed it was standing by and waiting to assist. After putting Lennon into the car, Palma, a Beatlephile, alerted Moran, a fellow Beatlephile, as to the identity of their passenger. As they sped away, Lennon confirmed his identity to Moran, but died minutes later en route to the hospital.
December 8 (c. 11:15pm)--Doctors at Roosevelt Hospital declare Lennon dead on arrival (see death certificate in previous post).
Elaboration: Despite the fact that they believed Lennon had already died, a team of physicians, led by Dr. Stephen Lynn, Director of Emergency Services, frantically tried to resuscitate him. After thirty minutes of futility, the surgeons gave up.
‘Standing there, suddenly, everything just hit me,’ says Veteran. ‘For some reason, I thought of John Kennedy and Jesus Christ (I'm not on dangerous ground here, am I Mike?) It was just a weird thing that flashed in my head.’
The doctors had already been trying to resuscitate Lennon. ‘His chest was open,’ Veteran says. ‘They were doing everything to save him.’
He [Veteran] stepped up to the table and took a grim assessment of the patient. Lennon had been shot four times from the left at point blank rangewith a .357 magnum revolver. Two bullets had passed through his upper left upper arm and entered his chest; two more entered his chest just behind the arm. [Traveling] through his torso, they ripped through his lungs and arteries. Three of the bullets exited the front of his chest: one under his left clavicle and two on the left side of his sternum. The fourth remained lodged inside his body.
In all, the punctured aorta caused Lennon to lose 80% of his blood volume. [emphasis X. Dell]
December 8-December 9 (c. 11:00pm-4:00am)--Police take Chapman into custody.
Elaboration: After Mirandizing him on the way to the Twentieth Precinct, Cullen and Spiro took Chapman into an interrogation room for questioning Outside the station house, a small army of press congregated.
In the wee hours of December 9, Chapman received a call from his wife, Gloria, in the interrogation room. That surprised Officer Spiro somewhat, for it’s rare for someone to receive a call under such circumstances. Even if such a call comes to the station it’s rarely put through. But what really unnerved Spiro was Chapman’s reaction. Going back to the officer’s report:
I pick up the phone and introduce myself to Mrs. Chapman as Police Officer Spiro 20 pct New York City PD and that it was the officer who arrested her husband. I tell her that Mark is OK and I assure her no one will hurt him. She thanks me and then I give Mark the phone.
Chapman’s calm rational thinking amazes me under the circumstances. [emphasis Spiro].
Later, lead detective Lt. Arthur O’Connor, questioned Chapman, noting something very odd about his state of mind.
Commentary: Bresler also noted that a few weeks later, in January 1981, another person close to Chapman, his former pastor Rev. Charles McGowan, managed to initiate contact with Mark while he was in a presumed state of isolation with the outside world. While he was very careful not to suggest that either Gloria or McGowan had any other agenda than the obvious--i.e., to support and comfort Chapman during a time of crisis--he wondered how many other calls were getting through to Chapman, and if these other calls might have been made by an intelligence handler, or if the telephone calls themselves were some kind of trigger mechanism.
December 8 (c. 11:45pm)--Doctors inform Yoko Ono that Lennon has died.
Elaboration: With Ono at the hospital is David Geffen, who had just seen the two of them at the Record Plant a couple of hours earlier.
December 9, 1980 (4:00am)--Detectives put on a ruse to sneak Chapman out of the precinct to take him to another facility.
Elaboration: The officers of the Twentieth were very concerned about Chapman’s safety. They consciously articulated the similarities between transporting Mark and police in Dallas escorting Lee Oswald. At the time, they were determined not to let some kind of “Jack Ruby” (their words) scenario play out.
Commentary: Note the parallels between the JFK assassination and the Lennon murder that began to form independently during the early hours of the investigation. The police have it deliberately in mind when transporting Chapman. The same thought surfaced from the unconscious mind of Dr. Veteran while he treated Lennon.
December 9 (c. 10:30am)--Ringo Starr and his wife, Barbara Bach arrive at the Dakota.
Elaboration: Ono met Starr at the gate, and told him that she had to speak with him alone. Starr, in effect, replied “No you don’t. If I go, Barbara goes. Remember, you started this.” A couple of hours later, Starr emerged from the Dakota visibly shaken and upset.
Commentary: This exchange, witnessed by mourners who had gathered for a vigil, has made its way into conspiracy lore as evidence that Ono might have played a role in Lennon’s death. After all, without context, this (true) story would lead us to believe that Starr and his wife, vacationing in the Bahamas at the time of Lennon’s death, hauled ass to New York once they found out so that they may comfort his widow, but wound up accusing her of complicity in the crime.
In his 1998 biography Ringo Starr: Straight Man or Joker , Alan Clayson provided the context of this brief conversation between Ono and Starr over Bach, in effect rendering it quite innocent.
First of all, Ono had legitimate business to discuss with Starr alone. Ringo had been planning to record an album with Lennon since September 1980. They had scheduled the studio for January 1981. As Ono would explain many times later, in the initial hours after her husband’s murder, she was somewhat in a state of denial. And in weird times, it’s sometimes comforting to do normal things. If Yoko wanted to apprise Starr of her status and fitness to enter a recording studio again, this time without John, then that would have been something that would have pertained to Starr alone, and not Bach.
Also missing from the conspiracy tale is Starr’s tone of voice when saying, “You started all this.” Ringo wasn’t accusing Ono of anything here. Think of it more as a gentle reminder that during the latter days of the Beatles, John would insist on Yoko’s presence when meeting about band issues. Starr was simply asking Ono to extend the same courtesy to his wife.
While there, Starr mainly focused on simply being there for both Yoko and Sean. He left two hours later when she told him that she didn’t want any funeral or fuss (because either would immediately confront her with the reality of Lennon’s demise). Starr left in deference to her feelings.
Starr also had a reason to be more upset upon his departure than on his arrival to the Dakota. The mourners gathered outside bothered him. As he told Clayson:
These people showed very little respect for either John [or] Yoko. It was disgusting....
When we came out…I didn’t need to hear people telling me how much they loved the Beatles because I wasn’t there to see a Beatle. I was there to see a friend.
It would take only a little time for Starr, Harrison and McCartney to realize that they too “...could be a target for the next madman” (Starr to Clayson).
December 8, 1980 (10:50pm)--Upon arriving at the Dakota, Lennon gives Chapman a quizzical look, and then passes him by. Chapman takes out his gun, crouches to a shooting position and gets off five shots. Lennon runs to the front office after sustaining four bullet wounds to his left side. Dakota employee Jay Hastings calls police.
Elaboration: Lennon suffered from four shots to the upper left side of his back and left shoulder, what experts would later describe as a “good shot group.” In fact, the shots were so close together that morgue attendants had difficulty tracing the seperate path of each bullet. Lennon might have stood a fighting chance with three of the wounds. But one bullet punctured his aorta, the major artery attached to the heart. That shot alone would have doomed him from the start.
Figure 1. John Lennon’s death certificate
A number of witnesses gave statements to police. (Emphasis, in italics, is mine.)
--Maury Solomon told Detective William Lundon that he saw three bullet holes in the front glass door of the Dakota. He noticed Chapman smiling after the shooting.
--Franklin Welsh told a Detective Regan that he heard four shots coming from the courtyard. Welsh had just pulled up in a cab to visit a friend when they saw Lennon and Ono stepping out of the limo. He was paying his fare as the shots rang out. He also saw guard/doorman Jose Perdomo kick the gun away from Chapman, after Mark laid it on the ground following the shooting. Welsh immediately tried to flag down police, but found that they had arrived before he could get there.
Welsh’s cab driver, Richard Peterson, said that they were directly behind Lennon and Ono’s limo. He actually saw Chapman firing.
--Joseph Many, the elevator operator for the Dakota complex, told an Officer Clark that he arrived on his shift at 3:30pm that day. He saw Chapman talking to Jeri Moll, whom he recognized as a regular. Many saw Chapman at 9:30, and asked him “Why are you still hanging around here; you already got his autograph?”
Shortly before 11:00pm, he heard three shots while in the basement with two other Dakota employees, Victor Cruz and Joe Grezik. He went upstairs, where Perdomo motioned to the gun, saying, “Get this out of here.” Many took the gun, went downstairs, and hid it in a drawer before handing it over to the police.
--Yoko Ono told Detective Peter Mangicavallo that she and Lennon left the Record Plant at 10:30. They mulled over the possibility of going out to eat, but decided against it. Out of all the witnesses, she alone says that she was behind Lennon, at least some of the time. She also noted a change in routine:
We normally go into the gate but we did not….
Got out walked past gate. John was walking past the door [?], he was walking fast. I heard shots. I heard shots. He walked to door upstairs. Said, ‘I’m shot.’ I followed him. He was standing but staggering. I told him to lay down. Sometimes he was ahead sometimes I was. I saw a male by the watchman’s box. It was dark and night. He nodded at me--dark grayish clothing. Male/white. He was not small....
--Chapman told Judge Dennis Edwards that Lennon was almost to the door when he opened fire. He also said that Lennon had not made significant progress between his first shot and last shot.
Edwards: Would you tell us approximately how far away you were from the victim Mr. Lennon, when you started to fire the shots?
Chapman: I am not quite sure but I think it is around twenty feet.
Edwards: And at any time during the firing of the shots did the distance between you and Mr. Lennon change or did you remain?
Chapman: I don’t think so, no.
Edwards: You remained approximately in the same area?
Chapman: Yes, your Honor.
Edwards: What was Mr. Lennon doing just before you started to fire the shots at him?
Chapman: He was approaching the door that would lead to up to the security area.
Edwards: And what were you doing just immediately before you fired the shot?
Chapman: A second before?
Edwards: Yes. Or a moment before. In other words, as you were standing. Did you stand and wait for him?
Chapman: Yes, your Honor, as he did. As he passed me I stepped off the curb and walked a few steps over, turned, withdrew my pistol and aimed at him in his direction and fired off five shots in quick succession.
Edwards: Did you say anything at or about that time?
Chapman: No, your Honor.
Chapman also said that Ono was way ahead of Lennon, and fled into the courtyard upon hearing gunfire.
Commentary: Within hours of the shooting, James Sullivan, Chief of Detectives, NYPD, told reporters that seconds before the shooting, Chapman called out Lennon’s name (“Mr. Lennon). This detail makes the news for the next twenty-four hours at least.
Figure 2. ABC Nightline coverage of Lennon’s death
Figure 3. CBS News Story on Lennon’s death
During his 1981 competency hearing, Chapman indicated that he didn‘t say anything to Lennon right before the shooting (see transcript above). During his 2008 parole hearing, Chapman categorically denied ever saying anything to Lennon moments before the shooting. Some sources also claimed that Lennon began to turn around in response when Chapman opened fire.
It’s most likely that Chapman said nothing to Lennon, and simply shot at him. Yet it’s curious where this datum might have come from in the first place. For reasons I will go into later, Chapman was never the best source on the murder, especially after 1988. And if he didn’t mention saying anything to Lennon beforehand, it might have slipped his mind during the competency hearing as an unimportant detail. Then too, someone else might have said it. So there’s a slight chance that this could be true to some degree. If Chapman said nothing to Lennon, then the lack of conversation becomes meaningless. But if Lennon actually heard his name (especially if Mark never said it), and turned around, then that could actually go a long way in proving Chapman’s innocence--for reasons I will also go into later.
Other witnesses testified to the information given above, but I cited only a handful of eyewitnesses, excluding such people as Sean Strub and Guy Louthan who only saw something after the fatal shots were fired. In summation, they tell us that Chapman took out a gun, and fired at Lennon. A number of witnesses corroborate the bullet holes in the door of the lobby. And both Chapman and Ono said Lennon had made it almost to the steps leading up to the office.
December 8, 1980 (c. 10:30am)--Lennon and Ono prepare for a photo session with Annie Leibovitz.
Elaboration: The photo session took place in the Dakota.
Commentary: The Lennons had a busy day ahead of them, yet they arranged it so they did not have to leave home. They had one apartment in the complex which they more or less used as an office.
The photo session demonstrates that Lennon fully planned to come back into the public eye. Were he granted US citizenship the following year (his first year of eligibility), he probably would feel less jumpy or nervous about making political commentary, which he seemed poised to do.
December 8 (c. 11:00am)--Chapman leaves his hotel room with a copy of Lennon’s Double Fantasy album. He heads to the Dakota, but stops along the way to pick up a new copy of Catcher in the Rye.
Commentary: It’s clear Chapman dressed to stay outdoors for a long period of time. Despite the fact that it was a temperate day for December (low forties, Fahrenheit), he wore a warm hat.
December 8 (c. 11:30am)--Chapman arrives at the Dakota.
Elaboration: Chapman talked to the day guard, who informed him that the Lennons were busing getting their picture taken. He waited outside with Jude Stein and Jeri Moll.
Commentary: The Dakota guards continued their policy of describing the movements of their tenants to strangers. Perhaps that wasn’t so unusual in 1980, a time when the phrase “celebrity stalking” had yet to enter public consciousness. Still, it helped Chapman gauge his time, and plan his day. He knew, for example, that his victim was in town, and inside the building. If he waited long enough, he would surely see him.
According to those who knew him, Chapman had never exhibited shyness around strangers, especially women. Here we see his typical gregariousness when palling around with Stein and Moll.
December 8 (c. 12:30pm)--Chapman, Stein and Moll go to a nearby diner for lunch.
Elaboration: While there, they meet Paul Goresh, a young store detective and aspiring paparazzo. Goresh planned on hanging out at the Dakota to get shots of Lennon and other famous residents. After lunch, the four of them hang out together at the Dakota for hours.
December 8 (c.1:15pm)--Dave Sholin conducts a radio interview with Lennon and Ono.
December 8 (c. 2:00pm-4:00pm)--Moll and Stein introduce Chapman to Sean Lennon, who arrives with his nanny. Chapman shakes the boy’s hand.
Commentary: At this point, Chapman simply appears as a fan. He doesn't come across as someone dangerous.
December 8 (c. 5:15pm)--After concluding the interview, Lennon and Ono leave the Dakota for The Record Plant (recording studio). On the way out, Lennon encounters Chapman for the first time.
Elaboration: Chapman extended his copy of Double Fantasy to Lennon, who autographed it for him. Lennon then asked Chapman if he would like anything else, to which Mark said, “No.” Goresh snapped a photograph of the encounter.
Figure 1. Lennon signing Chapman's album.
Lennon’s limo hadn’t shown up yet, so John had the doorman hail a taxi. At the studio, Lennon laid additional tracks. The owner of his label, David Geffen, came down to watch the proceedings. Commentary: Many ask why Chapman didn’t shoot Lennon at this point, noting the proximity between killer and victim. Bresler posited that the reason Chapman balked was because there were people all around him, who might have stopped him. The picture’s cropping gives a distorted view of events. This seems like a pretty flimsy explanation, however. After all, there were people around him when he actually shot Lennon. And in situations like this, it takes people a few seconds to realize what’s going on, and a few more for them to react to it--and that’s assuming they would try to pry the gun from Chapman’s hand, instead of running away.
This was Chapman’s best chance to kill Lennon himself. Why he didn’t is hard to say, but one could guess that he was still personally weighing the decision.
December 8 (c. 5:30pm-8:00pm)--Moll and Stein leave the Dakota.
December 8 (8:30)--Goresh leaves the Dakota.
Elaboration: Chapman asked Goresh to stay with him longer. Goresh declined. They confirmed plans to meet the following night, whereupon Chapman would pay him fifty dollars for the photo of him getting Lennon‘s autograph.
Speculation: Goresh, Moll and Stein could very well have been the safeguards preventing the murder of John Lennon up until that point. Chapman seemed loath to kill the ex-Beatle in front of them. And Chapman seems as though he actually planned to see Goresh the following night. Without his companions, Chapman, and ultimtely Lennon, might have become vulnerable during the wait to see Lennon again.
December 8 (10:00pm)--Lennon and Ono leave The Record Plant.
December 8 (10:00pm)--Chapman converses with doorman/security guard Jose Perdomo.