|Murder of John Lennon|
Police artist sketch of the murder
|Location||The Dakota, New York City, New York|
|Date||8 December 1980 |
10:50 PM (US Eastern time (UTC-05:00))
|Shooting with handgun|
|Weapon||Charter Arms Undercover .38 Special revolver|
|Perpetrator||Mark David Chapman|
On the evening of 8 December 1980, English musician John Lennon, formerly of the Beatles, was fatally shot in the archway of the Dakota, his residence in New York City. The perpetrator was Mark David Chapman, an American Beatles fan who had travelled from Hawaii. Chapman stated that he was angered by Lennon's lifestyle and public statements, especially his much-publicized remark about the Beatles being "more popular than Jesus" and the lyrics of his later songs "God" and "Imagine". Chapman also said he was inspired by the fictional character Holden Caulfield from J. D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye.
Chapman planned the killing over the course of several months and waited for Lennon at the Dakota on the morning of 8 December. During the evening, he met Lennon, who signed his copy of the album Double Fantasy. Lennon left with his wife, Yoko Ono, for a recording session at Record Plant Studio. Later that night, Lennon and Ono returned to the Dakota. As they walked towards the archway entrance of the building, Chapman fired five hollow-point bullets from a .38 special revolver, four of which hit Lennon in the back. Chapman remained at the scene reading The Catcher in the Rye until he was arrested by the police. Lennon was rushed in a police cruiser to Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
A worldwide outpouring of grief ensued on an unprecedented scale. Crowds gathered at Roosevelt Hospital and in front of the Dakota, and at least three Beatles fans committed suicide. Lennon was cremated at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, on 12 December; the ashes were given to Ono, who requested 10 minutes of silence around the world instead of holding a funeral. Chapman pleaded guilty of murdering Lennon and was given a sentence of 20-years-to-life imprisonment. He has been denied parole 10 times after he became eligible in 2000.
Portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz went to the Lennons' apartment to do a photo shoot for Rolling Stone magazine. Leibovitz promised them that a photo of the two of them together would make the front cover of the magazine. Leibovitz had taken several photos of John Lennon alone and one was originally set to be on the cover. Leibovitz said, "Nobody wanted [Ono] on the cover". Lennon insisted that both he and his wife be on the cover, and after taking the pictures, Leibovitz left their apartment at 3:30. After the photo shoot, Lennon gave what would be his last interview, to San Francisco DJ Dave Sholin, for a music show to be broadcast on the RKO Radio Network. At 5:40, Lennon and Ono, delayed by a late limousine, left their apartment to mix the song "Walking on Thin Ice" (an Ono song featuring Lennon on lead guitar) at the Record Plant Studio.
Mark David Chapman, a 25-year-old former security guard from Honolulu, Hawaii, had been a fan of the Beatles. In 1992 Chapman claimed that he became enraged by Lennon's infamous, much-publicized 1966 remark about the group being "more popular than Jesus", and especially by the lyrics of Lennon's later songs.J. D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye took on great personal significance for Chapman, to the extent that he wished to model his life after the novel's protagonist, Holden Caulfield. At the time of the murder, he had no prior criminal convictions. Chapman had previously travelled to New York to murder Lennon in October, but had changed his mind and returned home.
Chapman flew back to New York on December 6, 1980. On the morning of December 8, Chapman left his room at the Sheraton Hotel, leaving personal items behind that the police would later find. He bought a copy of The Catcher in the Rye in which he wrote "This is my statement", signing it "Holden Caulfield." Chapman then waited for Lennon outside the Dakota in early-morning and spent most of the day near the entrance to the Dakota, talking to fans and the doorman. During that morning, a distracted Chapman missed seeing Lennon step out of a cab and enter the Dakota. Later in the morning, Chapman met Lennon's family nanny, Helen Seaman, who was returning from a walk with Lennon's five-year-old son Sean. Chapman reached in front of the housekeeper to shake Sean's hand and said that he was a beautiful boy, quoting Lennon's song "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)".
At approximately 5:00 p.m., Lennon and Ono left the Dakota for a recording session at Record Plant Studios. As they were walking to a limousine (shared with the RKO Radio crew), they were approached by Chapman, who was seeking an autograph. It was common for fans to wait outside the Dakota to meet Lennon and ask for his autograph. Chapman asked Lennon to sign a copy of his album, Double Fantasy. According to Chapman himself, "He was very kind to me. Ironically, very kind and was very patient with me," he said. "The limousine was waiting ... and he took his time with me and he got the pen going and he signed my album. He asked me if I needed anything else. I said, 'No. No sir.' And he walked away. Very cordial and decent man." In a 1992 interview with Larry King, Chapman would say that he felt Lennon knew that there was something suspicious about him. Photographer and Lennon fan Paul Goresh took a photo of Lennon signing Chapman's album. In a later interview, Chapman said that he tried to get Goresh to stay and that he asked another Lennon fan who was lingering at the building's entrance to go out with him that night. He suggested that if the girl had accepted his invitation or Goresh had stayed, he would not have murdered Lennon that evening, but he probably would have tried another day.
The Lennons spent several hours at the Record Plant studio before returning to the Dakota at approximately 10:50 p.m. Lennon had decided against dining out so he could be home in time to say goodnight to his son, before going on to the Stage Deli restaurant with Ono. Lennon liked to oblige, with autographs or pictures, any fans who had been waiting for long periods of time to meet him, and once said during a 6 December 1980 interview with BBC Radio's Andy Peebles: "People come and ask for autographs, or say 'Hi', but they don't bug you." The Lennons exited their limousine on 72nd Street instead of driving into the more secure courtyard of the Dakota.
The Dakota doorman Jose Perdomo and a nearby taxi driver saw Chapman standing in the shadows by the archway. The Lennons passed Chapman and walked toward the archway entrance of the building. As Ono passed by, Chapman nodded at her. As Lennon passed by, he glanced briefly at Chapman, appearing to recognize him from earlier. From the street behind them, Chapman took aim at the center of Lennon's back and fired five hollow-point bullets at him from a Charter Arms .38 Special revolver, in rapid succession, from a distance of about nine or ten feet (about 3 m).
Based on statements made that night by NYPD Chief of Detectives James Sullivan, numerous radio, television, and newspaper reports claimed at the time that, before firing, Chapman called out, "Mr. Lennon", and dropped into a combat stance. Later court hearings and witness interviews did not include either "Mr. Lennon" or the "combat stance" description. Chapman has said that he does not remember calling out to Lennon before he fired, and that Lennon did not turn around. He claimed to have taken a "combat stance" in a 1992 interview with Barbara Walters.
One bullet missed Lennon and struck a window of the Dakota building. The other four hit Lennon in the back and shoulder, puncturing his left lung and left subclavian artery. Lennon, bleeding profusely from external wounds and from his mouth, staggered up five steps to the security/reception area where he said, "I'm shot! I'm shot!"[note 1] He then fell to the floor, scattering cassettes that he had been carrying. Perdomo ran inside and told concierge worker Jay Hastings that the attacker had dropped his gun on the sidewalk. Hastings first started to make a tourniquet, but upon ripping open Lennon's blood-stained shirt and realizing the severity of the musician's multiple injuries, he covered Lennon's chest with his uniform jacket, removed his blood-covered glasses, and summoned the police.
Chapman then removed his coat and hat in preparation for the arrival of police--to show he was not carrying any concealed weapons--and remained standing on West 72nd Street. Underneath his coat, he wore a promotional T-shirt for the musician Todd Rundgren's album Hermit of Mink Hollow. Perdomo shouted at Chapman, "Do you know what you've done?", to which Chapman calmly replied, "Yes, I just shot John Lennon."
Officers Steven Spiro and Peter Cullen were the first policemen to arrive at the scene; they were at 72nd Street and Broadway when they heard a report of shots fired at the Dakota. The officers arrived around two minutes later and found Chapman standing very calmly on West 72nd Street. They reported that Chapman had dropped the revolver to the ground and was holding a paperback book, J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. Later, he claimed, "If you were able to view the actual copy of The Catcher in the Rye that was taken from me on the night of Dec. 8, you would find in it the handwritten words, 'This is my statement.'" They immediately put Chapman in handcuffs and placed him in the back seat of their squad car. Chapman made no attempt to flee nor resist arrest.
Officer Herb Frauenberger and his partner Tony Palma were the second team, arriving a few minutes later. They found Lennon lying face down on the floor of the reception area, blood pouring from his mouth and his clothing already soaked with it, with Hastings attending to him. Realizing the extent of Lennon's injuries, the policemen decided not to wait for an ambulance and immediately carried Lennon into their squad car. He was rushed to Roosevelt Hospital on West 59th Street. Officer James Moran said they placed Lennon in the back seat.
Reportedly, Moran asked, "Are you John Lennon?" to which Lennon nodded and replied, "Yes." According to another account by officer Bill Gamble, Lennon nodded slightly and tried to speak, but could only manage to make a gurgling sound, and lost consciousness shortly thereafter.
A few minutes before 11:00 p.m., Moran arrived with Lennon in his squad car. Moran was carrying Lennon on his back and onto a gurney, demanding a doctor for a multiple gunshot wound victim. When Lennon was brought in, he was not breathing, and had no pulse. Three doctors, a nurse, and two or three other medical attendants worked on Lennon for ten to twenty minutes in an attempt to resuscitate him. As a last resort, the doctors cut open Lennon's chest and attempted manual heart massage to restore circulation, but they quickly discovered that the damage to the blood vessels above and around Lennon's heart from the multiple bullet wounds was too great.
Three of the four bullets that struck Lennon's back passed completely through his body and out of his chest. One of the exiting bullets from his chest hit and became lodged in his upper left arm, while the fourth lodged itself in his aorta beside his heart. Nearly all of them would have been fatal by themselves, because each bullet had ruptured vital arteries around the heart. Lennon had been shot four times at close range with hollow-point bullets and his affected organs--particularly his left lung and major blood vessels above his heart--were virtually destroyed upon impact.
Information regarding who operated on and attempted to resuscitate Lennon has varied. Many reports credit Stephan Lynn, the head of the Emergency Department at Roosevelt Hospital, with performing Lennon's surgery. In 2005, Lynn recalled being the one massaging Lennon's heart and attempting to resuscitate him for 20 minutes, that two other doctors were present, and that the three of them together declared Lennon's death. Conversely in 1990, Richard Marks, an emergency room surgeon at Roosevelt Hospital, stated he operated on Lennon, administered a "massive" blood transfusion, and provided heart massage to no avail. "When I realized he wasn't going to make it," said Marks, "I just sewed him back up. I felt helpless." In 2015, surgeon David Halleran disputed the accounts of both Marks and Lynn, stating that the two doctors "didn't do anything." Halleran also stated that he did not realize who he was operating on initially, and that Lynn only came to assist him when he heard that it was Lennon. At the time, Halleran was a third-year general surgery resident at Roosevelt Hospital.
-- Stephen Lynn, head of the Emergency Department at Roosevelt Hospital
Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival at 11:15 p.m., but the time of 11:07 p.m. has also been reported. The surgeons noted--as did other witnesses--that a Beatles song ("All My Loving") came over the hospital's sound system at the moment Lennon was pronounced dead. His body was then taken to the city morgue at 520 First Avenue for an autopsy. The cause of death was reported on his death certificate as "hypovolemic shock, caused by the loss of more than 80% of blood volume due to multiple through-and-through gunshot wounds to the left shoulder and left chest resulting in damage to the left lung, the left subclavian artery, and both the aorta and aortic arch". According to the report, even with prompt medical treatment, no person could have lived for more than a few minutes with multiple bullet wounds affecting all of the major arteries and veins around the heart.
Dr. Lynn informed Ono of her husband's death. According to Lynn, Ono started sobbing and said, "Oh no, no, no, no ... tell me it's not true!" He said that Ono then lay down and began hitting her head against the floor, but calmed down when a nurse gave Lennon's wedding ring to her. His account is disputed by two of the nurses who were there. In a 2015 interview, Ono denied hitting her head on a concrete floor and stated that her chief concern at the time was to remain calm and take care of her son Sean. She was led away from Roosevelt Hospital by a policeman and Geffen Records' president, David Geffen.
Ono asked the hospital not to report to the media that her husband was dead until she had informed their five-year-old son Sean, who was at home. Ono said he was probably watching television and did not want him to learn of his father's death from a TV announcement. Meanwhile, news producer Alan J. Weiss of WABC-TV had been waiting to be treated in the Roosevelt Hospital ER after being injured in a motorcycle accident earlier in the evening. Weiss recalled in a 2013 interview for the CNN series Crimes of the Century that he had seen Lennon being wheeled into the room surrounded by several police officers. After he learned what happened, Weiss called back to the station to relay the information. Eventually, word made its way through the chain of command to ABC News president Roone Arledge, who was tasked with finding a way to bring this major development to the viewing audience.
While all of this was happening, Arledge, who was also the president of the network's sports division, was presiding over ABC's telecast of Monday Night Football in his capacity as its executive producer. When Arledge received word of Lennon's death, a game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins was tied with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter and the Patriots were driving toward the potential winning score. As the Patriots tried to put themselves in position for a field goal, Arledge informed Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell of the shooting and suggested that they be the ones to report on the murder. Cosell, who had interviewed Lennon during a Monday Night Football broadcast in 1974, was chosen to do so but was apprehensive of it at first, as he felt the game should take precedence and that it was not their place to break such a big story. Gifford convinced Cosell otherwise, saying that he should not "hang on to (the news)" as the significance of the event was much greater than the finish of the game.
The following exchange began with thirty seconds left in the fourth quarter, shortly after Gifford and Cosell had been informed of what had transpired:
Cosell: ... but [the game]'s suddenly been placed in total perspective for us. I'll finish this; they're in the hurry-up offense.
Gifford: Third down, four. [Chuck] Foreman ... it'll be fourth down. [Matt] Cavanaugh will let it run down for one final attempt; he'll let the seconds tick off to give Miami no opportunity whatsoever. (Whistle blows.) Timeout is called with three seconds remaining; John Smith is on the line. And I don't care what's on the line, Howard, you have got to say what we know in the booth.
Cosell: Yes, we have to say it. Remember this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City: John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City--the most famous, perhaps, of all of the Beatles--shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival. Hard to go back to the game after that newsflash, which, in duty bound, we have to take. Frank?
Gifford: (after a pause) Indeed, it is.
NBC momentarily broke into its East Coast feed of The Best of Carson for its bulletin of Lennon's death before returning in the middle of a comedy piece being performed by Johnny Carson. New York rock station WNEW-FM 102.7 immediately suspended all programming and opened its lines to calls from listeners. Stations throughout the country switched to special programming devoted to Lennon and/or Beatles music.
The following day, Ono issued a statement: "There is no funeral for John. John loved and prayed for the human race. Please do the same for him. Love, Yoko and Sean."
On the day following the murder, Lennon's Beatle bandmate George Harrison issued a prepared statement for the press: "After all we went through together, I had and still have great love and respect for him. I am shocked and stunned. To rob a life is the ultimate robbery in life. The perpetual encroachment on other people's space is taken to the limit with the use of a gun. It is an outrage that people can take other people's lives when they obviously haven't got their own lives in order." Harrison later privately told friends, "I just wanted to be in a band. Here we are, 20 years later, and some whack job has shot my mate. I just wanted to play guitar in a band."
Lennon's former writing partner Paul McCartney was leaving an Oxford Street recording studio when reporters asked him for his reaction; he responded, "Drag, isn't it?". When publicised, the response was widely criticised, and even McCartney himself regretted the seemingly callous remark. McCartney later said that he had intended no disrespect and simply was unable to articulate his feelings, given the shock and sadness he felt over Lennon's murder.
Lennon's death triggered an outpouring of grief around the world on an unprecedented scale. His remains were cremated at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, Westchester County, New York; no funeral was held. Ono sent word to the chanting crowd outside the Dakota that their singing had kept her awake; she asked that they re-convene at the Central Park Bandshell the following Sunday for ten minutes of silent prayer. On 14 December 1980, millions of people around the world responded to Ono's request to pause for ten minutes of silence to remember Lennon. 30,000 gathered in Lennon's hometown of Liverpool, and the largest group--over 225,000--converged on Central Park, close to the scene of the shooting. For those ten minutes, every radio station in New York City went off the air.
At least three Beatles fans committed suicide after the murder, leading Ono to make a public appeal asking mourners not to give in to despair. On 18 January 1981, a full-page open letter from Ono appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Titled "In Gratitude", it expressed thanks to the millions of people who mourned John's loss and wanted to know how they could commemorate his life and help her and Sean.
Double Fantasy, which was released three weeks before Lennon's murder and initially poorly received, became a worldwide commercial success and went on to win the 1981 Album of the Year award at the 24th Annual Grammy Awards.
Ono released a solo album, Season of Glass, in 1981. The cover of the album is a photograph of Lennon's blood-spattered glasses. That same year she also released "Walking on Thin Ice", the song the Lennons had mixed at the Record Plant less than an hour before he was murdered, as a single.
John Hinckley tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan less than four months after Lennon's murder, and police found a copy of Catcher in the Rye among his personal belongings. He left a cassette tape in his hotel room on which he stated that he mourned Lennon's death. He said that he wanted to make "some kind of statement" after Lennon's death.
Chapman pleaded guilty in 1981 to murdering Lennon. Under the terms of his guilty plea, he was sentenced to 20-years-to-life and later automatically became eligible for parole in 2000. However, he has been denied parole ten times and remains incarcerated in an Upstate New York prison.
Jay Hastings, the Dakota doorman who tried to help Lennon, sold the shirt he was wearing that night, stained with Lennon's blood, at auction in 2016. It sold for £31,000.
Leibovitz's photo of a naked Lennon embracing his wife, taken on the day of the murder, was the cover of Rolling Stones 22 January 1981 issue, most of which was dedicated to articles, letters and photographs commemorating Lennon's life and death. In 2005, the American Society of Magazine Editors ranked it as the top magazine cover of the last 40 years.
A number of roundly refuted conspiracy theories have been published, based on CIA and FBI surveillance of Lennon due to his left-wing activism, and on the actions of Chapman in the murder or subsequent legal proceedings. Barrister and journalist Fenton Bresler raised the idea in a book published in 1990.Liverpool playwright Ian Carroll, who has staged a drama conveying the theory Chapman was manipulated by a rogue wing of the CIA, suggests he was not so insane he could not manage a long trip from Hawaii to New York shortly prior to the murder. Claims include Chapman was a "Manchurian candidate", including speculation on links to the CIA's Project MKULTRA. At least one author has argued forensic evidence proves Chapman did not commit the murder. The 2010 documentary 'The Day John Lennon Died' suggests the doorman at the Dakota was a Cuban exile with links to the CIA and the Bay of Pigs invasion.