In the Shadows a Killer Waited
You laugh? You don’t believe in the devil? Disbelief in the devil is a French idea, a frivolous idea. Do you know who the devil is? Do you know his name? Without even knowing his name, you laugh at the form of him…at his hoofs, at his tail, at his horns, which you have invented; for the evil spirit is a mighty menacing spirit, but he has not the hoofs and horns you’ve invented for him.
—Dostoyevski, The Idiot
Mark Chapman’s wife, Gloria, resisted meeting with me for two years. We talked several times on the telephone, but always off the record. I thought her reluctance was driven by guilt: Having shown flagrant signs of mental illness, Chapman had told her he intended to kill John Lennon and she had done little to stop him.
Even after she agreed to an interview, she continued to be plagued by doubts about confiding her secrets. Her uncertainty was dispelled only when she received what she considered a sign from God during an evening church service. It came when, leafing through her Bible, she turned to an account in Acts. As she read, the pastor asked his congregation to turn to the very same passage, chapter 18, verse 9, in which Christ tells Paul: “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you.”
“I had prayed that when God showed me, it would have the word ‘speak’,” she told me later, “because this was going to be a speaking thing. So when I saw the word ‘speak’, you know….”
Unexpectedly, the most sensitive subject for Gloria turned out not to be her failure to get help for her husband in time to prevent his crime; rather, she worried that their friends would be shocked to discover that Chapman (a man, I was re-Photographs by Harry Benson minded, who already stood convicted of murder) had sometimes struck her.
Gloria was a 26-year-old travel agent when she met Mark Chapman in March 1978. He was 22 and a maintenance worker at Castle Medical Center in Kailua, a small city on the windward side of Oahu. Following his suicide attempt eight months earlier, he had been admitted as one of the first four patients in Castle’s new Human Services ward, and he had stayed on at the hospital. He had made what both his psychiatrist and the unit’s staff perceived as a rapid recovery. It was apparently wishful thinking on their part. “We failed him,” says one staffer bluntly. “We wanted a success to prove ourselves, and he was it. I think no one picked up his psychosis because we wanted to believe our program was that good.”
At the same time, Mark played his part impeccably. He was living with a minister who was bringing him back to his old religion, and he became as much a star with patients and staff as he had been with his YMCA campers three years before. “[Mark] would leave little notes with smile faces saying ‘Have a nice day’ or ‘Cheer up—life’s not that bad,’ ” his supervisor, Leilani Siegfried, remembers. “All the patients, particularly the older ones that nobody else would talk to, just loved that boy, and I can’t say enough good about him.”
In 1978, buoyed by a loan from the hospital’s credit union, Chapman decided to see the world. At Waters World Travel in Kailua, it was Gloria who made the arrangements. In a long account of her life with Mark for his defense attorney, Jonathan Marks, Gloria wrote: “I remember he called once and asked ‘Hi, good lookin’, what’s cookin’?’ I said to the girl I was working with, ‘I think Mark Chapman has a crush on me.’ ” At first she thought little about it. He was a haole (Caucasian), four years younger than she was and a born-again Christian. She was Japanese, raised as a Buddhist, and her spiritual tastes now ran to astrology, tarot-card readings and other aspects of the occult. But gradually she began to return his affection. “He was witty, generous, kind, gentle, studious, intelligent and cute,” she wrote. “Also, I was into graphology, and I saw good traits in his handwriting.”
They exchanged letters during his trip around the world, and after his return in late August, Mark and Gloria began seeing each other regularly. He told her frankly of his emotional problems; she assumed he was over them. He took her to church with him, and she was quickly converted. In January 1979, as they walked along Kailua Beach, he stopped and wrote in the sand, “Will you marry me?” and she wrote, “Yes!!!” “That was the best day of my life,” she said later, “even better than the wedding. He carried me piggyback down the beach, and we were just so happy.”
At the same time he was courting Gloria, Mark was trying to persuade his mother, Kathryn*, to move to Hawaii. She had decided to leave Mark’s father when they had visited their son in December 1977 but she had said nothing to Mark at the time. “I just fell in love with Hawaii the minute I saw it,” she said recently, and for two weeks the following spring she had visited Mark by herself. After that he called and wrote her unceasingly. “I’d get letters—’Come by plane, come by sea, just come.’ He sent pictures of boats and planes. He really helped a lot. I don’t know that I would have had the courage to get [divorced] without him.”
Kathryn arrived in Honolulu two months before Mark proposed to Gloria. She told her son she didn’t want to interfere with the relationship. “I didn’t come over here to hang on your coattails,” she said. Nevertheless Mark helped her find an apartment and a job and an attorney for her divorce, and in his free time—too much of his free time, in Gloria’s opinion, especially after their June wedding—he entertained her. He played pinball with her at the arcade, took her for spins on his motorcycle, met her for breakfast or lunch and at night spots in Waikiki. “Mark did all he could for his mom to set her up in a nice place and all,” Gloria said, “and I made things hard for him after a while. I’d be working and they’d go out to a restaurant in town. I would see the bills and see where they went. I got jealous and put pressure on him to more or less choose between me and his mom. It was normal. We were newlyweds.”
In the early months of their marriage, Mark was feeling another kind of pressure during his parents’ divorce. He was his mother’s confidant and support, and when his father stopped sending her the money she thought he had promised, Mark’s bitterness far exceeded hers. He never spoke to his father again, and his rage undermined him. At one point Mark confided to Gloria that he sometimes thought of escaping from the world altogether. “It was kind of sudden,” she said. “We were at Mauna Loa Park, a beautiful place with huge trees, and we were sitting under one of them talking. He talked seriously about withdrawing from society and pretending to be a deaf mute. I said, ‘It doesn’t sound like I’m in there. What happens to me?’ And then he said, ‘Oh, I was just talking. I wasn’t serious.’ It was like he remembered, you know, ‘Oh, yeah.’ ” Later she heard him—in the middle of the night, when he thought she was asleep—making anonymous, threatening phone calls to various people: a doctor at Castle, the manager of a TV repair shop. He didn’t say why, and she didn’t press it.
In her journal for the defense, Gloria said Mark began to undertake periodic “purges” of their possessions. She came to dread them. “I always felt uncomfortable and even a little-frightened because I knew I would be saying goodbye to something I really didn’t want to part with,” she said. “[I got] the feeling that Mark wanted more than to clean up, that he wanted to get rid of some burden.” First he purged her books on the occult, then the shoes and clothes she no longer wore. Eventually he pawned most of her jewelry, including her high school ring. He got rid of expensive wedding gifts, her guitar and ukulele, even kitchen utensils he thought were superfluous. “Once in a while,” Gloria wrote plaintively, “I would make it a point to use every single [pot-holder] so he could see I was using them and would not throw them out.”
Mark also became physically abusive. Though he rarely struck her hard enough to leave bruises, Gloria became wary of confronting him or, as she puts it, “saying something sarcastic or doing something that showed a lack of respect for him as head of the family.” Mark believed in the traditional biblical injunction that a wife obey her husband; at the time Gloria did not. “I’d rebel,” she said, “and that’s when he’d get so angry.” Soon the marriage had become a torment to her. “The only place you” could go for privacy was in the bathroom, and so often at night I’d go in there and lock the door and just cry, ‘I can’t take this. How long is life going to be like this?’ ” But she would not leave him. “Pride was one of the reasons,” she said. “Another was I thought we had really committed ourselves before God and all those people, our witnesses. That meant a lot to me. Plus, I still loved him.”
Mark made Gloria quit her job at Waters World Travel, where she had worked for nearly eight years, after he had an argument with her boss. Following a run-in with a neighbor who whistled at Gloria, he arranged for them to move to a luxury apartment building with tight security on the other side of the island. Then, as an economy, he sold their car. They commuted together by bus to Castle, where she took a job as a clerk, but they stopped going to their old church on Sundays. Chapman assumed responsibility for Gloria’s religious education, and she credits him with making her an even more fervent Christian than he was.
Mark had changed jobs around the time they were married, moving into the hospital’s community relations department. He considered it a way to break into public relations, but he spent most of his time in a noisy shop in the hospital basement, turning out press releases and other documents. He made the best of it and eventually came to take great pride in mastering the techniques of printing. He became interested in lithography and began visiting art galleries. Gradually, Gloria said, he became “obsessed with art. He bought watercolors and began painting himself. This one painting he did in watercolor, it was like an ocean scene. It started out bright colors, really beautiful with the waves and all, and then he just kept putting more and more paint on it, and it got darker and darker and darker until he just crushed it up and threw it away.”
His obsession with art became a compulsion. In October, with money from the sale of their car, he bought a serigraph by Hiro Yamagata. Eight days later he bought a lithograph, six days later another, and the next month still another. In early December, with a $5,000 loan from Gloria’s father, he arranged to buy a wall plaque in gold of Salvador Dali’s Lincoln in Dalivision. Within the week he changed his mind, borrowed another $2,500 from his mother, and for $7,500 bought a lithograph of Norman Rockwell’s Triple Self-Portrait. At about the same time he bought a copy of Rockwell’s portrait of John F. Kennedy. He had all his pieces expensively framed.
Then came another “betrayal.” A promotion he thought he had been promised went to somebody else. Soon afterward, following a clamorous confrontation with the head of nursing, Chapman quit the hospital. He never went back. Five days before Christmas 1979 he went to work at a new job. He had tried to find other work but found that, given his experience, the best he could get was on the night shift at a new condominium in Honolulu. Once again, as he had done when he failed at the YMCA in Decatur, Ga., Chapman became a security guard.
After nearly three months in his new job, he began a campaign to pay off all he owed in six months. He called it Operation Freedom From Debt. His calendar for the period is a barely legible grid of crossings-out, the written record of his immersion in a wallow of details. He worked on the calendar at all hours; plainly, to him, more than money was at stake. In fact, he accomplished his goal a month early, but in doing so he had started down a slippery slope, never to regain his emotional footing.
As Mark struggled to take control of his life, resolutions were made and broken almost daily. He was gaining weight and became convinced that sugar was an evil influence. But the week after Operation Freedom From Debt began, Operation Sugarless ended. On April 7, 1980 he decided to get into home moviemaking and bought accessories for Gloria’s 8mm camera. On April 15 he decided to give up hard liquor. On April 23 he began a new diet and he changed his mind about making movies (he sold the camera later). On May 11 he modified his hard-liquor rule so that he could drink away from home, and by then the new diet was history. In June he scoured the record shops to replace his previously purged Todd Rundgren albums; in July he sold his new collection of them. “He said it depressed him to hear music that good,” Gloria said.
He kept their Beatles albums. Late at night, after Gloria had gone to bed, he would listen to them through headphones, but with the volume set so high she could still hear the music in the next room.
To help him in his various projects, Mark began receiving the advice and counsel of an imaginary population of little people like those he had ruled as a king in his childhood. By this time they had advanced beyond monarchy to a representative government, with a House and a Senate and numerous committees, but they were still ruled absolutely by President Chapman. Gloria knew of the little people who had inhabited the walls of his home in Decatur, and his references to them now let her know they were back. She made light of his tiny subjects sometimes—asking him what they thought of this or that household decision—but Mark made it clear he took them seriously. Gloria thought it odd, but nothing to worry about.
The line of thinking that formed the text of his first deep depression at Covenant College in 1976—the notion of history as a chronicle of power, greed and death, the vision of civilization being fertilized in a bed of rotting corpses—came back to Mark as he patrolled the silent corridors of the condominium where he worked. In his free time he found himself wandering around department stores in a kind of daze; he would buy things and return them the next day. He did that once in early August, when he bought a Sony Walkman, wondered why he had done it, then returned it and bought new speakers for his stereo. Two days later, when he broke his turntable, he took a hammer and smashed it to pieces, then threw it down the incinerator chute. “He thought it was funny,” Gloria remembered. “I was horrified.” That night they watched the movie Network on TV, and its portrayal of corruption in media convinced Mark to throw out their TV set. “He said he didn’t want to be manipulated by it any longer,” Gloria said.
On August 15 they were free of debt at last, and a few days later Mark won tickets to a cabaret called the Comedy Corner. He and Gloria went together at first, then Mark began going back by himself—four times within the month. After the first visit, Gloria later told Jonathan Marks, “Mark had me buy an autograph book so that we could get the autographs of the comedians. He was very excited about this…. When we came home from the Comedy Corner he would put on a little comedy show of his own, using a flashlight for his stage light and various things in our apartment for props. He was quite good.” Later, though, “I could see…that he was getting depressed going there all the time because I knew he wished he could be up on the stage. After getting about four autographs, he suddenly decided we weren’t going there anymore and threw the autograph book out.”
Mark and his mother had had arguments before, but they were like lovers’ quarrels; this one was different. “When I first came to Hawaii,” Kathryn said, “I think I depended on [Mark] too much. [Now] I wanted to pull back. I wanted to have my own life. I was starting to have fun.”
She was beginning to date, and she was no longer Mark’s willing playmate. Mark called her boyfriends “beach bums” and was still intensely angry years later when he thought of how she had thrown him over for them. “I did everything for her to get her there, to comfort her and to hear about my father and everything. Then what happened is she totally turned cold to me…and wouldn’t even go to a movie with me…. My mother’s concern, the number one thing in her life [was] her love life. I don’t mean sex, but that someone is looking at her like she’s glamorous or something.”
At work, problems that most people would have brushed off—a sarcastic remark, a casual slight—left him feeling devastated. Once again Mark began to talk about withdrawing from the world. “I’m just not going to have anything to do with anybody else,” Gloria remembered him saying. “That’s it. I try my best and just get hurt, so why bother?”
One day he called in sick and took Gloria on a cruise to Pearl Harbor. Usually on this trip, Gloria said, he would talk about the horror of war and the conspiracy of a few rich men to rule the world, but this time he had something else on his mind. “He told me for the first time that he felt he had to go away for a while,” she remembered. “He said it wasn’t definite, but he was seriously thinking about going to London. He said that he didn’t like Hawaii anymore, that people here stared at him. I was quite upset.”
Unsettled by migraines and night sweats, Mark was having trouble sleeping. Gloria attributed it to the sugar he ate. A few days after the Pearl Harbor cruise he took his mother and Gloria to dinner. Afterward Mark and Gloria went to a double feature, Dracula and Freaks. On their way home, Mark said, “Sometimes I get so frustrated and bottled up I just want to blow somebody’s head off.” He didn’t bring up the subject again.
In retrospect, it seems that his victim could have been almost anyone. Chapman’s fragile identity, battered by what he perceived as betrayal by his father and abandonment by his mother and by a vivid sense of his own failure, was breaking up, and he was a man in desperate search of a new one.
Lately he had been going to the library. His plan was to go through every book in it, getting a feel for the range of all knowledge. He checked out a variety of books, sometimes a dozen at a time. He also brought home volumes on editorial cartooning, on writing, on acting, as if he were trying to figure out who he should be.
One day he brought home several books on England and another called John Lennon, One Day at a Time, which made clear that the singer lived in New York. After reading it Mark told Gloria it would be difficult to get a work visa in London and that he was thinking of going to New York instead. Gloria remembered him reading the book on Lennon. “He would get angry, saying that Lennon was a bastard. He was angry that Lennon would preach love and peace but yet have millions.”
He had also brought home a book on J.D. Salinger by James Lundquist, a professor of English at Minnesota’s St. Cloud State University. He wrote Lundquist a letter of fulsome praise for his understanding of so profound a book as The Catcher in the Rye, which Mark had first read when he was 16, Holden Caulfield’s age. Under his signature he wrote, like a title, “A Twenty-Five-Year-Old Catcher,” and now he began looking for a copy of Salinger’s book. Finally he went to a bookstore and bought two paperback copies, one for him and one for Gloria.
The books held him spellbound, and in them he found himself. On Oct. 23 he quit his job and signed out for the last time—as a joke, he sometimes said, though at other times he would say as a warning—”John Lennon.” Then, as Lennon had done, he became a househusband to his Yoko Ono; he did the cooking and cleaning and had a hot meal ready for Gloria when she came home from work.
He told Gloria he was thinking of changing his name to Holden Caulfield. “Well, who am I going to be then?” she asked. “Mrs. Holden Caulfield?”
Mark said he thought she could keep the name Chapman, or she might want to try another name. No, Gloria said, she thought she would stick to Chapman, and she hoped Mark would too.
At home in front of his stereo, alone in the afternoons, Mark Chapman was renewing his acquaintance with an old friend. Once more he began to pray to Satan—not to make him crazy this time, but to give him the strength to do what had to be done. There were no candles, no incantations, just Mark sitting naked, rocking back and forth at the controls of his stereo and tape recorder, splicing together his reasons for killing John Lennon from the lyrics of Beatles songs, the sound track of The Wizard of Oz and quotations from The Catcher in the Rye. “I remember being caught up in these fits of anger and euphoria at the same time,” he said later. “I’d look at the picture [of Lennon] and say: ‘You phony, I’m going to get you.’ And then I would pray for demons to enter my body, to give me strength to pull that gun out…. I was praying for Satan to send me his more experienced demons. Not a little one: This is a big thing, I need a big demon…. My face got all red and fiery, and teeth like this, and I felt like I was very powerful, you know, and John was going to die. Nobody knew in the whole world what was going on in that room, [that] I was going to kill him.”
Only the little people knew, and they were appalled. But their ruler would brook no dissent. Abruptly he disbanded the government.
On Oct. 28, 1980, the day before he was to leave for New York, Mark had lunch with his mother and mentioned that he was thinking of changing his name to Holden Caulfield. She said it sounded crazy and she didn’t want to hear any more about it.
As they were leaving the restaurant she looked at him and said, “You’re not going to do anything funny, are you?”
He affected shock: “No. No. What do you mean by that?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “You’re going to New York alone and it just seems kind of strange.”
At 3:30 the next afternoon, Chapman was on a plane to New York. In a single suitcase were all his belongings, including the Charter Arms .38 he had bought two days before.
Forensic psychiatry explains some homicides as suicides turned outward, and the remarkable parallels between Chapman’s attempt to take his own life in 1977 and his trips to New York to murder John Lennon suggest the killing was just that. As he had 3½ years earlier, Chapman checked into an expensive hotel—this time the Waldorf-Astoria—and began treating himself to one last fling. He ordered large room-service meals, bought himself premium seats at the theater, saw all the sights he had read about, took a boat trip and a helicopter ride and experienced the life of a man of means.
Afterward, as he had in Hawaii, he moved to the YMCA to save money and began having second thoughts about his deadly mission. In Hawaii he had called his girlfriend Jessica Blankenship in tears and gone home to her in Georgia. Now he called Gloria and went home to her in Hawaii. “He was very, very depressed [when he called],” Gloria remembered. “He said he had made a mistake in coming to New York, then got very mysterious and said that he could have done it if he had seen him, but that my love saved him, stopped him from doing it. He said…he had gone to New York to kill John Lennon. He had bought a gun in Hawaii and got the bullets in Atlanta.” (Chapman had told his old friend Dana Reeves, then in the Henry County, Ga. sheriff’s office, that he needed the bullets for self-protection in New York. Reeves had given him five deadly hollow-points and taken him target-shooting in the woods outside Decatur, little imagining what Chapman was practicing for.) “I was as gentle as I could be with him,” Gloria said. “I did not want to say something that would change his mind. I said…it was over now and he should just come home.”
Just as he had after calling Jessica, Mark packed in a rush, as if he were anxious to leave before he changed his mind. “We had a long embrace when he came in the door,” Gloria said. “Then he began telling me the story again of how he was going to shoot John Lennon but had been saved by my strong love…. He showed me the gun and had me hold it and pull the trigger.” She remembered later how cold it was from having been in the baggage compartment of the plane.
He kept insisting that she believe he could have killed Lennon. “He’d say, ‘Do you believe me?’ and I would just look at him and say, ‘Yeah, Mark, I know, okay.’ I really didn’t think he could do it. I just went along with him to calm him down.”
It was a forlorn hope. Just as the respite had not lasted when he had gone home to Jessica, it did not last now. A few days after he arrived in Hawaii, Mark informed Gloria that he was going back to New York. He told her, as he had once told Jessica, that he had to grow up and find a career. “He sounded very mature and calm and sane when he said all of this,” Gloria remembered. “He told me he’d be gone for just a few weeks and when he got back everything would be great.”
When he told his mother he was going back to New York, Kathryn Chapman said later, she wasn’t particularly concerned, but she did ask him again if he was thinking of suicide and again he denied it.
In fact he did have a scenario for suicide this time—as a way out for himself if he didn’t have the strength or the chance to kill Lennon. His plan was to go to the top of the Statue of Liberty and, holding The Catcher in the Rye, to shoot himself in the head. “No one else had killed themselves there before,” he explained. “I wanted to go out in a blaze of glory.”
He told his mother only that he was looking for a career, an identity, something better than being a security guard. “Mom,” he said, “I just know I’m going to be great some day, but I don’t know whether it’s going to be [for doing something] good or bad.”
The afternoon Mark was to leave, he was preternaturally calm. He had felt this way three years earlier as he had settled into the car with the vacuum hose, at peace with the idea of death. It was a rainy Friday afternoon this time, the taxi was late and Gloria was more anxious than he was. “I thought that was really strange,” she said. “Normally Mark would have been jumping around, but even driving to the airport he just sat next to me, very calm, saying, you know, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get there.’ ”
He arrived in New York on a Saturday morning and checked into the YMCA on 63rd Street, just off Central Park West. The room was small and depressing. He dropped off his bag and set off for the Dakota, nine blocks away. There he met two women, die-hard Lennon fans. He thought they seemed hostile; they wouldn’t tell him whether Lennon was going to come out or not. Was it possible they didn’t know? He didn’t think so. He waited for hours, long after they left, but Lennon never appeared. Giving up, Chapman went to dinner and then to a movie.
He had checked into the YMCA to save money, but when he returned to his room that night he felt he couldn’t stay there. Months later, as psychologists and psychiatrists probed his thoughts during these critical three days before the murder, he would remember why: What bothered me was across the hall were these two fags talking about hairy chests and things like that, and I just, God, wanted to go over there and blow them all away. I said, don’t do it. So I checked out [the next day].
The following morning he took a room at the Sheraton Centre in midtown Manhattan. Unpacking, he began setting out on the bureau those few possessions that had survived the purges. He assembled them in a tableau that, he believed, would provide police with the motive for the crime he was about to commit. There was a Todd Rundgren tape, a picture of Judy Garland wiping away the Cowardly Lion’s tears in The Wizard of Oz (inscribed by Chapman “To Dorothy”), his Bible (inscribed “Holden Caulfield” and with the Gospel According to John amended to read “John Lennon”), his passport, a picture of himself with refugee children, and a photograph of his ’65 Chevy. Each thing had its special meaning, also placement. I was leaving my past behind. They were the only things that I owned. That’s what it came down to.
He arranged them in front of the mirror with great deliberation, standing back occasionally to take in the effect. Finally he went outside, closed the door and came back in to see how it would look to the police when they arrived. Satisfied, he began to dress himself for a long wait outdoors.
The weekend was unseasonably mild for December, but even so he was glad he had bought thermal underwear, as well as heavily cushioned shoes and a black fur Russian hat with earflaps. He took a copy of Lennon’s just-released Double Fantasy album with him as an excuse for being at the Dakota—just another autograph hound. So I went there and stood around talking-with the doorman. That was part of the strategy, you know, get real close to them…. One of the doormen kind of said he was considering coming out to Hawaii, and I gave him my telephone number, my true telephone number. Part of me was thinking I would be back in Hawaii and I would help this guy out and show him around, but there were times when that part didn’t exist, where I knew I was going to kill [Lennon].
This time he waited for 10 hours before giving up. After dropping off his coat and his gun, he went to the hotel dining room. I remember they sat me way over on the side where there were no people…and I just sat there for 20 minutes and I got furious. I got up and I said, you know, “Put me where lean eat!” So they put me at this table in the middle of the next section and still nobody would wait on me. I got real paranoid about that. As he waited, he read Lennon’s interview in the current issue of Playboy and realized anew how right he was to think Lennon a phony, how right it would be to kill him.
Finally he was served his dinner—two beers, a diet plate of hamburger and cottage cheese, and chocolate mousse. When he was finished he filled out a questionnaire, commending his waitress for providing excellent service. After dinner he walked to an Arthur Treacher’s at Times Square, had fish and chips and a cola, then went back to the hotel and turned on the TV. He imagined what it was going to be like after he had killed Lennon: his picture in the papers, people wondering who he was, why he had done it. It was going to be fantastic. Those thoughts came tremendously…. In fact, they were so strong that I had to shut them out. Because they were affecting my goal to kill him. They were affecting my emotions toward killing Lennon. And I said, “Shut all that out. Worry about that after. After you shoot him.”
He watched TV for a while, then called a massage parlor. I said, man, I’ve got to have a woman up here, you know. I’m getting horny, like Holden Caulfield. My thing with prostitutes was, I’d say, “This is your rest period,” you know? I did everything for them—rub their back, I’d do everything for them…. That’s what a real man does, you see, a real man gives to a woman. He and the woman from the massage parlor did not have intercourse, and when she left he called Gloria. “He sounded good,” she remembered. “He told me how much he loved me and missed me and not to worry, that he’d be coming home soon.” When they hung up, he set the alarm for 10 a.m. and went to sleep.
When he awoke the following morning, he said later, he knew this would be the day. It’s like history and time were coming together and I was part of it. When you’re involved in this kind of thing you just sense these things…you just know. Again he arranged the tableau on his bureau and set off for the Dakota. On the way he went into a bookstore and bought a copy of The Catcher in the Rye. He inscribed the book on its title page: “To Holden Caulfield, From Holden Caulfield.” Beneath that he wrote, “This is my statement.” You see, I was thinking I would turn into Holden right afterwards. I pictured that. I would just become Holden. And then I began thinking, “That won’t happen, that’s an unreality.” Toward the end, particularly that day, I thought I was going [to go] into a fetus position, like a cocoon, where everything would be shut off.
He got to the Dakota just before noon and saw the same two women he had met on Saturday. He hadn’t been waiting long before a station wagon pulled up to the archway. In it were Sean Lennon, then 5, and his nanny. The girls knew him and they said, “Oooh, it’s Sean.” The girls introduced me to him and the nanny. We said, “Well, Sean, how are you doing?” and I think I shook his hand…. He had a cold and I said, “You better take care of that cold.” He didn’t say much to me, you know. Pretty shy…. He was the cutest little boy I ever saw It didn’t enter my mind that I was going to kill this poor young boy’s father and he won’t have a father for the rest of his life. I mean, I love children. I’m the catcher in the rye.
It was a red-letter day for celebrity-watchers. Chapman recalled seeing Gilda Radner, Lauren Bacall, Paul Simon and Mia Farrow. I got within a foot of Mia Farrow. I saw a couple of others too, but I can’t remember their names. Between sightings he read The Catcher in the Rye. He had lunch with one of the fans and talked with a photographer, Paul Goresh, about taking his picture with Lennon when he got an autograph. Inside Lennon was doing an interview—his last—with RKO Radio.
It was midafternoon when the interviewers left. Goresh asked them if Lennon would be coming down, and they said no, he wouldn’t. All of a sudden John came out with Yoko…and Paul started pushing me. He says, “Go. There he is.” And Paul started taking his pictures. And I went up to him and I said, “John, would you sign my album please?” He said, “Sure,” and he signed it and he looked at me very earnestly and very sincerely in my eyes and started to hand me back the album—He said, “Is that what you wanted? Is that all you want?” And I said, “Yeah, thanks. Thanks a lot.” I was just overwhelmed by his sincerity. I had expected a brush-off, but it was just the opposite…. I was on cloud nine. And there was a little bit of me going, “Why didn’t you shoot him?” And I said, “I can’t shoot him like this….” I wanted to get the autograph.
Now it seemed to him it was time to go home. Some very serious thoughts came into my mind of leaving, abandoning the idea of murdering him, going back to the hotel, checking out, getting a cab to the airport and flying the hell out of there…. I kept saying, you know, you have his autograph, you can just go home now. Gloria won’t believe that that’s John Lennon’s autograph, but you’ll tell her you met him and just go home. Instead of taking his life, just take away his autograph…. I wanted to go home, I really did.
Instead he stayed and asked one of the fans to stay with him. I almost begged that girl, you know, “Please stay.” And I asked her for a date that night. I said, “Let’s us go to the movies or something like that, I’ll take you out to dinner.” She said, “Well, I’d really like to, but….” Just like Holden Caulfield.
Later he tried to get Goresh to stay. I said, “Aw c’mon, another hour, he’ll come back.” He had his album in the car and I said, “What I’ll do is take a picture, hold the camera, and then you’ll get your album signed, just switch roles.” When I think in retrospect, my mind was saying if I was holding the camera taking pictures, there’s no way I could have pulled out a gun…. I told him, “Paul, listen, you don’t know if you’ll see him again. Tomorrow he could be in Spain, you don’t know.”
When Goresh left, Chapman had only the Dakota’s night doorman, José Perdomo, to keep him company. José was an anti-Castro Cuban, and they talked that night of the Bay of Pigs and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I have a lithograph…of John F. Kennedy…and I hung it in our living room. Gloria didn’t want me to because it would stare down on us when we watched TV and ate and stuff, but I wanted it that way…. That assassination has always meant a great deal to me.
When he wasn’t talking with José he was carrying on another conversation, one that only Mark Chapman could hear. I remember I was praying to God [to keep me from killing Lennon] and I was also praying to the devil to give me the opportunity…. ‘Cause I knew I would not have the strength on my own…. I remember thinking, “I can’t kill a rabbit on my own.” I shot a bird one time with a BB gun in front of Dana. He said, “Don’t do it, don’t do it.” But I shot the bird anyway, and then he says, “Now you’ve broken up a home.” And, you know, that taught me a lesson, that I didn’t like to kill.
As the night wore on, it seemed to him that calling on God was futile. It’s like…the actors were there-me, José, the girl and Paul-and one by one it was their turn to exit, although I wanted them to stay. And [then] it started getting darker and the wind was whipping up that street. It was very eerie. I knew it was going to happen.
The limousine appeared at about 10:50. Lennon and Yoko were returning from a recording session at the Hit Factory on West 54th Street where they had been putting the finishing touches on Yoko’s Walking on Thin Ice. Chapman was sitting inside the archway when he saw the car. I knew it was his [limousine]. I knew it. I felt it. My soul reached out to that car and I knew he was out there. I said, “This is it.” So I got up, and the car rolled up, and the door opened and Yoko got out…. Yoko was about 30 or 40 feet in front of him-weird. It was all meant to be. If they were together, I don’t know if I could have shot him or not. But see, he was alone…. He looked right at me, and I didn’t say anything to him. And he walked by me. I know he remembered me because I had this hat…and I had my coat on, you know, I looked the same. I’m sure he [remembered me], but he didn’t say anything.
The psychologists asked Chapman later what he was feeling at that moment. There was no emotion, no anger, nothing, just dead silence in my brain, dead cold quiet. And he walked past me, and then I heard [a voice] in my head say “Do it do it do it” over and over again, just like that. “Do it do it do it do it do it….” He walked a few feet. I turned, pulled the gun out of my pocket…. I don’t remember aiming. I must have, but I don’t remember drawing a bead…. I just pulled the trigger steady five times.
Everyone asked him—all the lawyers, doctors and ministers who counseled him later—what was going through his mind, and the only answer he ever had was: I remember thinking, “The bullets are working.” I thought the humidity in the plane might have gotten to them. I think I felt a little regret that they were working, but I’m not sure. I just remember thinking, “The bullets are working.”
It was just after dinnertime in Hawaii when Gloria Chapman heard the news. She was watching the TV Mark had bought just three weeks before to replace the one he smashed after watching Network. “I guess I had just eaten and was watching Little House on the Prairie…. Anyway, on the bottom of the screen it ran across, like ticker tape, JOHN LENNON SHOT or something…. After that I didn’t know for sure it was Mark, but I thought it could be and I kind of went through a state of semi-shock. I just went around the apartment going ‘Oh, my God, oh, my God.’ Then I thought maybe it wasn’t him. I was getting kind of hopeful maybe it wasn’t him, so I was turning on the radio…. I wasn’t supposed to know where he was, but on the pad next to the phone he had written these numbers and it said YMCA…I called there and he wasn’t in, so that wasn’t good. It was later, as the evening progressed, that I started to get calls and stuff.”
Having watched Mark’s disintegration over the past several months, Gloria had a second reaction as well, one that came that night before Mark’s mother and everyone else had started arriving and she was still alone with her thoughts and her fears. “I felt a kind of joy for him,” she says. “A happiness. Just for like a fleeting thought, you know, I felt relief for him, like ‘Hooray.’ I mean, I know it sounds crazy, but…I just felt kind of relief for him, that he had accomplished something he set out to do.”
*Mrs. Chapman requested that her first name be changed. No other facts have been altered.