Mark Chapman Part Iii: the Killer Takes His Fall

The morning after the murder found Mark Chapman in a holding cell at Manhattan Criminal Court awaiting his arraignment. He had not slept. He had spent the hours of darkness praying for time to be rolled back, for God to work a great undoing of what was done, but now he knew those prayers were futile. The act had lost its magical, dreamlike aspect—he had not, after all, become Holden Caulfield as he had thought he would—and the murder had acquired the quality of the solid and real. Had Lennon suffered? he wondered now, and he desperately hoped not.

He was wearing the same clothes he had worn at the time of the murder, and it seemed to him that the smell of gunpowder would never go away.

At 3:30 that afternoon, he was moved to a soundproof pen where he met his court-appointed lawyer, Herbert Adlerberg. Now a criminal court judge, Adlerberg was the veteran of some 20 insanity cases and was inclined to believe this would be another one. “He looked like an ail-American boy,” Adlerberg said recently, “totally out of step with the people who walked through that courtroom. Any lawyer going to talk to this guy for the first time has in the back of his mind: Is this guy sick? I mean, you’re talking about the assassination of a public figure. Either he’s a contract killer or he’s a nut.”

Adlerberg left the room convinced of the latter. “He told me he was quite enamored of John Lennon. He told me he liked his music, he liked his life-style, he liked him personally, he liked what he stood for. Of course, it crossed my mind that if you admire somebody why did you blow him away? He left his wife and his job, came 6,000 miles to effectuate one single-minded purpose. What the hell conclusion would you draw from that?”

In court after their meeting, Adlerberg asked—and the judge agreed—that Chapman be taken to Bellevue Hospital to be examined for mental competence and to be held under a suicide watch. There, Dr. Naomi Goldstein was the first psychiatrist to see him after the murder. In her handwritten notes of that interview, Goldstein recorded that he was “exhausted…depressed, tearful at times…. No, evidence of halluc [inations] or delusions—however [patient] is religious and feels he hears the voice of God—has heard it for years. Has multiple suicide gestures—denies present suicidal thinking.” Asked about that interview, Dr. Goldstein said, “I got no feeling for him that night. It was later, when he started to talk, that the fun began. But nothing remotely psychotic came out of him that night. He did say he heard the voice of God, but a lot of non-psychotic people…feel they hear the voice, feel the presence touching them——No, this man was clear, and that’s what got me thinking, what has always puzzled me, troubled me.”

That, of course, was the critical issue posed by Chapman’s initial insanity plea: Was he or was he not psychotic at the time of the murder? Perhaps more than anyone else, Chapman found the question mystifying. In the more than 150 hours of taped interviews with mental-health professionals for the defense and prosecution from the murder on Dec. 8, 1980 to his trial date the following June, he vacillated continually between believing himself sane and justified in his action and sensing that he was not, in fact, in control of himself.

In the end, on the eve of his trial, he opted to withdraw his insanity defense and plead guilty to murder, but not before a long and clamorous drama to which his co-stars—a seemingly enormous cast of doctors, lawyers and ministers—lent a considerable element of farce. Like Chapman’s defense attorney, Jonathan Marks, who candidly admitted to his journal that he had coveted Adlerberg’s place in the “limelight” of the Chapman case and who in fact replaced Adlerberg shortly after the arraignment, many were drawn to the case for its notoriety. Some, dazzled by it, performed badly. As a result, neither the clergy nor the legal and mental-health professions came away clean from the case of The People of the State of New York vs. Mark David Chapman.

As a defendant, Chapman distinguished himself almost from the beginning by being more cooperative with the prosecution’s mental-health experts than with those for the defense. He apparently shared the prosecution’s wish that he be punished—and especially its view that he was sane. He tried to help the state’s psychiatrists develop their every floated premise: that perhaps, yes, he was a coward who killed Lennon only to make himself glorious; that, yes, he would have felt like a “chicken” if he had failed to commit the crime. These were notions to which he did not completely subscribe, but he wanted above all for the D.A.’s experts to believe him an honest man.

“Do you think I am a phony?” he asked the prosecution’s Dr. Martin Lubin at the end of one interview.

“No,” Lubin said.

“Just tell the Assistant D.A. that you think Chapman’s for real and you’ve got my cooperation…. I’ve given you all you need to convict me.”

With Jonathan Marks and the defense experts, Chapman was balky, demanding and uncivil almost from the start, and the clerics who ministered to him in the days and months after the murder helped matters not at all. The Rev. Charles McGowan, who had been pastor of Chapman’s old church, Chapel Woods Presbyterian in Decatur, Ga., called him in prison the day after his arrest and arrived in New York the next week, the first visitor from his former life. McGowan encouraged Chapman to embrace his old religion with new fervor, and he was convinced virtually as soon as he saw his old parishioner that religion held the key to the crime. On the day after their first visit, he called Hawaii to tell Chapman’s wife, Gloria (who taped many of her phone calls after the murder): “There is a dimension to this case that the secular psychiatric world would never understand. I believe there was a demonic power at work.”

Chapman agreed with him, but for the moment in secret: It would be months before he would disclose to his attorney and the experts what he referred to as the “spiritual matters” behind Lennon’s murder. McGowan’s view of the case thus served to undermine Chapman’s faith in the experts who were called on to explain to the court (and, Chapman hoped, to him as well) why he had killed a man.

On the evening of Jan. 27, Chapman found an answer for himself. He was in a lounge at Rikers Island prison watching a TV movie called The Bunker, about Hitler’s last stand in Berlin. Though he had never been a fan of Hitler or flirted with Nazism, Chapman was impressed, he later told Marks’s co-counsel David Suggs, “by what Hitler was facing, and yet he did not give up his principles and his ideas. “[But] most of the time I wasn’t listening. I was thinking about The Catcher in the Rye and myself and I turned it off and I went down and laid in my cell, and I was thinking over why on earth would I kill anyone? What happened? What are the real reasons?

“And then it hit me, like a joyful thing, that I was called out for a special purpose, to promote the reading of the book…. It was something that was meant to be.”

A memo in Jonathan Marks’s file, dated Jan. 28, reads matter-of-factly: “Mark called today and announced, ‘I am the catcher in the rye of the present generation!’ He says he now knows why John Lennon was killed—to promote the reading of the book.” The note has a weary, this-too-shall-pass quality, but this was a notion he would not surrender easily.

The next day’s newspaper only stiffened his delusional belief. In it was the report of a press conference McGowan had just given in Atlanta. His purpose was to announce the formation of the Mark David Chapman Legal Defense Fund, but most newspaper accounts failed to mention that, reporting instead some tantalizing glimpses into Chapman’s psyche with which McGowan had hoped to ensure wide coverage. As he read one such article in his cell, Chapman felt hurt, then enraged.

When he heard of Chapman’s anger, McGowan sent a letter of abject apology, complete with a clutch of exclamation points: “You cannot imagine how deep my grief is that you feel as if I betrayed you! I am so sorry and need so much for you to forgive me!…I pledge my absolute loyalty to you.” But Chapman’s anger was not to be assuaged. He told Jonathan Marks he would have nothing further to do with McGowan and that he would no longer accept mail from his own wife, his mother or other members of his family. “I’m cutting off everybody but you,” he told Marks, and he made it plain that he was making this exception only because Marks was necessary to his purposes.

He disavowed his renewed interest in Christianity after that, but with his “realization” that he was the catcher in the rye of the present generation he had in effect been born again once more. Like his religious conversion, his new belief served to divide his world into the absolutely good and the absolutely corrupt. It restored him to innocence, and it provided him with a Book, a new Bible, in which to find all answers. Just as his fantasy of becoming Holden Caulfield was dispelled only after the murder of John Lennon, he would not cease to believe in himself as the catcher in the rye of the present generation until he had decided to plead guilty.

Before this Chapman had been ambivalent about pleading insanity, but after his epiphany of Jan. 27 he wanted a trial and all the international attention it would draw—in the cause, he said, of The Catcher in the Rye. In an interview with defense psychologist Milton Kline, he exulted: “Everybody’s going to be reading this book—with the help of the god-almighty media. And I’m going to use it like it’s never been used before…. Jonathan [Marks] is the lead horse and I’m on the chariot and we’re at full gallop and we’re going to ride into that arena, and there’s going to be millions of people and they’re all going to be cheering and I’m going to be waving this book and it’s going to be fantastic [laughing]. It’s going to blow the National Enquirer away! They’ll have to come out with a deluxe edition!”

He set sales goals for the book—”20 million this year, I think that’s reasonable, don’t you?” He called its paperback publisher, Bantam, to check on orders and to tell them of his promotional plans. He had corrections guards checking bookstores to see how sales were going, and he had them buy copies of the book that he would sign for them “Mark Chapman, The Catcher in the Rye.”

Getting information out of him about his life before Jan. 27 became increasingly difficult. Especially when his “realization” was still new, he refused to speak to the doctors about anything but The Catcher in the Rye. In early February, Dr. Bernard Diamond, a founding member of the American Board of Forensic Psychiatry, came from California to see Chapman at Jonathan Marks’s request and discovered just how deep Mark’s delusion was. Chapman began by telling him about the likeness of his life and Holden’s and the ways his crime was foreshadowed in the book. He listed more than 40 parallels.

“Now a lot of people might talk to you this way and say, ‘I am Jesus Christ,’ or ‘I am the Messiah,’ ” Chapman told Diamond. “I don’t mean it in that sense. I mean in a spiritual and almost literal sense that I am the personification in this generation of Holden Caulfield, of what the book is saying…. I am the catcher in the rye of this generation.”

Diamond asked him why it was important for people to read the book. Chapman said he didn’t know but didn’t really care either—that was not his job. “All I can say is, when Moses asked God, ‘God, what do I tell them, how do I tell them?’ He said, ‘Tell them that I am.’ You see, He didn’t have to explain it…. And my statement is the book—in other words, it’s all in there. I’m not going to spend the rest of my life explaining…the parallels.”

Religion was a subject that he simply refused to discuss.

BD: Do you believe in God?

MC: I don’t want to comment on that.

BD: The devil?

MC: No comment. It’s not important, has nothing to do with the book…. The only reason I’m doing this is that if I don’t talk to you…you won’t get up on the stand and talk about The Catcher in the Rye [laughs].

BD: But my job is to talk to you about Mark Chapman. I’m not a book critic and not a PR man for anybody, certainly not for you.

MC: I don’t like psychiatry.

BD: I gathered that.

Later Diamond asked him if there could be only one catcher in the rye at a time.

MC: Absolutely. There’s always a catcher in the rye during life…during time. There always has to be. There has to be someone who speaks out against phoniness and corruption.

BD: But why only one?

MC: See the word “the”? It’s not “those” catchers in the rye.

BD: Who was the original catcher?

MC: I don’t know.

BD: Jesus, perhaps?

MC: Very interesting. I don’t know if He was the catcher in the rye. He surely wasn’t a phony…. All I know is that Holden Caulfield is just one catcher in the rye. There were catchers before him, and there will be catchers after me.

BD: How can you be sure [the catcher in the rye] isn’t somebody else and not you?

MC: I have the strength in knowing…no matter what anyone says.

From the time he was suddenly confronted with the catcher in the rye as a client, Jonathan Marks was forced repeatedly to plead with Chapman to answer his examiners’ questions about matters unrelated to the book. Chapman’s response in their interview of Feb. 13, 1981 was typical:

“To remain true to the book, I must not talk to doctors or anybody about myself,” he told Marks. “Because then people will say, ‘He felt so strongly about the book and he wants us to read it so much that he sacrificed his own defense for the book….’ I mean, wouldn’t that be something? It’s just like [Christians] being thrown to the lions. They wouldn’t betray what they believed in…. They didn’t get up and try to defend themselves. And [shouting] that’s all I’m doing. Jesus Christ did not say a word. He didn’t have to. The fact was there. He didn’t have to defend Himself and I don’t have to defend my self.”

Aside from his messianic fantasies, Chapman had another, perhaps deeper reason for refusing to cooperate with the defense experts. That was apparent when Marks tried to get Chapman to see Dr. Diamond again. Chapman wouldn’t, and he told Marks why.

MC: He says I’m psychotic, right?

JM: Yeah.

MC: That hurts in a way because, as I sat there thinking last night—Jonathan, I don’t want to be crazy.

JM: You are what you are.

Chapman continued to believe otherwise and persuaded himself that the defense experts only declared him insane because they were hired to do so.

Unfortunately they did little to allay his suspicions. Several of them encouraged Chapman to confide in them by telling him just what he wanted to hear. Dr. Dorothy Lewis, a widely published research psychiatrist with impeccable credentials but limited forensic experience, promised to clear with him anything she might say from the witness stand—a practical impossibility, given the fact that the defense and prosecution experts were exchanging tapes of their interviews. Milton Kline, who was also highly regarded and widely published, probably had the best relationship with Chapman of all the experts—perhaps in part because he seemed to share Chapman’s belief that a trial would be a boon to The Catcher in the Rye. From their March 14 interview:

MC: This is going to be the biggest trial of the decade, and the book will be read by millions. Wouldn’t you say that was right?

MK: I’d go one step further, Mark. Everybody will read The Catcher in the Rye. The Catcher in the Rye will become the No. 1 best-seller and will probably become one of the biggest motion pictures in the history of literature.

In the end, Kline had to resign from the case when the prosecution discovered that he had lied on his curriculum vitae about having a doctorate in psychology from Penn State; he later served four months in a Florida prison on a related perjury charge. A psychologist whom Kline brought in on the case allegedly absconded with funds and records of an institute with which he was affiliated, and another defense psychologist, Richard Bloom, pleased Chapman no end by bringing in briefcases full of The Catcher in the Rye for him to autograph.

MC: Are you going to give these out? I really hope you will.

RB: There are a couple of people I would like to give them to. The interest in the book will probably be accelerated at the time of the trial.

MC: Yes, as the trial comes on I’m gonna get a lot of requests for books. I try to tell them, get it done now, you know, because the warden might put a stipulation on it. They don’t believe me, but I’m telling you it’s going to be big. You agree with me, don’t you?

RB: Yes, it probably will be….

MC: Let’s see, three more [books to autograph]. I keep thinking there will be a time someday when I get tired of doing this, but I don’t think so. Because each book I sign not only ensures that the book will be around for 50 or a hundred years but will also become a valuable item.

In that interview of March 21, when Chapman had finished signing the books, Bloom said, “I don’t know if there’s anything more you’d like to say. I’m sort of talked out today.”

Chapman was not. “You know,” he told Bloom, “you can be a phony and Jonathan Marks can be a phony and the prosecutors can be phonies and doctors can be phonies and the judge and jury can be phonies and make phony decisions and have phony thoughts, but that all doesn’t matter because I am gonna remain true to what I believe in and not be a phony…. So many people in this, number one, they want to make money, number two, they want to protect their own hide…. All of them will [betray me]. You’ll see this, Dr. Bloom….”

“Why don’t we stop for now, Mark,” said Bloom. “And, uh, I will try to come back again if I can.”

But Bloom would not be back. And earlier in the interview Chapman had explained why his testimony would not be necessary in any case. Without saying so precisely, Chapman had decided he wouldn’t mind being sentenced to prison after all. “I don’t look at the bars as keeping me in,” he said. “I see them as keeping the world out. Sometimes I get a little depressed. You know, I haven’t gone outside in three and a half months, haven’t walked on the grass or touched a tree…. [But here] people bring me food and I have protection and I’ve never slept better in my life….”

He told Bloom about a ride he had taken some time before in a police van. “There’s a window where you can look out, see where we’re going, and sometimes they open it for me. And I’m looking outside that window, looking at the cars going by, people buying newspapers, buying hot dogs at hot dog stands, and the students, and the black and the white people talking in the shops, and the drugstores and the traffic. And so in my mind I put myself on the sidewalk. I said, ‘There I am’—and I quickly came back and said, ‘Thank God I’m not out there.’ And I don’t mean because people want to kill me or this Lennon incident. I mean because I visualize the way I was before I was imprisoned.”

Psychiatry and the law, at least in insanity-defense cases, rarely make a handsome couple, and in the Chapman case especially they were not a pretty sight. More than a dozen psychologists and psychiatrists studied Chapman intensively in the six months between the murder and the time of his trial—six for the defense, three for the prosecution and several more at Bellevue on behalf of the court. They conducted a battery of standard diagnostic procedures as well as more than 200 hours of clinical interviews. The experts all agreed that, when he would see them, Chapman had been forthright and consistent; no one thought him to be feigning or malingering. As a result, they came away with a fair degree of unanimity concerning the facts of his life and even the psychodynamics of the crime.

For all of their agreement, however, the experts in the Chapman case (as in most other insanity cases) divided precisely along partisan lines. The six defense experts declared Chapman to be psychotic (five made a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, the sixth of manic-depressive psychosis) and thus not criminally responsible for the murder. The three prosecution experts said his mental illness fell within a range of personality disorders short of psychosis, declaring him responsible for the killing.

Given his wish to be considered sane, Chapman was extremely reluctant to admit to the distortions in his thinking and did so only when he felt unthreatened. In his April 6 interview with Dr. Dorothy Lewis at Rikers Island prison, after baiting her mercilessly and apparently feeling guilty about it, he let her know that something had happened he didn’t care to discuss. When she probed, he said it could “hurt the book,” meaning it might suggest that “the catcher in the rye of the present generation” was insane. After more prodding by Lewis and some soul-searching on his part—it would be phony to hold anything back, wouldn’t it?—Chapman indicated the little people were coming back.

MC: I had a thought that there was a secret committee that had met without my knowledge, and that they had come to me with a recommendation to establish a defense committee to [deal with] some of the pressures that were coming down on me….

DL: Yes. Where were you when you had this sense that the committee had been reorganized?

MC: In my tier downstairs.

DL: All alone?

MC: I’m never alone, not a minute of the day…. But what bothered me was that they told me then there was a secret meeting without my prior knowledge and I didn’t like that…. They said that [they] had a secret negotiating meeting, and one of the guys was this head of the cabinet. That’s the post he was given after—see, he started out in the Financial Committee, and he did such a brilliant job that he worked his way up…. And it was him and just a few select other members of the cabinet, maybe three or four, and they met secretly and they decided that they would come to me with a recommendation of reinstituting the whole system….

DL: Let me ask you something. How could they meet with out you knowing?

MC: I don’t know. That’s what bothers me.

It was on June 8, 1981, exactly six months after the murder and two weeks before his trial date, when Chapman first heard God (like “a voice flowing,” he told Dr. Lewis, “a small male voice”) telling him to plead guilty. He had been vacillating between Catcher and the Bible for some weeks now, and as his trial drew nearer he began expressing a growing anxiety about his insanity defense and the stress of a long trial. When God’s voice broke into the debate that day, he was in his cell listening to music, and as he thought about following God’s will, he said, he heard the voice of Satan laughing at him through another patient. He determined that he would not be distracted from God’s instruction—not by Satan, not by the doctors and not by Jonathan Marks. A memo in Marks’s file records that Chapman called him that day; he said, “You’re all fakes, you’re all a bunch of phonies,” and then hung up. He tore up his copy of The Catcher in the Rye, explaining that his fascination with it had been “a delusion…The book to me now represents an illness, a sickness.”

By June 22, the date set for trial, Marks had already informed Acting Justice Dennis Ed wards Jr. in chambers of Chapman’s wish to plead guilty. Since in Marks’s opinion his client was delusional, he asked that Chapman be reexamined to determine his competence. Judge Edwards refused to consider the motion at that time, citing a three-month-old report that declared Chapman competent then to stand trial. (The report also stated, however, that he “may continue to have psychotic episodes.” It warned of “fluctuations of mood and…cooperation” with counsel—ability to cooperate being one of the tests of legal competence.)

In a closed courtroom, with Chapman sitting beside him, Marks asked again for a hearing on his competence to change his plea. This time Judge Edwards said he would not entertain the motion until after Chapman pleaded guilty. He then proceeded to question Chapman closely on his understanding of the indictment and the implications of pleading guilty. Chapman’s answers seemed fastidiously designed to follow the penal code, as if he wished to ensure that his guilty plea would be able to withstand any challenge. When Edwards had finished, he allowed Assistant D.A. Allen Sullivan to question Chapman:

AS: This is your own decision?

MC: It is my decision and God’s decision.

AS: When you say it is God’s decision…did you hear any voices actually in your ears?

MC: Any audible voices?

AS: Any audible voices.

MC: No, sir.

AS: Before you made this decision did you indulge in any prayer?

MC: Yes, there were a number of prayers.

AS: After you prayed did you come to the realization, which you understand to come from God, that you should plead guilty?

MC: Yes, that is His directive…command.

AS: [And] you would say at this time that this plea is a result of your own free will?

MC: Yes….

The Court: Have any promises been made to compel you or to induce you to plead guilty?

MC: Not in such words, but I have been assured by God that wherever I will go He will take care of me.

The Court: A good Christian ethic. I presume we all feel that God will assist us in times of need and emergency….

Over Jonathan Marks’s objection, Chapman stood guilty as charged.

After he pleaded guilty Chapman refused to see anyone, including Gloria, who had come from Hawaii for the trial. During a phone call with Marks that week, Chapman reported that he was pulling his hair out. The lawyer went to Rikers Island the next day and found that Mark had indeed shaved his head.

Two weeks later he had what doctors at Bellevue considered another psychotic break. As the guards at Rikers Island reported it, he destroyed a TV set, threw a radio and began taunting a fellow inmate in a high-pitched voice that warned of horrible tortures awaiting in hell. Guards quickly subdued Chapman and locked him in his cell, where he ripped off his clothes and began jumping around wildly, climbing the bars and “screeching and hooting like a monkey.” He tore his Bible into small pieces and used them to stop up his toilet. As his cell flooded, he began throwing water at the guards and taunting them. When they opened his cell door he lunged at them, and it took six men to drag him into the van that took him to Bellevue.

There he did not answer to the name Mark Chapman, and he spoke to the doctors in voices they had not heard before—one a high-pitched, female voice, the other low, snarling and aggressively male. The voices identified themselves, respectively, as Lila and Dobar, emissaries of Satan.

It was Lila’s first possession of a human, Chapman later told Marks’s co-counsel, David Suggs, and she was struck by the weakness of human vision and the human body. Dobar was the more powerful demon—thousands of years old, exceedingly well versed in Biblical scripture and a member of the Supreme Council in Hades, a ruling body whose power was only exceeded by Satan’s. Chapman noted, however, that Lila had the power to release and contain Dobar; he thought perhaps this was because Satan didn’t trust him. He said that both demons could read his mind and that their purpose in possessing him was to make a showing of Satan’s presence in the world, using Lennon’s murder as the vehicle. He also said that Dobar intended to murder Jonathan Marks.

It was more than two years later when I was able for the first time to get Chapman to talk about Lila and Dobar. I had been asking about them for eight months, over the course of 10 day-long interviews since our first meeting in February of 1983, but Chapman, who just before we met had renounced his faith and returned to his belief that he was “the catcher in the rye of the present generation,” had managed to avoid discussing what he called the “spiritual matters” relating to Lennon’s murder.

The person I confronted now was entirely different from the one I had known before. The Mark Chapman I first met was highly excitable, subject to sudden mood shifts, with a manic brightness in his eyes and voice. This new Mark Chapman looked broken; his face was without color, his look was downcast, pleading. His nails were bitten to the quick and he shook as if with a chilling fever. For three six-hour days in November 1983 and another three in December, he shook, rocking back and forth vigorously enough to pull his chair’s front legs off the floor. Not long before, he had begun once again to proclaim the faith of a born-again Christian. “God has brought me so low,” he said, “I’m almost like a cripple, an invalid.”

This was the Mark Chapman who thought God had told him to plead guilty, who would have been the star witness for the prosecution, and I had looked forward to meeting him. As I had expected, in this mood he took back all his past denials and claimed he had indeed killed John Lennon to become famous. “I guess it was jealousy, Jim…. Shooting Lennon was an answer to all my problems, I guess. It was to cancel all my past, to give me an identity…. I had always wanted to be a Beatle.” He said he had torn up his copy of The Catcher in the Rye, as he had done before pleading guilty, and he explained why in the same terms: “The book is not of the Lord.”

“It’s the greatest cop-out in life to allow yourself to become insane,” he said now. “I’ve had touches of schizophrenia and paranoia, there’s no question about it, but I don’t think I was under control of that when I shot Lennon, and I don’t think I’ve ever been under total control of schizophrenia…. A lot of my so-called mental illnesses, especially previously, have not really been—I’ve just added a lot to it. I think I just wanted to be pitied, you know.”

Now, he insisted, he was sane, and in an attempt to persuade me of his sincerity, he gave me a copy of the “spiritual journal” he was keeping. For the most part it was a long and detailed reckoning of how God directed every activity of his day: when and how to wash his clothes, what food he should eat and in what order, what to say in his letters. Sometimes God spoke to him by showing him passages in the Bible; at other times the communication was apparently more direct and audible.

Curiously, as the anniversary of Lennon’s death approached, he became increasingly unable to distinguish God’s directives from those of Satan. When he awoke on the morning of the third anniversary, Dec. 8, he wrote:

“Before I washed up I asked Him if I could have a sign that I was forgiven. When I asked if I could eat, He immediately showed me in the [Bible] to eat. I was joyful that He was again leading me…. [But now] all the ‘signals’ are cloudy and Satan is throwing me false ones. He told me to make soup, but it didn’t work out like if the Lord had told me. But is it the Lord? I prayed and found out it is.”

The last sentence was crossed out afterward and replaced with: “It appears not.”

More surprising, however—and, in view of his claims to have feigned mental illness, more enlightening—were the journal’s allusions to the demons then in his life. He had begun the journal during a visit from the Rev. Kenneth Babbington, then pastor of a small Baptist church in eastern Texas, who had celebrated a makeshift communion for Chapman using part of a cheeseburger bun and a carton of apple juice. Chapman noted in his journal that the expiration date on the carton was “Dec. 8!!!” and that “the Lord revealed to us…that the Lord would visit TONIGHT—’this very night’ was the verse from the Bible.”

After that visit with Babbington, Chapman wrote that he was instructed to pray. “[God] flooded me with peace (to prepare me), then had me pray for my wife and Ken [Babbington]. Then—a complete surprise—He delivered me from about 5 or 6 demons. They came out. I ended up on the floor, groaning and making sounds and language very strange to me….”

Chapman had never told me about this, and when I asked him about it he said: “Will you try to believe it? Not make it some kind of mental thing?…I was pacing in my cell, and my body was shaking, and all of a sudden I felt the Holy Spirit come down and say there were demons inside me, and I said, ‘So that’s what this is.’ And I asked in Jesus’ name [for them to] come out. My face was snarling and it came out of my mouth, this thing, and it was gone. And I relaxed, and then I started breaking out in a sweat. Then there were more. I said, ‘In Jesus’ name, come out,’ and the second one was worse. Then the third one came out, and it was worse. And I said, ‘I’m ready, God, let’s get ’em all out, let’s go.’

“During that hour six came out. [They were] the most fierce and incredible things you ever saw or heard in your life—hissing, gurgling noises and different voices [coming] right out of my mouth. My body was twitching and I was praying, I remember saying—this was the last one—I said, ‘My body is the temple of the Lord,’ and this voice came out and said, ‘This is the body of Satan.’

“But see, what’s hard to describe is that as they were leaving me, I felt essences of my personality departing from me that I’d picked up before. In other words, the way I was acting—cursing and things like this—weren’t me, and when they came out I could sense these things coming out of my mouth, hissing and awful gurgling and grinding and I could feel that part of my personality was gone.

“Believe me, Jim, I wasn’t doing this. Something was happening to me.”

I believed him.

Chapman lives by himself in a small cell, six by ten feet, in the most tightly secured building at Attica, which is a maximum security prison in upstate New York. He is kept there not because he is considered dangerous but for his own safety; as a high-profile criminal, he could be a target for harrassment or worse in the general prison population. The guards call him a “model prisoner.” He fills his hours with projects. At times he has had several hundred books in his small cell. When I first knew him he was embarked on an intense study of all the works of J.D. Salinger, intending to become an expert. In the years since then, he has undertaken attempts to systematize and study all human knowledge, to read all major works in the order in which they were written, to compile a chronological record of every book and story he has ever read, to find and list every station remotely receivable on the AM radio in his cell, and to become an expert on the American short story. He has written reams of poetry and prose, and in one of his earlier religious periods, after Gloria had moved from Hawaii to Attica, N.Y. to be near him, they jointly wrote and published a fundamentalist Christian newsletter for prisoners called New Block. He resolved recently to try to finish his college degree by mail.

His visitors are never quite sure which Mark Chapman they will be meeting. He has gone through periods of vegetarianism and of fasting (in 1982 the state went to court for the right to force-feed him after a fast that had lasted 26 days), and other periods in which he gorges himself on junk food from the prison commissary. He continues to have experiences of exorcism and episodes of paranoia: He thinks he hears people talking about him, trying to disturb him, to make him crazy. Sometimes, to defend him, the little people return.

Between periods of intense religious conviction—usually Christian, though he flirted with Zen Buddhism at one point and at another began studying the Talmud, planning a conversion to Judaism—he disavows his faith and resumes his devotion to The Catcher in the Rye. It is at these times that he talks of suicide.

In the years since I met Chapman I have twice received what he calls his “catcher” letter—an ostensibly final sign-off that reads simply, “Please read The Catcher in the Rye.” Both times he has reestablished contact, but I will not be surprised if a time comes when he does not, and I take his talk of suicide seriously. He has, after all, killed a man, and in the years I have known him he has talked of killing others, notably his father. Someday, perhaps after he reads this, I suspect he will think of killing me. Among the side effects of undertaking a story like this one are the dreams and waking fantasies of such an event.

Chapman has imagined divorcing Gloria several times but has always backed off from doing it. She lived near the prison for several months until, in February of 1983, he refused to see her anymore; she moved back to Hawaii. But she has remained faithful to him, sending him money every month and waiting patiently for the day when, she is sure, he will be free. (His sentence, 20 years to life, means that he will not be eligible for parole until the year 2000—he would be 45—and that the state has no obligation to let him out even then.)

At his sentencing, Judge Edwards allowed some of Marks’s experts to testify on the question of what, if any, treatment Chapman should receive in prison. All suggested he should get whatever was available. But apart from two instances in which Chapman “went psycho,” in the parlance of the prison, and had to be taken to an inmates’ psychiatric hospital to recover, he has had very sporadic treatment indeed. It is left to him to seek it out, and he does not.

His fantasies keep him company. Notable among them is a pet project, an entrepreneurial dream, which he talks about frequently: to mass-market a product called “Message in a Bottle,” a bubble-wrapped kit composed of a plastic bottle, a piece of paper and a small pencil that people could use to send out a message to the greater world, as he did as a boy. He talked about his plan for the project for more than an hour one day before realizing, as he put it, “how poignant that is—I mean, here I am locked up and telling my story to you and dreaming about sending a message out of here. That’s very sad.”

More recently, in a relatively “sane” period, he told me that inside his head there is a fully staffed, high-tech situation room, not unlike the one in the movie WarGames, from which all his thoughts and actions are closely controlled. He mentioned a beautiful girl who sits at one of the room’s control panels and who loves him. He said he had promised never to tell about her; she got embarrassed even when he just thought about her. Now that he had actually spoken of her, he could see she was blushing vividly.

Chapman looked at me as he said this and gave a strange smile. “This is a world I just drift in and out of, Jim. I think this is just an elaborate defense mechanism—it doesn’t mean I’m schizophrenic…. We are creatures that, if we don’t have a conch shell, we will redistribute the sand on the beach and hide in it. We create our own definitions, we fill our own dictionaries with our own words, and until they are utterly proved false because of facing reality, they just grow stronger.”

What does it mean, to be without a shell?

The prosecution planned to say that Mark Chapman killed John Lennon to become famous, to wrap himself in the glory of his victim. Aside from some obvious arguments against this theory (why, then, would it have taken him years to give an interview; and why did he plead guilty and thus deprive himself of the most clamorous trial of the decade?), it seems to me that murder needs a deeper reason, a cause in some relation to the gravity of the act. The image of the exposed, shell-less conch—an organism stripped of the protective layer critical for its species’ survival—suggests such a reason.

Whatever one may think of Mark Chapman’s legal responsibility for the murder of John Lennon, the facts of his life insist that he (like John Hinckley, whose attempt to kill President Reagan for the love of Jodie Foster was a grim coda to the Lennon celebricide) was mad. We have very little idea where madness comes from—whether from errant neurons or the distracted eyes of a parent or great-grandfather’s fall from a barn roof. We do know that the most deeply human desires are not lost to the deranged but merely transformed, and it makes sense to believe, even if research has not yet affirmed, that a genetic call to madness can be muffled or made irresistibly urgent by conditions of the emotional environment.

Whenever I thought about why Chapman had killed John Lennon, two moments in the hundreds of hours of taped interviews with him kept coming to mind. The first occurred the day I met him, when he was explaining to me how the murder of John Lennon was like the “terrible fall” Holden Caulfield’s old English teacher, Mr. Antolini, warned him about. Chapman quoted the teacher’s words from memory: “This fall I think you’re riding for—it’s a special kind of fall, a horrible kind. The man falling isn’t permitted to feel or hear himself hit bottom. He just keeps falling and falling. The whole arrangement is designed…. “Here Chapman’s memory failed him. “I always forget this part,” he said. “I don’t know why.”

The actual passage reads: “The whole arrangement’s designed for men who, at some time or other in their lives, were looking for something their own environment couldn’t supply them with. Or they thought their own environment couldn’t supply them with. So they gave up looking. They gave it up before they ever really even got started.”

The other insistently recurring passage came up in Chapman’s last full interview with Dr. Dorothy Lewis. She was trying to get him to say more about the imaginary government of little people whom he had consulted for help in the months before he shot John Lennon, and he mentioned for the first time that there had been a Relationship Committee in his cabinet, which was there to make sure he didn’t get too close to people and get hurt.

MC: I agreed with them, to be [close] just with my wife. My wife was kind of like the VP, kind of like second in charge…. It would be like when I got too close to some person, then I would begin to think, is it wise to do this? And then I would do a little thing to pull away and then I’d be safe.

DL: Who really hurt you so badly that you developed this kind of thing, the bad relationships?…Mark, tell me something. As far as I know neither of your folks has come to see you.

MC: No. This guy Hinckley, he’s got some good parents…. Because the Lennon incident was probably, if not greater, was at least its equal, I would say, ’cause Hinckley didn’t kill anyone. If Hinckley would have killed President Reagan, then naturally it would have been a bigger incident, but the incident that happened to me was just as internationalized, just as important…and I was thinking, you know, I don’t think [my parents] would have accepted it anyway, you know what I mean?

The language was awkward, oddly muddled, but finally what he was saying came poignantly clear: Maybe if he had shot the President, he could have felt his parents loved him.

Like his mother and his sister, Susan, his father David has not come to see Mark Chapman since the murder. At first he agreed to be interviewed about his son’s life. “My own theory,” he said on the telephone, “is that he had to have a brain tumor or, well, you know, something physical. You see, he was just perfectly normal as a boy and, well, these things can’t come on just out of the blue like that unless there is something, you know, physically wrong.” Later David Chapman declined to be interviewed unless I would pay for a brain scan for Mark. I explained to him the law of New York State, which prohibits a criminal from receiving any benefit from written works about him, but I offered to show him the numerous EEGs and other neurological tests that had already been performed. He said he did not care to see the results. Finally he refused to be interviewed until his son had been cured. “You just find out what’s wrong and have it fixed,” he said. After that his telephone was changed to an unpublished number, and further attempts to reach him through family members were unavailing.

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