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Mark David Chapman: Mind Games Forever

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

Free the prisoners, jail the judges

Free all prisoners everywhere

All they want is truth and justice

All they need is love and care

Attica State, Attica State

We're all mates with Attica State.

— John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Attica State


Earl Fowler

Mark David Chapman — a charter member of the rhythmically appealing three-name American Assassin Hall of Fame, along with John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, and John Hinckley Jr. — is slated to have his twelfth parole hearing in August.

(Sirhan Bishara Sirhan would have made the cut, I imagine, if it hadn’t been decided early on that what with the alliterative repetition, omitting his second name from police and press reports would make the convicted killer of Robert F. Kennedy sound even more deranged, foreign and sinister.)

But this is about MDC. As only the most determined conspiracy theorist would dispute, Chapman fatally shot John Lennon outside the former Beatle’s luxurious apartment at The Dakota building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on Dec. 8, 1980.

The almost archetypal photo I’ve attached to this piece, taken by hardcore Beatle fan Paul Goresh, shows Lennon signing his Double Fantasy album for Chapman, grinning at the right, a few hours before the then 25-year-old would emerge from the shadows with a stubby .38 handgun and pump four bullets into Lennon on the street in front of Yoko Ono.

Ono, Lennon’s widow, is expected to oppose Chapman’s bid for parole, as she does every two years when his mandatory parole hearings come up. She has never wavered from a letter she sent to the New York state parole board in 2000, before Chapman’s first such hearing, demanding that he remain behind bars for the rest of his life.

In 2006, on the 26th anniversary of the former Beatle’s death, Ono took out a full-page ad in several major newspapers, saying that while Dec. 8 should be “a day of forgiveness,” she wasn’t sure she could forgive Chapman. The passage of another 16 years doesn’t appear to have dulled her resolve.

Chapman might well outlive Ono — he’s 67 and she’s 89 — but there’s a fair chance that he’ll spend the rest of his life in the slammer. In 2020, at his 11th hearing, the onetime Hawaiian security guard apologized to Ono and said he deserved the death penalty for gunning down Lennon in a pitiful stab at “self-glory.”

The song quoted at the top of this piece, Attica State, was originally ad libbed at a 1971 singalong for Lennon’s 31st birthday attended by Ringo Starr, Phil Spector, Allen Ginsberg, Eric Clapton and a bunch of other luminaries. A few weeks before, 33 inmates and 10 correctional workers had been killed in the Attica Prison Riot (also known as the Attica Prison Rebellion, the Attica Uprising or the Attica Prison Massacre; take your pick).

The next verse goes like this:

They all live in suffocation

Let’s not watch them die in sorrow

Now’s the time for revolution

Give them all a chance to grow

Attica State, Attica State

We’re all mates with Attica State

I’m not (ahem) letting anything out of the bag and this is no (ahem) screaming hell as a metaphor, but now that Chapman has spent more than four decades living in suffocation, it’s instructive — some would say hypocritical — that Yoko continues to dance to a different drummer with respect to prison reform.


You say you want a revolution? Free the people now (do it, do it, do it now)? When crime gets personal, maybe not so much. Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight.

One of history’s shabby little ironies is that Chapman would himself be imprisoned at the Attica Correctional Facility from 1981 until 2012, when he was moved to new digs at the Wende Correctional Facility, east of Buffalo.

(Pop prison culture trivia break: Serial killer David Berkowitz, who had terrorized New York City as the self-proclaimed “Son of Sam” on a shooting spree that left six dead and seven injured from 1976-77, barely survived a deep slash across his neck that required 50 stitches after an anonymous Attica prisoner attacked him two summers before the catherine wheel of crazy went off in Chapman’s head. Berkowitz remained at Attica through the Eighties; history is silent on whether he and Chapman ever got together to shoot a few hoops in the courtyard. In that environment, happiness is a warm one-on-one pun.)

Before John’s murder, life in the crime-riddled New York City of the late Seventies had taken some of the edge off Ono and Lennon’s combative attitude toward the people they had roundly denounced a decade before as “pigs.” At one point, the celebrity power couple were moved to donate $1,000 toward bulletproof vests for Manhattan cops.

But even as the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union thawed ever so slightly throughout the 1970s, there had been no such détente between the Lennons and American spooks.

If the popularity of the anti-Vietnam War rallying cry Give Peace a Chance wasn’t enough of an irritant to the paranoid Nixon administration, Lennon’s 1971 meeting with anti-war activists in New York certainly did the trick. The FBI put him under surveillance, and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service launched an ultimately unsuccessful campaign to deport him back to England.

According to British lawyer and journalist Fenton Bresler, the CIA also got in on the party, targeting Lennon as a subversive they saw as capable of leading mass demonstrations against the conservative platform of Ronald Reagan, who had been elected as the incoming U.S. president a month before the shooting.

In a 1989 book titled The Murder of John Lennon, Bresler, who died in 2003, laid out a less than persuasive Manchurian Candidate scenario that portrays Chapman not as a lone nutter but as a brainwashed dupe of CIA controllers who manipulated him into faithfully carrying out the plot for which he was ruthlessly programmed.

As anyone old enough to recall the early Eighties will remember, the weirdest thing about the slaying — and there were many — was that instead of fleeing, Chapman calmly pulled out his copy of The Catcher in the Rye and at least pretended to read it while waiting for the police to arrest him.

Three hours later, Chapman was recorded as telling the cops: “I’m sure a big part of me is Holden Caulfield, who is the main person in the book (The Catcher in the Rye). The small part of me must be the devil.”

To underscore the point, Chapman had written “This is my statement” in the novel and signed his name as “Holden Caulfield.” In the still wildly popular 1951 story by J.D. Salinger, Caulfield is a 16-year-old boy in the late Forties, appalled by the phoniness, greed, conformity and commercialism he has discovered in the adult world.

Claiming that Chapman’s ticket from Honolulu to New York was doctored, that the pudgy, confused killer had been trained in how to use a handgun (after all, he had been an armed security guard) and spent an unaccountable three days in Chicago being prepped for the hit by CIA handlers, Bresler squared the killer’s obsession with Holden Caulfield this way:

If one is going for supposition, I prefer to speculate on the possibility that, knowing that Mark had, like many other young Americans, been impressed by reading Catcher at a formative stage in his mid-teens, those who programmed him to shoot Lennon as the ultimate ‘phoney’, worked assiduously at putting into his mind the conviction that he was, in some twisted way, the real-life embodiment of Holden, the fictitious young crusader against ‘phoneys’.

What better ‘split-personality’ could you have for the victim of your programming? I say ‘victim’ for, if I am right, Mark David Chapman is in many ways as much the victim of those who wanted to kill John Lennon as Lennon himself.

Bresler’s book never gained much traction except among that segment of the population apt to see the hand of the Agency, as employees and the cool conspiracy kids call it, behind all of the world’s evils. That constituency has existed, and not without reason given all the worldwide mayhem and misery the CIA has caused, since its establishment about the time the fictional Holden Caulfield hit puberty.

But even if you buy into the idea that CIA mind-control puppet masters have the ability — through the use of drugs, hypnosis and relentless grooming — to convert vulnerable men into singleminded assassins and that something like that went down in the political hits on Martin Luther King and both Kennedys, I can’t see how a 40-year-old rock legend reduced to singing about the joys of being a house husband could possibly have merited the attention.

Reagan wasn’t even in office yet. Lennon, who had emerged from a five-year hiatus to release the decidedly unpolitical Double Fantasy album with Ono a month before he was shot, wasn’t leading any anti-establishment movements or cultural parades in an age of punk rock and disco. Nor did he seem the least bit interested in doing so.


This was his spin on Double Fantasy:


I hope the young kids like it as well, but I’m really talking to the people who grew up with me. I’m saying: Here I am now. How are you? How’s your relationship going? Did you get through it all? Wasn’t the Seventies a drag, you know? Well, here we are, let’s make the Eighties great because it’s up to us to make what we can of it.


Not exactly the Communist Manifesto. Lennon, da. Lenin, nyet.


Onyet.

The events of Dec. 8 were a great spur to record sales, but the initial reviews of the album had been largely negative. Tracks like Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) and Watching the Wheels Go By weren’t about to trigger a Bolshevik Revolution somewhere in the Black Mountain Hills of Dakota.

If Lennon’s death truly was a CIA operation, some Spy vs. Spy genius must have been called onto the cloak-and-dagger carpet after John Hinckley Jr. shot and injured Reagan the following spring, two months after the Gipper’s first inauguration.

Trying to impress Jodie Foster (or at least her adolescent sex worker character from Taxi Driver), Hinckley stole a page (a book, actually) from Chapman and had a copy of The Catcher in the Rye waiting in his hotel room for police to discover after his arrest.

Circle back to the photo of Lennon and Chapman together taken by Goresh, who died in 2018. If Chapman were a mechanical automaton or golem with a simple, clear mission, why didn’t he shoot the singer-songwriter at that moment, from point-blank range, rather than mutely handing over his copy of Double Fantasy for a signature?

Biographer Philip Norman gives this answer in John Lennon: The Life: “Chapman would later say that he had meant to deliver his retribution then, but John’s niceness temporarily disarmed him.”

Hmmm. Diverted by niceness. Not all the brokenhearted people living in the world would agree, but to me, sometimes the cry of a loon is just the cry of a loon.

I have grimly come to this conclusion, a posteriori (id est, narrantur pesteriori) , after nearly two decades of dodging, passing loonies to (no pun intended) and being accosted by hundreds of mentally ill denizens of the helter-skelter streets of Victoria, B.C. The home of the newlywed and the nearly dead is one of the few Canadian destinations where you can sleep on downtown doorsills in the winter rain without freezing to death, so it attracts the westward-bound down and out from all over the country.

(Another desultory observation: Living, as these folks do, with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see, is anything but easy. Elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna. Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.)

I got to thinking about Chapman when reading about James Taylor, who performed in Victoria recently as he was wrapping up his kick-ass, cross-Canada tour with Jackson Browne. Until stumbling across the following account from London’s Telegraph newspaper that ran on Dec. 8, 2020, I had no idea that Taylor — who lived nearby at the time — had had his own disconcerting run-in with Chapman the day before Lennon was shot:

Recalling their encounter, Taylor said that Chapman “seemed either drugged or in a manic break of some sort.”

Chillingly, he also remembered that Chapman mentioned Lennon in conversation and said he was “going to show him” something. “He was just talking a mile a minute about something he was going to show John Lennon,” Taylor said.

“He was just someone who knew me who I didn’t know; someone who had an agenda that I knew I couldn’t deal with. I just knew that I needed to get away from him.”

The ‘Fire & Rain’ singer added that the encounter happened approximately a 25-minute walk away from where Chapman would shoot Lennon.

There’s a YouTube clip of a Sirius Satellite Radio interview under the title “James Taylor Heard the Gunshots that Killed John Lennon” in which the American singer-songwriter offers an even more chilling anecdote:

I was sitting in the window of the sixth floor (of the building where he lived) overlooking 73rd Street when I heard — when was it, like seven o’clock in the evening or something? — when I heard five shots ring out in quick succession.

I was on the phone to my manager’s wife in Los Angeles, and she was saying: “Oh, it’s crazy out here, James.” There was something to do with the Manson trials, Squeaky Fromme or something like that, and I heard these five shots and said: “Man, you think it’s crazy there, I just now heard the cops kill somebody down on the street.” …

We rang off, and she called me back about 20 minutes later and she said: “That was John Lennon being killed.”

Along with buttonholing Taylor at the 72nd Street Subway Station the day before the shooting, Chapman offered cocaine to a taxi driver, according to an article that ran in People magazine in June 1981.

Don’t know about you, but if I were a CIA operative keeping an eye on Chapman to ensure he carried out his mission, I would have been greatly concerned about the loosey-goosey lack of discipline that could have short-circuited the whole nefarious plot.

It’s understandable that Taylor, who had faced longstanding mental-health and addiction struggles of his own, wanted to get away from Chapman as quickly as possible. But in one of those unanswerable what-if speculations that forever knock about in what Manhattan neighbour Woody Allen has jokingly referred to as “the turbulent winds of retrospect,” perhaps a tragedy would have been averted if Taylor had alerted the police to the possible threat to Lennon.

Another reason to be skeptical of conspiracy theories about John being targeted is that Chapman had a whole list of famous people he had contemplated killing, including Reagan and Lennon’s former songwriting partner, Paul McCartney. Chapman told the parole board at one of his hearings that he considered David Bowie, Johnny Carson, Elizabeth Taylor, George C. Scott, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and then Hawaii governor George Ariyoshi as potential targets, but that he ultimately settled on Lennon out of convenience.

One thing is certain: This was one seriously messed-up autograph hound. Some kind of Druid dude, lifting the veil. Condensed from a quick Wikipedia tour, let’s pause for a bit of what Holden Caulfield would disdain as all that David Copperfield kind of crap:

• Born on May 10, 1955, in Fort Worth, Texas, to a U.S. Air Force staff sergeant and a nurse, Chapman has said his father was physically abusive toward his mother and unloving toward him. As a child, “Chapman began to fantasize about having God-like power over a group of imaginary ‘little people’ who lived in the walls of his bedroom.” And so it begins.

• At 14, he starts skipping classes at his high school in Decatur, Georgia. Feels bullied at school because he’s lousy at sports. Runs away from home and lives on the streets in Atlanta for two weeks.

• Tell me you didn’t see this one coming: Becomes a born-again Christian (Presbyterian rather than Baptist, a bit of a surprise) and distributes biblical tracts. Earns plaudits as summer camp counsellor and meets first girlfriend. Passes Go, collects $200.

• Reads The Catcher in the Rye and is deeply influenced by it. Graduates from high school, moves to Chicago, plays guitar in churches and Christian night spots. Earns raves from World Vision for his stellar work with Vietnamese refugees at a resettlement camp in Arkansas. Shakes hands with U.S. President Gerald Ford. Neither falls down.

• Enrols as student at a Presbyterian college in Georgia, falls behind in his studies and feels guilty after having an affair. Has suicidal thoughts, drops out of school. Girlfriend breaks off relationship. Returns to refugee resettlement camp. Leaves after argument with supervisor.

• Takes one-week course to qualify as an armed security guard (who knew it took that long?) and moves to Hawaii. Suicide attempt fails when the hose connected to his exhaust pipe melts. Admitted to hospital for clinical depression. Upon his release, gets job at hospital.

• Inspired by the movie Around the World in 80 Days, takes off in 1978 for six-week trip around the world. Sees Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, New Delhi, Beirut, Geneva, London, Paris and Dublin. Marries his travel agent in 1979 after being her Best. Customer. Ever. Is it a coincidence that Gloria Abe, like Ono, is a Japanese American?


• Returns to hospital job as a printer, but is fired, rehired, and quits after an argument with a nurse. Takes job as night security guard and begins drinking heavily. There’s that training kicking in.

• Develops series of obsessions on a variety of topics, including John Lennon (hatred), Todd Rundgren (love) and The Catcher in the Rye (crazy, stupid love). Writes letter to friend in September 1980 in which he tells her “I’m going nuts.” Signs letter “Holden Caulfield.” Conceives plan to fly to New York to kill Lennon.

• Goes to New York in October to implement plan. Changes mind after seeing the movie Ordinary People (dramatic role by Mary Tyler Moore temporarily overriding all the CIA mind games). Returns to Hawaii and tells wife of Lennon assassination obsession. Shows her his gun and bullets. She doesn’t call police or mental-health services, even after he makes and breaks appointment to see a psychologist.

• Returns to the Big Apple on Dec. 6. Considers jumping off Statue of Liberty. Some fun time in New York City.

• Detains Taylor the next day. Offers coke to taxi driver. Phones wife and talks about working on his relationship with God. God has other things to do.

• Murders in cold blood the greatest rock ’n’ roller of all time. Experiences “deep-seated resentment” toward wife, as one would, for failing to tip authorities as to how he was going off the rails. Goes straight to jail. Does not pass Go. Does not collect $200.

• Now otherwise occupied, fails to attend Dec. 9 performance of a Broadway play starring David Bowie. As the Thin White Duke told the story in 1999 to radio broadcaster Redbeard: “I was second on his list. Chapman had a front-row ticket to The Elephant Man the next night. John and Yoko were supposed to sit front-row for that show, too. So the night after John was killed, there were three empty seats in the front row. I can’t tell you how difficult that was to go on. I almost didn’t make it through the performance.”

In various interviews and appearances before the parole board, Chapman has given different motives for his actions.

Initially, he played up the whole Holden Caulfield thing and said he was appalled because Lennon, whom he had once idolized, was the very model of a modern major hypocrite. In the 1992 book Let Me Take You Down: Inside the Mind of Mark David Chapman, the Man Who Killed John Lennon, author Jack Jones quotes the killer as saying of his quarry:

He told us to imagine no possessions and there he was, with millions of dollars and yachts and farms and country estates, laughing at people like me who had believed the lies and bought the records and built a big part of their lives around his music.

After the district attorney at his 1981 sentencing hearing suggested that Chapman committed the murder as a fast track to fame, he was asked if he had anything to say for himself. Chapman stood and read the following passage from The Catcher in the Rye:

I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.

Standing on the edge of some crazy cliff, he did it for the kids.

At other times, Chapman has cited anger about Lennon’s off-handed 1966 comment that the Beatles were more popular at the time than Jesus. Incensed by the line “Imagine there’s no heaven and no religion, too” in Lennon’s 1971 post-Beatles song Imagine, members of Chapman’s prayer group had cleverly changed the lyric to: “Imagine if John Lennon was dead.”

Onward, Christian soldiers.

In his God song on 1970’s John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album, which I just noticed was released 10 years plus three days before he was killed, Lennon lists the Bible and the Beatles among the many things he doesn’t believe in.

Chapman’s response, as reported by Jones in his 1992 book Let Me Take You Down: Inside the Mind of Mark David Chapman:

I would listen to this music and I would get angry at him, for saying (in the song God) that he didn’t believe in God, that he just believed in him and Yoko, and that he didn’t believe in the Beatles. This was another thing that angered me, even though this record had been done at least ten years previously. I just wanted to scream out loud, “Who does he think he is, saying these things about God and heaven and the Beatles?” Saying that he doesn’t believe in Jesus and things like that. At that point, my mind was going through a total blackness of anger and rage … this The Catcher in the Rye milieu where my mindset is Holden Caulfield and anti-phoniness.

God is a concept by which we measure our slain.

After extensive interviews for a series of articles that ran in People magazine, journalist James Gaines came away convinced that Chapman was sincere in his Lennon loathing and hadn’t committed the murder for fame or notoriety. We’ll have to see what he says at this summer’s hearing, but the last word from Chapman was that Gaines couldn’t have been more mistaken.

Here’s what Chapman told the parole board in 2020:

I have no excuse. This was for self-glory. I think it’s the worst crime that there could be, to do something to someone that’s innocent.

(Lennon) was extremely famous. I didn’t kill him because of his character or the kind of man he was. He was a family man. He was an icon. He was someone that spoke of things that now we can speak of and it’s great.

I assassinated him, to use your word earlier, because he was very, very, very famous — and that’s the only reason. And I was very, very, very, very much seeking self-glory, very selfish.

I want to add that and emphasize that greatly. It was an extremely selfish act. I’m sorry for the pain that I caused to (Ono). I think about it all of the time.

Now let’s back up to 1981. In the six months before what was to have been Chapman’s trial, more than a dozen psychologists and psychiatrists — six for the defence, three for the prosecution and several for the court — subjected him to a battery of diagnostic procedures and hundreds of hours of clinical interviews.

Wikipedia:

All six defence experts concluded that Chapman was psychotic; five diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia, while the sixth felt that his symptoms were more consistent with manic depression. The three prosecution experts declared that his delusions fell short of psychosis and instead diagnosed various personality disorders.

The court-appointed experts concurred with the prosecution’s examiners that he was delusional yet competent to stand trial. In the examinations, Chapman was more co-operative with the prosecution’s mental health experts than with those for the defence; one psychiatrist conjectured that he did not wish to be considered “crazy” and was persuaded that the defence experts only declared him insane because they were hired to do so.

(How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? I’ll bet you thought I was going to say just one, but the light bulb has to want to change. The correct answer is three: one to hold the bulb, which symbolizes the brilliant warmth of the mother, and two to turn the ladder, which represents how paternally they stuck it to New York state taxpayers in submitting their exorbitant fees.)

The pastor from Chapman’s church back in Decatur had a simpler diagnosis, unencumbered by non-Freudian psychobabble. “I believe there was a demonic power at work,” Charles MacGowan said. The devil made him do it.

I’ll say it again. God is a concept by which we measure our inane.

As you might recall, Chapman wound up pleading guilty to second-degree murder. In The Murder of John Lennon, Breslin cites this as further evidence of an outrageous coverup:

… as with Lee Harvey Oswald and James Earl Ray, there was to be no trial and no probing questions in front of some of the world’s leading reporters in Justice Edwards’s (presiding judge Dennis Edwards Jr.) crowded courtroom.

And remember what Mark said to the Rev. Charles MacGowan within two weeks of the murder: “I’m gonna be shot and killed even before I go to trial.” Is it too fanciful to suggest that even from the start he had been threatened with death if he did not plead guilty and so avoid a trial?

Death threats were certainly flying in the immediate aftermath of Lennon’s murder, though not necessarily from dastardly agents of the deep state. Chapman’s original court-appointed lawyer, Herbert Alderberg, withdrew from the case after a grieving Lennon fan warned him of his own pending lynching.

Out of concerns for Chapman’s safety, the prisoner was moved from the hospital where he was being evaluated to Rikers Island.

Here again is how the Wikipedia entry summarizes what happened next:

At the initial hearing in January 1981, Chapman's new lawyer, Jonathan Marks, instructed him to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. In February, Chapman sent a handwritten statement to The New York Times urging everyone to read The Catcher in the Rye, calling it an “extraordinary book that holds many answers.”

The defence team sought to establish witnesses as to Chapman’s mental state at the time of the killing. However, Chapman told Marks in June that he wanted to drop the insanity defence and plead guilty. Marks objected with “serious questions” over Chapman's sanity and legally challenged his competence to make this decision.

In the pursuant hearing on June 22, Chapman said that God had told him to plead guilty and that he would not change his plea or ever appeal, regardless of his sentence. Marks told the court that he opposed Chapman's change of plea but Chapman would not listen to him. (Justice Edwards) refused a further assessment, saying that Chapman had made the decision of his own free will, and declared him competent to plead guilty.

Two months later, Edwards sentenced Chapman to 20 years to life — five years short of the maximum — and ordered that he receive psychiatric treatment during his incarceration. That was 41 years ago, longer than John Lennon spent walking around in this vale of tears. Death is what happens to you while you’re busy shaking unhinged fans.

Denounced in George Harrison’s 1981 Lennon tribute song All Those Years Ago as “someone, the devil’s best friend, someone who offended it all” and in Elton John’s 1982 Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny) as “one insect,” Chapman might have enjoyed his 15 minutes of infamy but has been in the stir, just breathing air, ever since.

Supplementing the books, magazines and newspapers stories about him, Chapman garnered more international attention in the 1990s by granting television interviews to Barbara Walters and Larry King. He also told his story in 2000 in a series of audiotapes for Mugshots, a CourtTV program.

And then, of course, there were the two largely forgettable biographical films based on the murder: Jonas Ball portrayed Chapman in The Killing of John Lennon in 2006. The following year, Jared Leto packed on 67 pounds, gave himself gout and likely did permanent damage to his body for his dark-star turn as Chapman in Chapter 27.

Why 27? The Catcher in the Rye had 26 chapters. The number 27 had numerological significance to Lennon as “the triple nine.” And in Chapter 27 of Robert Rosen’s book Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, it’s suggested that Chapman’s goal was to write the final chapter to Salinger’s chef-d’oeuvre “in Lennon’s blood.”

Besides, if you read aloud the previous paragraph backward on a stupid bloody Tuesday, you can distinctly hear the words “John is dead, miss him, miss him, miss him.”


Turn me on, dead man.

Number nine, number nine, number nine … here’s another clue for you all: 1+9+8+0=18; 1+8=9; ipso facto jai guru deva Q.E.D.

Christ, you know math ain’t easy after that glittering display of commutative addition, but let’s get back to this carefully constructed disquisition. Chapman’s 2020 appeal for parole was rejected on the ambiguous, maddeningly misty grounds that granting it “would be incompatible with the welfare of society.”

There hasn’t been a death penalty in New York since 2007 (2+0+0+7=9, which is precisely what a stitch in time will save), so the way things are going, they aren’t going to crucify him. But judging by what Chapman told the parole board two years ago, he’d be happy to help position the nails:

When you knowingly plot someone’s murder and know it’s wrong and you do it for yourself, that’s a death penalty right there, in my opinion. Some people disagree with me, but everybody gets a second chance now. I deserve zero, nothing. If the law and you choose to leave me in here for the rest of my life, I have no complaint whatsoever.

There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be, but if Chapman actually wants to get out of prison, he needs to work on his PowerPoint presentation skills.

Still. One can’t help but wonder: Is Mark David Chapman more of a threat to himself or to others than John Hinckley Jr., born 19 days after Chapman — and I don’t give the square root of sweet Francis Ann what the numerological significance of that might possibly be.


Nein, nein, Onein.

Hinckley was released from psychiatric care six years ago and told CBS Mornings this week, in his first televised interview since being freed this month from all court oversight: “I feel badly for all of them. I have true remorse for what I did. I know that they probably can’t forgive me now, but I just want them to know that I am sorry for what I did.”

Hinckley had been suffering from acute psychosis when his bullets injured Reagan and three others. The assassination attempt paralyzed Reagan press secretary James Brady, who died in 2014. He also wounded a police officer and a Secret Service agent.

In the early 2000s, Hinckley was allowed regular visits to his parents’ home in Williamsburg, Virginia. A 2016 court order granted him permission to live with his mother full time, under various restrictions, after experts offered assurances that his mental illness had been in remission for decades.

Meanwhile, after decades of being denied parole, Sirhan Sirhan, now 78, was finally granted parole by a two-person panel of the California parole board last August. Except he wasn’t. For reasons that seem more political than juridical or ethical, California Governor Gavin Newsom blocked Sirhan’s release in January.

In an op-ed published by the Los Angeles Times, Newsom said he disregarded the recommendation of the state parole board because of the severity of the crime — the 1968 assassination of RFK, who was poised to become the next president of the United States — and Sirhan’s “current refusal to accept responsibility for it.”

Chapman has floated different motives for his actions, but he has never refused to accept responsibility for them.


He has been receiving treatment for his mental illness, whatever it is, since 1981. He had no prior convictions and, other than fasting 26 days in 1982, hasn’t set off any alarm bells. While in Attica, he was involved in three “minor incidents” between 1989 and 1994, including delaying an inmate count and refusing to follow an order.

Asked at the 2004 parole hearing what he would do if he were released, Chapman replied: “I would immediately try to find a job. And I really want to go from place to place, at least in the state, church to church, and tell people what happened to me and point them the way to Christ.” He told the board he thought he could find work as a farmhand or return to his old trade as a printer.

Six years later, before his sixth parole hearing, Ono again spoke up to oppose his release, saying she believed Chapman posed a continuing risk to her, Lennon’s sons and himself: “I am afraid it will bring back the nightmare, the chaos and confusion once again.”

Here’s what I’m afraid of: That Ono, known for her self-centred and egregious behaviour toward Julian Lennon and his late mother, Cynthia, will use the power that comes with celebrity widowhood to cow the parole board into issuing more mealy-mouthed, nebulous reasons for keeping Chapman in prison for the rest of her life — and possibly his.

To avoid the torrent of tabloid- and social media-driven outrage that would engulf both the parole board and the state government if the panel were to recommend the supervised release of a Beatle murderer, the safe thing for it to do in August would be to issue another bland statement about a concern for public safety and throw away the key, at least until 2024.

Chapman, as mentioned before, is now 67, eligible for an old-age pension and still married to an incredibly patient and understanding woman (on June 2, he and Abe celebrated, as much as they could, their 43rd anniversary). They have grown, they have grown.

Unless he’s madder and much more dangerous than he appears to be at this point … well, here one defers to the Plastic Ono Band’s Cole Porteresque lyrics from the 1972 song John Sinclair (about a poet and political activist who spent two years in jail after being arrested with two measly joints):

They gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta,

Gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta set him free.

You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. Life is too short for fussing and fighting, my friend.

Love is the answer, and you know that for sure.*


*Associated Press Update: Sept. 12, 2022:

ALBANY, N.Y. — The man who shot and killed John Lennon outside his Manhattan apartment building in 1980 has been denied parole for a 12th time, New York corrections officials said today.



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