Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The assassination of John Lennon

John Lennon was murdered in front of the Dakota on December 8, 1980.  After the murder, assassin Mark David Chapman sat calmly on the sidewalk and began reading his copy of JD Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.  Lennon had been slowly re-emerging as a public figure after his self-imposed exile as a "house husband" from 1975-1979 (the period between Rock 'n' Roll and Double Fantasy).  By contrast, Chapman was very, very busy during this period, embarking on the bizarre, twisting road that would lead him to the Dakota on that cold Monday night.

Like John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr., John Lennon was a beloved public figure.  And like those men, Lennon's politics ran counter to those in power.  He was anti-war, pro-freedom, and anti-establishment.  Lennon found himself in the sights of Republican leadership as early in 1972, when a proposed concert (that never occurred) at the Republican National Convention put him near the top of Nixon's "enemies list."  Strom Thurmond brought up the suggestion to deport Lennon (but not Yoko Ono, who was previously married to an American and a naturalized citizen) to Nixon, and the INS began legal proceedings to deport Lennon that would last until 1975.   During this time -- and starting even earlier -- the FBI amassed a 281-page dossier on Lennon that revealed the government was watching his every move and had informants within Lennon's circle of friends. 

[One additional reason that surveillance of Lennon escalated in 1972 was the fact that Lennon & Ono paid to have the August, 1972 edition of The Realist published, which featured the articles "Why Was Martha Mitchell Kidnapped" and "How Nixon Actually Got into Power" by Mae Brussell.]

Mark David Chapman was born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1955.  The son of an Air Force officer, Chapman moved around frequently during his youth, finally settling in southern Georgia.  In 1971, Chapman become a volunteer counselor at the South Dekalb County YMCA.  Previously a loner, the young man had finally found his niche, becoming well-loved by his peers and rising quickly through the administrative ranks of the organization. 

In 1975, Chapman applied for an international outreach program through the YMCA.  Chapman requested to either be sent to the Soviet Union or Beirut, Lebanon.  Chapman was sent to Lebanon, ostensibly because he was unable to speak Russian, but he could not speak Arabic either. 

1975 saw the beginnings of the Lebanese Civil War, and Chapman's time in Lebanon was cut short.  It bears noting at this point that Chapman's involvement with an international student organization similar to the Peace Corps is suggestive of an intelligence background.  As revealed by Ramparts magazine in 1967, the CIA routinely used the Peace Corps and other student organizations for intelligence purposes.  The Church Committee Hearings further revealed the CIA's involvement with academia, a short resume of which can be found at CIA-on-Campus.  Furthermore, it was learned in 1981 (UPI 3/31/81) that Beirut had been and continued to be an international paramilitary training center for groups ranging from Hezbollah to the IRA. 

Chapman's involvement with intelligence and military groups didn't end with his return.  He began working at the National Guard base in  Ft. Chaffee, Arkansas, at the time being used as a home for Vietnamese refugees.  These refugees weren't alone, and they brought with them the first of many "mysterious characters" that would enter into his life: David C. Moore.  Moore was a fellow YMCA staffer who had been sent to Saigon in April 1975.  The timing of Moore's deployment to Saigon is again suggestive of something more than simply a charity mission.  April '75 was the start of Operation Frequent Wind/Talon Vise, the final evacuation of American citizens and selected Vietnamese (like the ones in Ft. Chafee) from Vietnam.  It strains credulity to image that the YMCA, however noble their intentions, would have sent anyone to Saigon under these circumstances without an ulterior motive. 

By the end 1975, the Ft. Chaffee program ended and Chapman returned to Dekalb County, Georgia.  There he became close with a police officer, alternately called by the pseudonyms "Dana" or "Gene" in biographies of Chapman.  Regardless, the man taught Chapman to use a gun and got him a job as a security guard at a hospital, the first of several such jobs.  Chapman, now 20 years old, was briefly engaged and moved to Lookout Mnt, TN to attend Covenant College.  The engagement broke off and Chapman sold his few possessions moved to Honolulu, Hawaii in January 1977.

Although he has been the subject of much scrutiny over the years, not a great deal is know about Chapman from 1977-1980.  What details are known about this period are controversial as to their true meaning.  Within the first six months of 1977, Chapman returned at least once to Georgia to attempt to reconcile with his former fiancee.  Having failed that, he returned to Honolulu and attempted suicide via carbon monoxide asphyxiation in June.  His suicide attempt was unsuccessful and he was committed to the psychiatric ward of Castle Memorial Hospital in Kailua for two weeks.  Chapman remained in Kailua, getting an apartment, a Hawaiian Driver's License, and, in August, a job at Castle Memorial. 

In July 1978, Chapman embarked on an international tour for six weeks staying in YMCA hostels.  In order, Chapman visited: Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Thailand, India, Nepal, Israel, Iran, Switzerland, England, France, Ireland, then stopping in Georgia en route to Hawaii.  I'll leave it to you to research the various histories of these nations between July and August of 1978, but suffice it to say that Chapman's tour put him in some interesting and occasionally volatile situations.  He was in Iran a short time before the Iranian Revolution.  He was one of the first Americans to travel to China, arriving in Hong Kong the same week the country opened to tourism.  In England he attended one of the final public concerts John Lennon would give before his exile period.  And in Switzerland he met up with David C. Moore again (Chapman had been using a letter of introduction from Moore to gain access to YMCA facilities in these countries).  It bears noting that it is unknown how Chapman was paying for all of this, as his known sources of income were $1000 "Christmas money" from his parents, a small loan from the hospital credit union, and whatever he had saved from his ten months of employment as a maintenance man. 

Upon his return, Chapman began dating and would eventually marry his Japanese-born travel agent, Gloria Abe. He had been corresponding with the older Abe during his travels, and after she converted to Christianity, they were married.  Chapman's marriage in June, 1979 could be considered the last "normal" event in his life, as his behavior became increasingly bizarre up until his assassination of John Lennon.

Like Lee Harvey Oswald, Sirhan Sirhan, Arthur Bremer, and John Hinckley Jr., Mark David Chapman lived an exceptional and unusual life.  And like those assassins before and after him, the period immediately before his date with destiny is the most bizarre.  The newly married Chapman forced his wife to quit her job at the travel agency her family owned to take a job at Castle Memorial where he worked.  He then moved to the opposite side of Oahu, sold their car, and began taking out loans and borrowing money from family to finance his new hobby: art.  Chapman, who had no formal art training and had previously never exhibited an interest in art, was successful at buying and selling artwork (specifically lithographs) and managed to repay his loans and make a profit as well.  At one point, Chapman owned an original Norman Rockwell lithograph valued at $7500, a considerable sum for a man making little more than minimum wage and living in an expensive area.  Art is a frequently used method for concealing intelligence funding, as works appreciate in value quickly and prices are wholly subjective.  It is also a common method of money laundering for drug cartels.

By December 1979, Chapman's foray into the world of art ended as quickly as it began, he quit his job at the hospital, and took a job as security guard for an apartment building.  According to his biographers, Chapman passed the time by making harassing phone calls to a Scientology headquarters across the street from his work.

Less information is known about Chapman's activities in 1980.  Chapman quits the security guard job and takes odd jobs.  His wife continues to work, but money is tight as evidenced by Chapman's attempts to sell blood for money.  He gains weight, begins spending time at the library, and begins reading and re-reading Catcher in the Rye, autographing his copy as "Holden Caulfield."  Although he and his wife are struggling financially, Chapman begins another "tour" in October:

10/24/80: Chapman leaves his job and has no intention of returning.  The claim that he signed out as "John Lennon" is never verified and likely untrue.
10/27/80: Chapman purchases a Charter Arms .38 in Honolulu.  He does not purchase ammunition. 
10/29/80 - 11/5/80: Chapman -- without a source of income -- flies to New York City and checks into the Waldorf Astoria.  He would change hotels a total of four times, and divides his time between standing in front of the Dakota and attending Broadway shows and visiting tourist sites.  He tries to buy bullets for the .38 but is denied because he does not have a NY gun permit.  He contacts Dana/Gene in Georgia, who agrees to provide him with ammunition.
11/5/80: Chapman flies first class to Atlanta.  While in Georgia, he is given hollow point bullets and fires 150 rounds at a practice range. 
11/7 or 11/8/80 - 11/12/80: Chapman returns to New York City.  He phones his wife to tell her he thought about killing John Lennon but decided against it.  He returns to Hawaii on 11/12/80.

Airline security is significantly tighter post-9/11, but baggage and passenger screenings were made mandatory nationwide in 1973.  It is unknown how Chapman was able to board a minimum of four flights while carrying a gun either on his person or in his luggage undetected. 

On December 2nd, Chapman left Hawaii for the mainland again.  According to biographer Bresler, Chapman purchased a round trip ticket from Hawaii to Chicago, where he stayed for three days.  While in Chicago, he purchased a ticket for NYC.  Reports vary about what he did during those three days, but it is known that Chapman's friend David C. Moore was stationed in Chicago at the time. 

Chapman arrived in New York on 12/6.  On 12/7, he spends most of the day having a cab driver drop him off at various private residences.  There is no record of Chapman knowing anyone in New York.  On 12/8/80, Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon.  At the time of his arrest, the "broke" Chapman was carrying $2000 in cash and had multiple valid credit cards. He had spent the previous night in an expensive downtown Manhattan Sheridan hotel.  He did not attempt to escape or resist arrest.  Chapman would later plead guilty, preventing a full courtroom investigation of the crime.

No researcher has been able to conclusively link Mark David Chapman to a conspiracy to assassinate John Lennon.  There is, however, a substantial amount of circumstantial evidence:
  1. Chapman had unknown sources of income, allowing him to travel extensively, purchase expensive artwork, and stay in four-star hotels.  Arthur Bremer had been employed as a dishwasher prior to spending several months traveling the US staying in $200-a-night hotels (in 1971-72 dollars) on his way to shoot George Wallace.  While on the run from authorities, James Earl Ray stayed at a luxury resort in Canada, and flew to London (twice) and Portugal. 
  2. Chapman underwent a personality change after a hospitalization.  Lee Harvey Oswald was hospitalized in the Soviet Union after a suicide attempt as Chapman had been.  Sirhan Sirhan was hospitalized briefly after suffering an accident and became withdrawn and heavily involved in the occult afterwards. 
  3. Chapman had doubles.  Initial reports of the Lennon murder stated that Chapman had an arrest record in Florida.  Indeed, a man named "Mark David Chapman" with the general physical characteristics and birthday had a record in Florida, but authorities later stated this was a computer glitch.  Chapman's Hawaiian Driver's License -- on him at the time of arrest -- listed a specific address and apartment number at which he had never officially lived.  The owner of the apartment building stated a "Mark David Chapman" lived there with four women, but he could not identify Lennon's killer as the same man.
  4. Chapman's involvement with the YMCA is highly suspicious.  Christian and college organizations are routinely used as cover for intelligence work.  The Ft. Chaffee refugee camp was run by World Vision USA.  At the time, World Vision's president was John Hinckley, Sr., father of Reagan's attempted assassin John Hinckley, Jr. and close friend of George HW Bush. 

Having just passed the 50th anniversary of the John Kennedy assassination, Lennon's murder is an important reminder that if JFK was killed by a conspiracy, he was most likely not its last victim.