Gary James' Interview With Investigative Reporter
While millions of words have been written about John Lennon's influence on music and popular culture, not much has been known about John Lennon's assassin - Mark David Chapman.
Investigative Reporter Jack Jones has written what must be termed the definitive book on Chapman Titled
Let Me Take You Down, Inside The Mind of Mark David Chapman, The Man Who Shot John Lennon (Villard Books) It's the culmination of six years of interviews with Chapman on over 200 hours of tape. It is both frightening and revealing in its content.
Jack Jones spoke with us about his research and interview with Mark David Chapman - the man who shot John Lennon.
Q - Jack, I would imagine that like millions of people who first heard Lennon's assassin described as a whacko, you thought there must be more to it than that and so you decided to write this book.
Was that in fact your motivation?
A - Not really. I got interested in the project through a counseling group at Attica ( Prison - where Chapman is currently serving his 20 years to life sentence for the murder of Lennon ). I just felt sort of weak in the knees after I found out that John Lennon had been murdered. I thought of Martin Luther King and the Kennedy assassinations and I just thought Oh My God! I guess you subconsciously think 'They', (whoever they are) they've killed another one. But, you sort of lump all these people together, which is, I've learned now, a mistake to do. It's a shame that somebody didn't get to Lee Harvey Oswald before Jack Ruby did, just so the questions about whether there was any sort of conspiracy could've been answered. I think that's one value of my book, which is such a thorough examination of Mark David Chapman. If people still think there was a conspiracy involved in John Lennon's assassination, then they're just dyed in the wool, paranoid, conspiracists who are never going to change their mind no matter what the facts might be.
Q - Writer, Attorney, and Judge, Fenton Bresler wrote a book on John Lennon's death titled Who Killed John Lennon? He believes there was a conspiracy, possibly one that involved the C.I.A. How do you address his charges?
A - I wrote to Bresler and wanted to interview him. I was going to do a chapter in the book, titled 'F.B.I. - C.I. A - B.B.C. and B.B. King, after the Lennon tune "I Dig A Pony". Lennon himself kind of made fun of this paranoid thinking even though he knew his phone was being tapped by the F.B.I. and that the very paranoid Richard Nixon administration was doing everything they could to keep tabs on him, fearing he would hold a concert and disrupt the Republican convention in Miami. I've had the F.B.I. file and anybody who's looked at it would have trouble thinking anybody with half a brain who worked for the F.B.I. or C.I.A. would have perceived John Lennon as a real threat to the American government.
Q - They were probably interested in who he was talking to.
A - Yeah, and he was meeting for a time with Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and these sort of half-assed revolutionaries whom he later derided and denounced like the Mahareshi Yogi, who he wrote the song "Sexy Sadie" about. Lennon was an extremely intelligent, astute man who saw through phoniness, I think the way few people did.
Q - So I take it Bresler didn't write back then.
A - No, he didn't. There are so many factual errors in Fenton Bresler's book. He even had John Lennon's birthday listed on the wrong day, at least in the paperback copy of the book. I think it said October 13 or 15. Lennon's birthday is October 9. He also had some key factual errors regarding Chapman. He wrote to Chapman several times and Chapman did write back to him, but refused to grant him a interview. I think what happened is, Bresler thought he was gonna score an interview with this guy and do the definitive bio. And when that didn't happen, he said I'll just turn this into a conspiracy story because people are hot on conspiracy theories. On a hell of a lot of conjecture and virtually no facts, he concocted this whole book.
Q - Bresler makes this assertion that Chapman did not fly directly from Honolulu to New York, but instead made a stopover in Chicago for those two days. He states that his whereabouts and who he spoke with for two days are unknown, and his airline ticket is not included in his file. It's missing. What do you know about all of that ?
A - He didn't stop for two days. There's a six hour time difference. Chapman left late in the day, like around 5 or 6 o'clock. His wife took copious notes on this and her staff corroborates the actual events. Also, the plane tickets for his grandmother, who was there at the time with some friends of hers. They went to another island. Chapman escorted his grandmother back. She paid for his ticket as far as Chicago. In Bresler's book, he says he searched all over the Chicago area trying to find his (Chapman's) grandmother and couldn't find her. Chapman has no relatives living in the Chicago area. They changed planes. That particular grandmother lives in Massachusetts. The other one lives in Connecticut. Bresler tried to spin this stuff as a simple layover for a plane. The connecting flight was late and when he arrived there he found he could get an earlier flight to New York City. So after putting his grandmother on a plane, so she could fly on to Massachusetts to get back home, he took another earlier flight to New York City. He also had Chapman leaving a day or two earlier, which is totally inaccurate.
Q - Was the plane ticket in fact missing from the files?
A - I don't know which file he looked in. He didn't look very hard or else he didn't look under the alias that Chapman sometimes used, which was Holden Caufield's alias Jim Steele, which would've been a very basic thing for someone to do, somebody who was doing a book like this too. A book like that should've known that about Chapman.
Q - You met Chapman at a meeting in Attica?
A - Yeah. It's a prisoner counseling group, the most devoted group of people I've ever come across in all my years of journalism, of working around the prison, writing about criminals. It's called the CEPHAS Attica Group. It's a Greek word that means Foundation. The man who founded the group, Harold Steele, became a very good friend of mine. I dedicated the book to Harold. Harold died tragically at the age of 46 from a heart attack. Chapman had met with Harold several times, privately. During one of the meetings, when I was at the prison with CEPHAS, Harold asked me to come in and meet with Chapman who wanted somebody that he could talk to. Harold thought that even though I was a journalist and Chapman specifically didn't want to deal with anybody from the media, that I would be the person for whatever reasons to talk with the guy. So, we had the first meeting and it truly was bizarre. He's talking about the earth being a ball of water spinning around, a ball of fire at the speed of light, and it's all moving through space, just trucking through space, he said. Where's it all going? According to Chapman "Back to God, we're all traveling back to God at the Speed of light." Then he got tangled up with some of this demon stuff. He talked to Harold about demon possession. Later Chapman said he'd been exorcised in this prison ritual where he'd vomited up seven demons and started getting better after that.
Q - Why didn't someone pick up on how sick Chapman really was? How did he get away with it for so long?
A - How did Ted Bundy get away with traveling the country? Even when they caught him, and he was in custody several times, none of the cops took him seriously as this monster who was traveling the country murdering and raping woman because he was so charming. There are people like that. Chapman was like that to a high degree. They have an ability to sort of key into people they're around and know almost subconsciously what you want them to be. Like Hannibal Lechter in the Silence of the Lambs. Tell me something about yourself Clarice. From that they can build a whole sort of fantasy which is very appealing, for at least a short time, to the people they're pulling this on, I didn't want to do a big deal on this in the book, but I was struck a lot in my research on John Lennon about how almost subconsciously he talked repeatedly about assassination, crucifixion, death and dying, even in the lyrics to his songs - 'Everybody loves you when you're six feet underground. I don't think that John Lennon had a death wish, but I think he had this fear or fore knowledge of a violent death and may have, in someway, again subconsciously, behaved in a way that got the attention of Chapman and other people. It's interesting that after Chapman killed Lennon there was a minister, (I don't want to mention his name), but at one time, was quite well-known and had a thriving ministry in Southern California, which is where a lot of these fanatic Born-Agains go. He called Chapman's wife and said at the time he was living in the desert, and a voice came to him and told him to kill John Lennon. He had actually bought the rifle. Then he found out that someone else had already done it. It just wasn't a very discreet kind of thing to do, to stand up on a stage when you're as public a figure as somebody like John Lennon and talk about things like that. There's probably a lesson there for other famous people.
Q - It's also incredible that guys like Lee Harvey Oswald and Mark David Chapman have the finances to travel all over the world. They seldom work and when they do, they only earn minimum wage and don't stay on the job very long.
A - In Chapman's case, he ripped off the money from his father-in-law. He got his wife to borrow $5,000. At one point there was $2,500 in his mother's savings which he talked her into co-investing in this Norman Rockwell painting. He would go to the credit unions. His wife at that time was working at the hospital where he had worked and she could take out loans from the credit union. But, yeah, most people would wind up with a really bad credit rating. Bear in mind, these guys use other people's money and are charming and have no compunction about stealing money from other people under the guise of having borrowed it. So, this $5,000, which is a pretty good chunk of change back in 1980; rather than pay it back to his father-in-law, he conned his wife into saying, we'll put this into a bank account and just keep it for a rainy day. Subconsciously, he knew he was gonna use that money for his own purposes, whatever those purposes might be.
Q - Did Chapman stalk Lennon in England?
A - It never happened.
Q - It was reported that Chapman had some kind of a Hit List that included names of people like Johnny Carson and Frank Sinatra if he couldn't get to Lennon. Are you aware of such a list? Did he have a Hit List?
A - No. It wasn't a Hit List. That was something that got taken out of context, in which he mentioned to one of the psychiatrists at Bellevue. He thought briefly about Johnny Carson, Liz Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, and George C. Scott of all people. Those are sort of like fleeting thoughts that other people might have in moments of rage. Thinking of famous people and resenting them for being something while they feel like nothing. The only person on earth at that point in time to whom Mark David Chapman posed a real threat to was John Lennon. He could've easily approached any one of these other people. For example, George C. Scott was onstage in New York City and he had a front row seat to the performance. He was thinking about how easy it would be just to take the gun out of his pocket and shoot him. But, he didn't. If he was looking just to get his name in the paper, he could've done that, but, as he said on the Larry King Show, he was so bonded to John Lennon. I really don't believe he would've shot anybody else except John Lennon.
Q - How did Chapman know when John was going to be at the Dakota?
A - He didn't. He waited the first time, two or three weeks and didn't see Lennon. That's one reason why he went back home. He told his wife "your love has saved me" and all this other B.S. Of course, he was tired of waiting and was getting scared, and having second thoughts, so he came home and sort of twisted this ax around. He did say he had a powerful premonition that this was going to be the day when his path crossed Lennons. He essentially knew from the fans there, Jeri and Jude at the Dakota, when he arrived in New York City that Saturday morning (December 6,1980) that John Lennon was there. He knew they wouldn't be hanging out there. After making two trips to New York he was determined not to leave without firing his gun.
Q - Did anyone pick up on the fact that Chapman signed out for the last time from his security job, crossing out his name and writing John Lennon?
A - He actually signed John Lennon's name. He says it was his supervisor or boss, the guy who was later fired and who they believe stole that ledger which has him signing out as John Lennon. He didn't cross it out he says. It was somebody else who did that. He also crossed out his own name on the name tag and signed or posted John Lennon's name over that point. He's not really sure why he did it except that it was somehow a statement that I am as great as John Lennon or John Lennon's life is going to be mine, not that he was going to become John Lennon. He never he says for a minute believed himself to be John Lennon. What he did realize was that by killing John Lennon, he could gain an identity for himself; even this horrible identity as one of the worst assassins, a virtual Judas of his generation. Mainly what he could do was what he wanted to do in the worst way, which was to hurt everybody on earth in someway. He talked to me of having fantasties of getting his hands on a nuclear weapon and blowing up a small city and killing millions of people. He knew this wasn't realistic, but he did understand that by murdering John Lennon he could hurt everybody, and he did.
Q - Had Chapman ever read the book The Beatles by Hunter Davies? If he had, he would've known that John Lennon was not a phony.
A - That was the first book he ever read I think. I'm pretty sure that was the book. He said it was the first full book he ever read from cover to cover, not a fantasy fiction book like Jules Verne or something like that. He was absorbed by it. After reading that book, he thought wouldn't it be great to be a Beatle. Then, when John made the statements about The Beatles being more popular than Jesus and 'Imagine there's no heaven...' He (Chapman) entered his Born Again Christianity phase. He started developing a bilious hatred towards John Lennon even in his teenage years, singing lyrics like ' Imagine John Lennon is dead.'
Q - Aside from Barbara Walters and Larry King who interviewed Chapman, I imagine everybody wanted to speak with him.
A - You name it, in terms of the celebrity and media people, and he's gotten letters from them all, including personal letters from Geraldo. People say he did this to get publicity, but the fact is for years he'd gotten letters from every top notch writer and celebrity journalist in the world and he turned them all down.
Q - I gather there are a lot of Mark David Chapmans out there?
A - There are more than most of us would care to realize.
© Gary James. All rights reserved.