Lennon’s ruthless killer had troubled past

Why did Mark David Chapman murder a world-renowned peace advocate?

Editor’s note: Popular rock icon John Lennon was shot to death on December 8, 1980. In memory of his death, the Spotlight is writing a series of stories about the former Beatle. This story chronicles Lennon’s shooter, Mark David Chapman.

John Lennon is one of most prominent historical figures of the modern day with his ideals of peace and unity. Few were as prominent as the Beatles band member turned solo musician who spoke out for world peace and understanding.

And so his murder was a shock to many thousands of people and outrage is still alive about that terrible day. Many still despise his killer, Mark David Chapman, for the world peace advocate that he slew in cold blood on December 8, 1980. Many don’t know exactly why he did it or who he was either.

Chapman was born on May 10, 1955 in Fort Worth, Texas to a military father and nurse mother along with his younger sister, Susan, who was born seven years later.

Chapman stated that as a boy, he lived in fear of his father, who he said was physically abusive towards his mother and unloving towards him. Chapman began to fantasize about having king-like power over a group of imaginary “little people” who lived in the walls of his bedroom.

In 1971, Chapman became a born again Christian (Presbyterian) and distributed biblical tracts. He won numerous awards as an outstanding counselor while he worked for a YMCA summer camp. Those who knew him in this period referred to him as an outstanding worker. This was also when the novel, The Catcher in the Rye was mentioned to him by a friend.

Chapman also aided World Vision with Vietnamese refugees at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas as a key aide to the program director, David Moore. Together, they met many high-end officials and even shook President Ford’s hand.

Before becoming a born-again Christian, Chapman was a big Beatles fan, up until John Lennon’s comment about how the Beatle’s were “more popular than Jesus,” where he then turned on John Lennon. According to Chapman, there should be nobody more popular than the Lord Jesus Christ.

Essentially, this led Chapman to murder Lennon. Chapman waited for Lennon outside his apartment and fired five shots, four of which struck Lennon in the back.

Chapman was declared psychotic by numerous psychologists and it was argued by the district attorney that he killed Lennon for an easy route to fame. When Chapman was asked if he had anything to say, he read the passage from the Catcher in the Rye (his alleged motivation for the murder) when Holden tells his little sister Phoebe what he wants to do with his life:

“Anyway, 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’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.”

Chapman remains in prison to this day.

Chapman is currently still alive in prison and in his late 50's.
Chapman is currently still alive in prison and in his late 50’s.
Chapman in his young years right before he committed the murder.
Chapman in his young years right before he committed the murder.