Early YearsMark Chapman was born on May 10, 1955, in Fort Worth, Texas to David Curtis Chapman and Kathryn Elizabeth Pease. As a child Chapman was afraid of his father who was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force and physically abusive to both Mark and his mother. As an escape Chapman would fantasize about having infinite power over a group he called the "little people." In later years Chapman admitted that he actually conversed with the "little people."
Teen YearsChapman was introduced to drugs early on and before the age of 16, he had experimented with marijuana, LSD, heroin, mescaline and barbiturates. He also began running away from home and developed more of an interest in rock music and drugs, than in getting through school.
At the age of 16 he became a born-again Christian and began working as a summer camp counselor at a YMCA camp. It is also during this time that he met his first girlfriend, Jessica Blankenship, also a born-again Christian. Life seemed to be going well for Chapman. He was popular among the children at the camp and became the assistant director after winning an award for Outstanding Counselor.
After High SchoolChapman moved to Chicago after his high school graduation. He continued to mingle with his Christian friends and played guitar with a church band. His work with the YMCA continued and he became the area coordinator and worked closely with Vietnamese refugees at a resettlement camp at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas. He was also sent to Lebanon for a short trip to carry on the same work. His job included being an aide to program director, David Moore, and he would often accompany Moore to top-level meetings with government officials. Chapman also had the opportunity to shake hands with President Gerald Ford.
During this time a friend recommended that Chapman read "The Catcher in the Rye". The book had a profound effect on Chapman, to the point where he wished to emulate the life of the main character, Holden Caulfield.
GuiltAround 1976 Chapman moved to Lookout, Georgia to be with his girlfriend Jessica Blankenship. They were both attending Covenant College, but Chapman became ridden with guilt over having cheated on Jessica and his grades soon tumbled. He began having suicidal thoughts and deep self esteem issues. He decided to break off his relationship and he dropped out of school, returning to the one place where he felt successful - the resettlement camp. But after getting into an argument there, he left and found a job as a security guard and armed guard. He also attempted to return to college, but dropped out.
After his failure at college he decided he would go to Hawaii and kill himself, but failed at his one attempt. He was found and admitted to the Castle Memorial Hospital and diagnosed with clinical depression. When he was released he was given a part-time job with patients, playing guitar and participating in patient counseling.
Around the WorldIn 1978, Chapman took a six-week trip around the world. It is during this time that he met his first wife, a travel agent named Gloria Abe. The two were married on June 2, 1979. After his marriage he returned to Castle Memorial Hospital to work, but was eventually fired after arguing with a nurse. He then began working as a night security guard and spent much of his time drinking, possibly to dull his obsessive thoughts that were beginning to take hold.
Deep ObsessionsFrom 1978 to 1980 Chapman's mind began to progressively dissolve and he began hearing voices, much like he had during his childhood years. He also began to obsess over things, specifically "The Catcher in the Rye," art and John Lennon. He wrote in a letter to a friend that he felt like he was, "going nuts," and signed the letter, "The Catcher in the Rye."
Obsession - Kill John LennonOne of his obsessions, which he put into action in October 1980, was to kill John Lennon. After making the trip to New York in October with all intentions of acting on his plan, he was delayed and had to go to Atlanta to purchase ammunition from a friend. When he returned in November, again fully intending to kill Lennon, he went to see the movie "Ordinary People" and changed his mind.
He returned to Hawaii, and told his wife that he had been obsessed with killing Lennon, but snapped out of it after watching the movie. Apparently it didn't last long. He returned to New York on December 6 with his plan to kill Lennon back on schedule.
Chapman checked into the Sheraton Hotel and staged his hotel room with various personal items for the police to find after he killed Lennon. He purchased a copy of The Catcher in the Rye, and wrote inside the cover, "This is my statement" and signed it "Holden Caulfield."
After checking out from the hotel in the morning of December 8, he headed over to the Dakota apartment building and waited for Lennon to appear. He lurked around the entrance most of the day talking with other Lennon fans and the doormen on duty. During the day he had the opportunity to speak with Lennon's housekeeper who was out walking with Lennon's son, 5-year-old Sean.
At around 5 pm, Lennon and Ono Yoko left their apartment building and passed Chapman on the way to their limousine. Chapman asked for Lennon's autograph on Lennon's new album, "Double Fantasy," which Lennon signed then shook Chapman's hand.
Chapman later said, "At that point my big part won and I wanted to go back to my hotel, but I couldn't. I waited until he came back. He knew where the ducks went in winter, and I needed to know this." The statement references the character Holden who has this same thought throughout "The Catcher in the Rye."
The MurderThe Lennon's returned to the Dakota at around 10:49 pm, and walked past Chapman toward the entrance into their apartment building. As they passed Chapman turned and shot five times with a Charter Arms .38 Special revolver. Four of the bullets struck Lennon in the back and shoulder. One of the bullets dissected Lennon's aorta, which caused severe bleeding.
Lennon was transferred by police car to Roosevelt Hospital. Chapman, who stood reading "The Catcher in the Rye," was arrested.
Lennon was pronounced dead at 11:07 pm at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center.
Caulfield or the Devil?Chapman was charged with second degree murder. During the police interview, Chapman stated, "I'm sure the large part of me is Holden Caulfield, who is the main person in the book. The small part of me must be the Devil."
The TrialIt was determined that although Chapman was delusional, he was competent enough to stand trial. Chapman's lawyer, Jonathan Marks, entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. But in June, Chapman decided he wanted to plead guilty because God told him to do it. It was determined that Chapman made the decision of his own free will and he was declared competent to plead guilty.
SentencingChapman was sentenced to 20 years to life, less than the maximum possible of 25 years to life.
When Chapman was asked if he had anything to say, he rose and read a passage from "The Catcher in the Rye," 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 do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all."