Thursday, December 9, 2010
Was John Lennon's murderer Mark Chapman a CIA hitman?
Was John Lennon's murderer Mark Chapman a CIA hitman? Thirty years on, there's an extraordinary new theory
4th December 2010
For many baby-boomers whose formative years coincided with the Swinging Sixties, a mild Monday in early December 1980 will always be remembered as the day the music died.
In New York, the enigmatic, charismatic - and frankly often loony - ex-Beatle John Lennon staggered into the entrance hall of the Dakota, the exclusive parkside mansion block that had been his home for nearly eight years.
The cassettes of a new song the 40-year-old had just recorded, called Walking On Thin Ice, clattered to the floor as he collapsed - blood flowing from four gunshot wounds.
Lennon had been heading home late from work and was hoping to catch his five-year-old son, Sean, before he went to bed.
He and Yoko Ono, his wife and musical collaborator, had been dropped by their white limousine on the pavement outside the building rather than driving through the gates and into the building’s secure courtyard.
Yoko hurried on ahead, nodding blankly at a stranger in the shadows — there were always fans and hangers-on lurking outside the Dakota for a glimpse of their hero.
Her husband trudged behind and had taken three or four strides when a voice called out: ‘Mr Lennon?’
The star slowed and then turned to look. Instantly, he registered that he’d seen this man a few times lately — and, earlier that day, had even autographed an LP cover for him.
But now the stranger had a different purpose. He was down on one knee in a combat stance, a .38 revolver clasped in his hands.
Five shots rang out and four dum-dum bullets, specially adapted to cause maximum physical damage, slammed into Lennon’s back, side and shoulder.
The musician got as far as the lobby before blurting out: ‘I’m shot! I’m shot!’ He was dead on arrival at hospital a quarter of an hour later.
Meanwhile, the killer, pudgy 25-year-old Mark Chapman, stood quietly at the scene. On the ground lay the smoking gun he had let fall from his hands, beside Lennon’s blood-stained glasses.
Leaning nonchalantly against the wall of the Dakota, Chapman then began flicking through a copy of Catcher In The Rye, J.D. Salinger’s famous novel of adolescent alienation, whose central character was apparently the inspiration for what he had just done.
When the cops arrived, he made no attempt to escape. As his hands were cuffed and he was bundled into a squad car, he explained: ‘I acted alone.’ At precinct headquarters, he told detectives: ‘Lennon had to die.’
To a world shocked by Lennon’s violent and seemingly pointless death, it became clear that Chapman was a delusional nerd. He took drugs and was psychologically disturbed.
Bullied at school, he sought refuge in an imaginary world where he exercised power over other people.
A rootless adult who never settled into a proper job, he found solace for his empty life in the music of The Beatles. A loner himself, he identified with the reclusive side of Lennon’s insecure, mixed-up personality.
But revelations of Lennon’s vast wealth and burgeoning business empire turned Chapman’s hero-worship on its head.
He felt betrayed, personally insulted. He stalked and shot his erstwhile hero out of a weird sense of retribution — coupled with a desire to be famous for something.
So the story went. But, with the 30th anniversary of Lennon’s death next week, a theory has resurfaced that challenges this long-held conventional view.
Though seemingly far-fetched, if true it would startle and appal the millions of fans who still idolise Lennon.
In a new book, author Phil Strongman claims that Chapman was a stooge. Lennon’s real assassin was the CIA — at the behest of Right-wing fanatics in the American political establishment.
He gets to this controversial conclusion by contesting many of the so-called ‘facts’ about the case — including the basic assumption that Chapman was a Beatles and Lennon fan.
Strongman writes that, until the weekend before the killing: ‘Chapman, the supposed Lennon “obsessive” and “fan of fans”, did not own one Lennon single, book or album. Not one. Some “fan”, some “obsession”.’
He dismisses the often-made claim that Chapman had 14 hours of tapes of Lennon’s songs in his rucksack on the day of the shooting. ‘They have never been photographed or produced for the simple reason that they do not exist.’
So Chapman wasn’t just a celebrity stalker who went too far. Nor, says Strongman, did he kill Lennon for 15 minutes of fame.
‘If he was an attention-seeker, then why did he turn down the chance of what would have been the trial of the century? By pleading guilty, Chapman missed all of this attention he was supposedly seeking. Why?’
It is the killer’s calmness after the shooting that Strongman sees as the key to what really happened, providing evidence for his theory that Lennon’s death was a state-sponsored conspiracy.
If Chapman looked like a zombie, as he hung around after the killing and waited for the police, it was because that was exactly what he was.
Chapman, he suggests, had been recruited by the CIA and trained by them during his travels round the world, when he mysteriously pitched up in unlikely places for a boy from Georgia.
How strange, for example, that Chapman should visit Beirut at a time when the Lebanese capital was a hive of CIA activity — and was said to be home to one of the agency’s top-secret assassination training camps. Another camp was supposedly in Hawaii, where Chapman lived for a number of years.
And who funded the penniless young man’s round-the-world trip in 1975, which took in Japan, the UK, India, Nepal, Korea, Vietnam and China?
Money never seemed to be a problem for Chapman, but no one has ever explained where it came from. The distinct possibility remains, in Strongman’s opinion, that the secret service was his paymaster.
And somewhere along the line his mind was infiltrated. With Chapman, the CIA could have drawn on its long experience of using mind-controlling drugs and techniques such as hypnosis to produce assassins who would eliminate trouble-makers, and ‘patsies’, the fall guys on whom such killings could be blamed.
Strongman claims: ‘Catcher In The Rye was part of Chapman’s hypnotic programming, a trigger that could be “fired” at him by a few simple keywords [via] a cassette tape message, telex or telegram or even a mere telephone call.
’It’s certainly true that conspiracy theorists have long suspected both the Americans and their communist foes of using such techniques to activate ‘sleeper’ assassins — as fictionalised in the film The Manchurian Candidate.
The author is uncertain whether Chapman fell into the category of unwitting killer or unwitting accomplice.
But his deep suspicion is that Chapman did not act alone — any more, he says, than Lee Harvey Oswald did in the murder of JFK in Dallas or Sirhan Sirhan in Bobby Kennedy’s death. He even doubts if Chapman fired the fatal shots.
‘The bullets slapped into Lennon’s body so closely together that pathologists later had trouble marking out the different entry points. If all of these shots came from Chapman, it was a miraculous piece of shooting.
'Put simply, the authorities' investigation, or lack of it, into the assassination was shockingly slack and beggars belief.'
‘In fact, if any of them came from him it was miraculous because Chapman was standing on Lennon’s right and, as the autopsy report and death certificate later made clear, all Lennon’s wounds were in the left side of his body.’
There had to be another shooter involved, Strongman insists. He suggests that a CIA plant who worked at the Dakota building was the real killer.
What increases his suspicion is the cursory nature of the police investigation after Chapman’s arrest.
‘His bizarre post-killing calm was not questioned, his behaviour was not checked with a drugs test, his “programmed” state [a word used about him by more than one police officer] was not investigated, his previous movements were not thoroughly looked into.
‘Put simply, the authorities’ investigation, or lack or it, into the assassination was shockingly slack and beggars belief.’
It had to be, he concludes, that the FBI were conspiring with the CIA to cover up the reality — that shadowy figures in the American establishment ordered Lennon’s assassination.
But why was Lennon on their hit list? He had, it seems, rattled the cages of America’s powerful Right wing, first with his opposition to the Vietnam War and then with his campaign of pacifism.
It is here that those of us who lived through the period must pause for breath. Lennon was a mad and maddening genius, a showman and a show-off. But he was a dreamer, not a doer.
He wrote songs, he played the guitar, he had some funny ideas. He made us laugh. He was irreverent.
But he wasn’t about to bring down capitalism. He was doing much too well out of it himself for that. Grumbling to an aide one day about soaring business expenses, he was reminded: ‘Imagine no possessions, John.’ Lennon shot back: ‘It’s only a bloody song!’
Still, the fact that some of the files relating to secret service investigations into Lennon’s activities remain closed continue to fuel suspicions of a cover-up.
Strongman writes: ‘I am as convinced as any human being can be that elements of both the FBI and CIA were undoubtedly behind a cover-up in December 1980. They were also deeply involved in the killing itself.’
'I felt that by killing him I would become somebody and, instead of that, I became a murderer and murderers are not somebodies.' Meanwhile, Chapman — crazy stalker or robot assassin — lives on. Strangely, if Strongman’s theory is true, he has managed to survive three decades in one of America’s most violent prisons despite the dangerous information he must still possess.
He remains in Attica, 30 years into his life sentence and well beyond the 20-year minimum decreed by the judge who sentenced him.
When asked by a parole board in 2006 to explain why he murdered Lennon, Chapman said: ‘The result would be that I would be famous . . . I would receive a tremendous amount of attention, which I did receive.’
Earlier this year, he told another parole board that back in 1980 he had a long list of potential targets, which included Liz Taylor, chat-show host Johnnie Carson and Paul McCartney.
‘They were famous, that was it,’ he said, and by killing them he would achieve ‘instant notoriety’.
He hit on Lennon, he explained, only because the Dakota was easy to get at. ‘I felt that by killing him I would become somebody and, instead of that, I became a murderer, and murderers are not somebodies. Instead of taking my life I took somebody else’s, which was unfortunate.’
In 2006, his fourth application for release — opposed as it has always been by Yoko Ono — was refused, as it was again in 2008 and once more this year. He is eligible to try again in 2012.
John Lennon — Life, Times And Assassination, by Phil Strongman from The Bluecoat Press at £8.99. To order a copy (p&p free), call 0845 155 0720.