Previously, close insiders recalled John Lennon’s last days in New York City — filled with ifs and buts that, they say, might have prevented his death. One of the chilling moments was meeting the fan who, hours later, would murder him.
Mark David Chapman was no stranger to mad missions. In the fall of 1980 — right around the time of the presidential election — he flew from his home in Honolulu to Manhattan. Snooping around various events, Travis Bickle-style, he considered trying to assassinate Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter but left town with the mission unaccomplished.
Returning on Dec. 6, with some 14 hours of Beatles recordings, a .38 Special handgun and hollow-point bullets in tow, he knew exactly what he was going to do: assassinate John Lennon.
Although he was a longtime fan, Chapman felt disenchanted by Lennon’s conspicuous wealth. “Chapman thought he had sold out,” Dave Wedge, co-author of the new book “The Last Days of John Lennon” (Little, Brown and Company) told The Post. “He thought Lennon was a fraud.”
Chapman checked into an Upper West Side YMCA before moving to a Sheraton hotel in Midtown. Over two days, he had random encounters with Robert Goulet at an art gallery (the actor grudgingly posed for a photograph) and James Taylor near the exit of the West 72nd Street subway station. Chapman buttonholed the singer near the top of the staircase. Sweating and with eyes dilated, “Chapman said, ‘I’m a musician just like you. I have something to get to John Lennon. Can you help me?’ ” according to “Last Days” co-author Casey Sherman.
Taylor broke away and began walking east on 72nd Street. Chapman followed from a distance. After passing the Dakota, according to Sherman, “Taylor turned around to see if Chapman was still behind him. But Chapman had given up the chase. He planted himself in front of the Dakota and was mumbling to himself.”
This incident took place on Dec. 8, 1980. Later that afternoon, Chapman did get to see Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono in front of the Dakota, where they lived. He proffered a copy of their just-released “Double Fantasy” album and a Bic pen. Lennon signed the cover with its romantic Kishin Shinoyama photo of him and Ono touching lips.
When the couple returned home from a recording studio at 10:50 in the evening, Chapman was, once again, in front of the Dakota.
Lennon and Ono emerged from their limo. Lennon and Chapman briefly locked eyes. As Lennon turned away, Chapman assumed a combat position and shot at his onetime idol. Four hollow-point bullets hit their target. Ono screamed. Lennon stumbled toward the Dakota lobby, crashed through the front door and collapsed.
According to “Last Days,” doorman Jose Perdomo knocked the gun out of Chapman’s hand. The killer then stood calmly and read his paperback copy of “The Catcher in the Rye.”
In his room at the nearby Langham hotel, as per Sherman, “James Taylor heard gunfire. He was on the phone with a friend and he said, ‘Somebody’s just been shot.’ ”
NYPD officer Peter Cullen and his partner Steve Spiro were parked near 72nd Street and Broadway, out on robbery detail, when their police radio crackled with details about “shots fired.”
Responding to the call, Cullen told his partner, “Take it easy. It could have been fireworks.”
As they neared the Dakota, however, it was clearly something else. “I asked Jose, ‘What’s going on?’ ” Cullen told The Post. “Perdomo pointed to Chapman and said, ‘This guy just shot Lennon!’ ”
Cullen went inside to investigate. He saw Spiro pressing Chapman against the wall and shouted out, “Cuff ’im!”
In the lobby, recalled Cullen, “I saw Lennon laying face down with blood coming out of his mouth.”
As other cops arrived and a crowd formed outside of the Dakota, Lennon was carried out by two officers and placed in the backseat of a squad car. There was no time to wait for an ambulance. They rushed him to St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center on West 59th Street.
Cullen and Spiro took Chapman to the 20th Precinct on West 82nd Street. “He was docile,” recalled Cullen. “He apologized to us for ruining our night. I turned around and said to him, ‘You’ve got to be f - - king kidding me. You’re worried about our night? Do you know what you just did to your life?’ We read him his rights more than once.”
Ono was driven to the hospital by two other cops, Tony Palma and Herb Frauenberger. “She was in a state of shock,” Frauenberger told The Post. “She asked if John would be alright. I told her, ‘He’s going to the best hospital in New York City.’ That was true. And the trauma unit was ready for John when we arrived.”
Lennon was placed on a gurney and wheeled into a trauma room. Barbara Kammerer, an ER nurse on duty, described the patient as “a young, well-muscled man with gunshot wounds. We cut off his clothes and cracked his chest.”
Dr. David Halleran, a third-year resident at the time, attempted resuscitation. He had his hand inside the patient’s chest and tried pumping his heart. “I could not get any vitals,” said Halleran. “Halfway through, though, somebody said, ‘This looks like John Lennon.’ I said that it can’t be. Then, Richard Marks, the general surgeon, came in. He and his wife passed the Dakota. He saw Yoko in the back of a cop car and followed her here. Dick said, ‘It’s John Lennon.’ We continued to work on him and never got the pulse back. After 45 minutes, we called it.”
Meanwhile, Alan Weiss, a producer with the local ABC news affiliate, was coincidentally in the ER as well, having just been involved in a motorcycle accident. He spied the proceedings and placed a call to his assigning editor. Details on Lennon’s shooting and subsequent death rose up the food chain before landing in the broadcast booth of “Monday Night Football,” which was eating into the 11 p.m. newscast.
A verbal tussle ensued between Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford: Cosell wanted to break the news; Gifford said, “Bulls - - t, we’re not. . .” Cosell prevailed, informing the country about an “unspeakable tragedy.”
Simultaneously, a Muzak version of The Beatles’ “All My Loving” chillingly played on the hospital sound system. Weiss heard a woman behind closed doors scream, “No, no! Oh, no. . .” Suddenly, Weiss recalled, Ono “walk[ed] right past me, alongside David Geffen,” the music executive whose eponymous label had just released the couple’s “Double Fantasy” album.
Ono went out a side door. ER nurse Deartra Sato, who attended to Lennon, did not have that luxury. “I walked onto Ninth Avenue and it was completely shut down by people playing John Lennon’s music and lighting candles,” she said. “Some idiot shouted to me, ‘I’ll give you $500 for your bloody pants.’ Of course I refused. I went home and washed them.”
Meanwhile, at the 20th Precinct, Chapman acknowledged being the shooter. As Cullen recalled, “He said to me: ‘I’ve been tracking [Lennon] for a while. I have a big person inside of me and a little person. The big person had been winning up until tonight. But now the little person won.’ ”
Questioning went on for eight hours before Chapman was brought to NY County Criminal Court downtown. He left the police station via a side door while a decoy went through the front: “We were afraid somebody would take a poke at him,” Cullen said. A judge remanded Chapman to Bellevue Hospital for psychiatric evaluation. “He tried to withdraw his [admission of guilt], but the judge would not allow it,” Cullen added.
According to co-author Wedge, that did not stop the killer’s lawyer from wanting to go to trial. “But Chapman had a change of heart. He pleaded guilty. An observant Christian who never got over Lennon’s claim that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus, Chapman told the court: ‘It is my decision and God’s decision.’ ”
Unmoved, the judge sentenced Chapman to 20 years to life. He continues to serve his sentence at Wende Correctional Facility near Buffalo.