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UPI Archives: John Lennon slain

By PAULA SCHWED
UPI Archives: John Lennon slain
Former Beatle John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono listen in on the Watergate hearings on Capitol Hill in this 1973 file photo. Today is the 31st anniversary of John Lennon's murder by Mark David Chapman in New York in 1980. cc/FILE PHOTO UPI | License Photo

(Editor's note: Today marks the 31st anniversary of John Lennon's death at the hands of deranged fan Mark David Chapman on Dec. 8, 1980 in New York City. The following is the original UPI report, filed soon after the murder took place.)

NEW YORK, Dec. 9, 1980 (UPI) -- John Lennon, whose music set the beat of the turbulent 1960s, was gunned down by a suicidal fan, police said, who only hours before had been in ecstasy when the former Beatle autographed an album for him.

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Authorities said the slaying of Lennon, who died in a hail of bullets Monday night, was a ''premeditated execution.''

Mark David Chapman, 25, of Honolulu, a pudgy amateur musician who had been seen hanging around outside Lennon's home for three days, was charged with the shooting in Manhattan Criminal Court.

Chapman, who friends said was an ardent Beatles fan, reportedly carried dozens of Beatles tapes -- and a snub-nosed revolver -- as he loitered outside the Dakota, the luxurious West Side co-op where Lennon lived with his wife, Yoko Ono.

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The gunman's motives remained a mystery, but reports Tuesday painted Chapman as a quiet, suicidal young man who had trouble keeping a job and identified obsessively with Lennon.

''He is a very confused individual,'' said his attorney.

Lennon, 40, signed his latest record album for Chapman hours before the shooting, as the singer was leaving the Dakota for a recording session. Fans of the ex-Beatle maintained a constant vigil outside the building, and were often rewarded with autographs or bits of conversation with Lennon.

GALLERY: The 31st anniversary of John Lennon's death

An amateur photographer who was with the fans said Chapman was ecstatic when Lennon signed the record.

''Mark said: 'John Lennon signed my album. Nobody in Hawaii will believe me,''' Paul Goresh reported in a copyright story in the New York Daily News.

When Lennon left, Goresh said, Chapman urged him to stay and wait for the singer's return.

''He said: 'I'd wait. You never know if you'll see him again ... It's possible he could go to Spain or somewhere tonight and you'll never get your album signed.''

When Chapman left his last job as a security guard-maintenance man, he signed out as ''John Lennon,'' said Mike Bird, who replaced the suspect at the job in a Waikiki vacation apartment.

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In another job as a guard for a utility, Chapman reportedly taped Lennon's name over his identification badge.

Chapman had no criminal record, authorities said, but his defense attorney said the suspect had a history of suicide attempts and was hospitalized for mental problems in Honolulu in 1977.

Lennon was shot four times with a .38-caliber revolver Monday night when he returned with his wife Yoko Ono from a recording session to their home in the exclusive Dakota Apartments on Manhattan's Central Park West.

Chapman, dressed in black slacks, a tan V-neck sweater, a white undershirt and black wire-rim glasses, was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court Tuesday afternoon. The pudgy, dark-haired suspect stood mute to charges of second-degree murder.

Twenty uniformed officers, including five with metal detectors, encircled him. In a city filled with grief-stricken Lennon fans, one officer said, police feared Chapman could become an assassination target -- ''another Jack Ruby.''

Judge Martin Rettinger placed Chapman under a suicide watch in the psychiatric ward of Bellevue Hospital where he faced 30 days of observation. The suspect has attempted suicide on several occasions, once with the gun used to kill Lennon, said his attorney, Herbert Adlerberg.

The charge against Chapman is punishable by a prison term of 25 years to life upon conviction. It is the highest possible charge under New York law because first-degree murder calls for the death penalty, which is not currently in effect in the state.

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Lennon, who owned mansions in suburban Long Island and Palm Beach, Fla., and a dairy farm in upstate New York, recently estimated his worth at $150 million. In an interview on the day of his death, Lennon had characterized himself and his generation as survivors, adding the world had changed: ''It's a whole massive change, and we're going into an unknown future.''

Fellow Beatle Ringo Starr flew to New York Monday to comfort Miss Ono, and was mobbed by screaming fans as he arrived at the Dakota.

Lead guitarist George Harrison was reported en route to New York. In London, Paul McCartney, who with Lennon produced more hit songs than any other modern composer, said, ''John was a great man who will be sadly missed by the world, but remembered for his unique contribution to art.''

Hundreds of fans -- many of them weeping -- paid tribute from behind crowded barricades outside his apartment.

In Washington, President Carter said he was ''distressed by the senseless manner'' of the slaying and praised Lennon for his ''brash and earnest'' spirit that helped ''create the music and mood of our time.''

President-elect Ronald Reagan, who was in New York, called the murder ''a great tragedy.'' Mayor Edward Koch said, ''Every death by violence is a trauma to society. The death of someone of John Lennon's stature intensifies this trauma.''

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Kim Hogrefe, the assistant D.A. assigned to the case, told reporters Chapman had planned the killing well in advance.

''He borrowed a substantial sum of money -- of which $2,000 was found on him -- for the purpose of coming to New York City to do what he has done,'' Hogrefe said. Adlerberg described his client as ''a very confused individual.''

''This defendant is not fully cognizant of what is happening to him at this time,'' he said. ''He doesn't understand himself.''

Asked outside court if Chapman had committed the slaying, Adlerberg responded, ''He did shoot him, yes.'' Asked if Chapman used drugs, Adlerberg said, ''We talked about that but I'm not at liberty to say.''

Police sources said Chapman had been loitering around the Dakota -- the elegant West Side cooperative where the movie ''Rosemary's Baby'' was filmed -- for at least three days and possibly more.

Fans are a common sight around the Dakota, the home of a number of celebrities, and his presence did not attract any attention.

''I just shot John Lennon,'' Chapman allegedly told a doorman, tossing his gun aside as the wounded singer lay bleeding in the Dakota vestibule.

He reportedly stood by passively, reading a copy of ''Catcher in the Rye,'' until Lennon's body was rushed to the hospital and police arrived to arrest him.

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Adlerberg told the court Chapman borrowed $2,500 from a credit union affiliated with his ex-employer -- Castle Hospital in Honolulu -- to come to New York.

When Chapman was arraigned, Hogrefe told the judge the suspect had a long criminal record, including previous arrests for armed robbery, abduction and possession of a controlled substance.

Later, however, an embarrassed spokeswoman at the Manhattan District Attorney's office said a computer foul-up had confused with another man who has the same name and birth date.

Friends of Chapman from Decatur, Ga., where Chapman attended high school, remembered him as a quiet, religious rock-and-roll musician who ''played Beatles' records all the time.''

Police said Chapman called out Lennon's name as the singer emerged from his car about 11 p.m. Monday. The gunman then allegedly crouched into a combat stance and fired five times. Lennon staggered up the steps of the Dakota before he collapsed, his blood splattered over the building's facade.

Chief Medical Examiner Elliot Gross said his autopsy of the slain rock star showed "Lennon was hit with four bullets, two of which entered the left back, passed through the left chest, striking the left lung and exited from the body."

As Chapman was ushered through the criminal justice system Monday, hundreds of fans of the late singer held an impromptu wake outside the Dakota, listening to Beatles music, weeping and singing softly in the light rain.

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The fans mobbed Ringo Starr, however, as the drawn and red-eyed drummer emerged from the Dakota with actress Barbara Bach Tuesday morning. A phalanx of guards barely managed to rush the diminutive Starr to a car while the crowd pushed around him.

Disc jockeys around the country celebrated Lennon's accomplishments with hours of Beatles music while their switchboards buzzed with calls from fans wanting to talk about their late hero.

Miss Ono said there would be no funeral service for her husband, but that all his friends and fans would be invited later this week to a silent vigil.

''John loved and prayed for the human race. Please pray the same for him,'' she said.

Record stores reported they were mobbed by Lennon fans, who lined up early to wait for a chance to purchase his albums. Warner Brothers, distributors of Lennon's latest record, ''Double Fantasy,'' said they were out of stock by 9 a.m.

''Double Fantasy,'' which features a hit single, ''Starting Over,'' was a comeback for Lennon, who had not equalled McCartney's success as a solo performer. The album, including a second record by Miss Ono, celebrates the joys of family life and fatherhood.

Lennon's producer said the singer was to finish work Tuesday on another album.

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Hours before his death, Lennon was interviewed by David Sholin of RKO Radio Specials, and talked about his life and his generation of '60's fans.

''You have to give thanks to God or whatever it is up there for the fact we all survived,'' he said. ''We all survived Vietnam, Watergate -- the tremendous upheavals in the whole world."

Hours after the shooting, hundreds of Beatles faithful still milled on the sidewalk.

''It hurts in our hearts,'' said a 19-year-old college student who drove from Reading, Pa., Monday night to join a crowd of 500 mourners that gathered outside the Lennon home after the shooting.

''All he ever did was entertain... He lived for peace and love and what did he get? Nothing,'' Terry said.

During the long vigil that followed the slaying, rock fans sang, ''All we are saying is give peace a chance.'' And there was a soft murmur of applause when a police officer agreed to take a bouquet of white flowers from a young woman and place it on the metal gateway to the building.

''When people ask to recreate the mood of the 1960s,'' American composer Aaron Copland once said, ''they will play Beatles' music.''

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With Starr, McCartney and Harrison, rhythm guitarist Lennon transformed rock 'n' roll, selling more than 250 million records and convincing a generation of teen-agers to grow their hair long and putting their English hometown, Liverpool, on the map.

Lennon and McCartney together wrote more hit songs than any composer in modern history.

''He was a genius in his way and together with McCartney gave the world a good deal of the music it will still be playing in the next century,'' said London music publisher Dick James who helped the Beatles early in their career.

The Beatles disbanded in 1971, amid talk of recriminations, and throughout the '70s, a Beatles reunion was always just a rumor.

Lennon divorced his first wife Cynthia Powell in 1969, and married Ms. Ono, who was pregnant with their son Sean. They lived in seclusion in New York for several years until a messy deportation hearing put them on the front page of the news again.

The U.S. government contended that Lennon, a British subject, was ineligible for permanent residence because of a 1968 drug conviction in Britain. Lennon eventually was allowed to stay.

''We were the hip ones of the 60's, but the world is not like the 60's,'' Lennon said in the interview with RKO radio just hours before he was slain. ''But we're still all here. While there's life, there's hope.''

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