Was John Lennon’s murderer Mark Chapman a CIA hitman? Thirty years on, there’s an extraordinary new theory

By Tony Rennell|Daily Mail

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.