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The Death and Life of John Lennon

Failure attaches itself to some people like an odor, and finally Mark David Chapman carried his failure with him to the sunny reaches of Hawaii. We know that in May 1977 he applied for a Hawaii driver’s license, describing himself as five-foot-eleven, 170 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes. The 1980 Chapman is at least 30 pounds heavier. He was living then in Kaneohe, a bedroom community on the windward side of Oahu, about eight miles from Honolulu. Here the details blur: He appears to have checked himself into the Harold Castle Memorial Hospital, a small Seventh-Day Adventist institution nestled in a banana grove at the foot of the Koolau Mountains. The hospital has a catchall “human relations” unit to handle a wide range of psychiatric disorders, and there are some reports that Chapman came there because he was suicidal. (Moore saw him in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1978, and he told Moore that he had suffered a nervous breakdown.) By August 1977, Chapman was working at Castle Memorial as a maintenance man, mopping floors, tending the grounds, and then, after Paul Tharp discovered that the young man had a talent for art, he was transferred to the printshop. Most of the work was routine printing of hospital forms, but he also designed some posters. Sometimes, during lunch breaks, he would show his slides, proud of his travels.

By Christmas 1977, he was living in an apartment at 112 Puwa Place in a development called Aikahi Gardens, in Kaneohe, overlooking the Marine Corps Air Station, with a view of the Pacific beyond. The units had Mexican tile floors and, overhead, ceiling fans, and Chapman rented one with three bedrooms and then went around introducing himself as Mark from Fort Worth, Texas. His neighbors were mainly new arrivals, what Hawaiians call malihinis, or transients from the marines. Most were like Chapman in other ways; rootless, on the move, always searching for the one perfect place.

Meanwhile, other events were crowding in on Mark David Chapman. Nearly three years ago, his parents had divorced; he was reported to have been very upset by the news. His mother soon arrived in Honolulu; she was never to leave. During the same period, he met a young Japanese-American woman named Gloria Abe. She had graduated from Kailua High School in 1978 and gone to work in the Waters World travel agency in Honolulu. Chapman met her there. She was then a pretty, gentle girl who weighed about 90 pounds, and was described by a friend as “one of the world’s nicest people.”

They were married on June 2, 1979, at the Kailua United Methodist Church in a ceremony whose details were supervised by Chapman himself. One of the wedding guests remembered. “One funny thing we noticed was that he wouldn’t allow any chairs. He wouldn’t allow anyone sitting. Another thing that really kind of got me was that although it was a formal wedding his mother came in sports clothes. Mark and his mother seemed very close.”

After the marriage, Mark kept Gloria away from her old friends, then got her to quit her job at the travel agency, where she had risen to assistant manager. She took a job in the accounting department at Castle Hospital. In November 1979, Chapman decided to quit his hospital job, and the following month went to work as a $4-an-hour security man at 444 Nahua Street, a palm-encircled condominium between Waikiki Beach and the Ala Wai Canal.

In April, the couple moved to Apartment D2107 on the twenty-first floor of the Diamond Head tower of the Kukui Plaza condominium. They paid $425 a month for one bedroom. Each day Chapman went to work on the 7 A.M.–to–4 P.M. shift at Nahua Street. One of the people he worked for was a man named Joe Bustamante, who said later what everybody else said about Mark David Chapman. It’s what people always say when you knock on their doors after a homicide: “He was quiet. He never did anything unusual to make you think he would do something like that. You never had any trouble with him. I would have hired him again.” He thought for a moment. “He was a normal, regular guy. Everybody liked him.”

One day in October, Chapman told Bustamante he wanted to quit because he had to make a trip to London. He worked his last shift on October 23, breaking in his replacement, a tall, russet-haired man named Mike Bird. That day he walked through his rounds with another name on a piece of paper taped over his brown-and-white plastic name tag. He also signed that name into the building’s logbook, in high, angular letters that appeared to have been crossed out. The name was John Lennon.


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