Home / Top Story / Dec. 8th is 35th grim anniversary of John Lennon’s murder

Dec. 8th is 35th grim anniversary of John Lennon’s murder

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Saturday, December 5, 2015, 11:13 PM

Singer-songwriter and political activist John Lennon is seen Dec. 8, 1980 in New York City, the day Lennon was shot.ASSOCIATED PRESS

Singer-songwriter and political activist John Lennon is seen Dec. 8, 1980 in New York City, the day Lennon was shot.

Officer Tony Palma’s first encounter with John Lennon came inside an Upper West Side coffee shop, just around the corner from the ex-Beatle’s apartment in the Dakota.

“On 73rd St.,” Palma recalled last week. “He used to go there with his wife. One day, the coffee shop owner introduced me to John. Nice guy.”

The second meeting between the cop and the chart-topping rocker was their last. Palma was answering a radio call for shots fired at the renowned building.

He found Lennon lying facedown in a vestibule outside, blood pouring from four bullets fired by a deranged fan. The man who once told the world that all you need is love was unrecognizable.

Officer Peter Cullen had arrived seconds earlier on the night of Dec. 8, 1980, to find the Dakota’s doorman shouting in horror and disbelief.

“He just shot Lennon!” the man screamed. “He just shot Lennon!”

The shooter was Mark David Chapman, who stood silently nearby watching the surreal scene unfold. The shooter had stilled the voice of a generation, with pacifist Lennon silenced in a most violent way.

Palma and his partner, Herb Frauenberger, reacted instinctively. Palma grabbed the gurgling victim’s arms, and Frauenberger seized his legs. “Like weightlifters,” recalled Cullen. “They carried him to a radio car, threw him in the backseat.”

Palma never got a good look at the man’s face before the car rushed downtown to Roosevelt Hospital.

It was just before 11 p.m. As doctors worked frantically to save Lennon’s life, the hospital Muzak played softly in the background: The Beatles’ “All My Loving.”

Within 15 minutes, John Lennon — husband, father, peacenik, songwriter, icon, artist, Beatle — was pronounced dead. He was 40 years old.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono shortly before Lennon was shot and killed in New York, NY in December, 1980. Brenda Chase/Getty Images

John Lennon and Yoko Ono shortly before Lennon was shot and killed in New York, NY in December, 1980.

Enlarge A group shot of the Beatles during a performance on Granada TV's Late Scene Extra television show filmed in Manchester, England on November 25, 1963. Fox Photos/Getty Images

A group shot of the Beatles during a performance on Granada TV’s Late Scene Extra television show filmed in Manchester, England on November 25, 1963.

Enlarge

Imagine this: The kid from Liverpool is now gone almost as long as he lived. The 35th grim anniversary of Lennon’s murder arrives Tuesday.

Lennon’s death came in the midst of a musical rebirth that followed five years as a “househusband” raising son Sean. He collaborated with wife Yoko Ono on the just-released “Double Fantasy” LP, with each recording their own songs.

It was Palma who drove a distraught Ono to the hospital in 1980, lending her a quarter to call music mogul David Geffen from a pay phone.

It was only then, as Frauenberger emerged from the ER, that the enormity of the night struck him.

“My partner says, ‘Do you know who we just brought in? John Lennon,’” Palma recounted.

Exported.;MARIO CABRERA/AP

New York City police hold spectators behind barricades, in this Dec. 9, 1980, file photo, the day after former Beatle John Lennon was shot and killed in front his residence at the Dakota in New York.

Lennon’s 82-year-old widow prefers to focus on Oct. 9, the date of her husband’s birth, rather than the grim anniversary that arrives each December.

Fans gathered this year in Strawberry Fields across from the Dakota to mark Lennon’s would-be 75th birthday.

Lennon’s last day started with a 2 p.m. photo shoot for Rolling Stone, with acclaimed photographer Annie Leibovitz joining John and Yoko at the Lennons’ apartment.

As the couple left the Dakota three hours later for an evening at the Record Plant recording studio, Lennon signed a copy of “Double Fantasy” for Chapman. Lennon and Ono then headed off to work on her new single, “Walking on Thin Ice.”

The chubby, bespectacled Chapman waited patiently for six hours outside the Dakota for the couple to return.

“Mr. Lennon!” he shouted — and then opened fire as Ono watched in horror.

As Lennon bled nearby, the killer stood silently reading a paperback copy of the J.D. Salinger classic “The Catcher in the Rye.”

Chapman turned 60 this year. He remains behind bars in the Wende Correctional Facility in upstate Alden, six hours away from W. 72nd St.

The shooter has come up for parole eight times, most recently last year. He’s due back before the Parole Board next August.

Cullen and his partner, Steve Spiro, took Chapman into custody at the Dakota. The killer was cuffed and loaded into the backseat of their patrol car for the 10-block ride to the 20th Precinct stationhouse.

“He actually apologized to us for ruining our night,” Cullen recalled, a tone of disbelief in his voice despite the decades. “I turned around and said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. You just threw your whole life away.’ ”

Chapman was still clutching his book. Inside was a handwritten inscription: “This is my statement.”

Palma recalled that his 10 p.m.-to-6 a.m. shift was typically characterized by burglaries, robberies and prostitution busts. On this night, everything changed with a radio call as he drove along Columbus Ave.: “Shots fired. Man shot. One W. 72nd St.”

Palma recognized the Dakota address, and the two cops were on their way. Palma wound up sitting with Ono in the hospital as they waited for word about Lennon.

At one point, doctors gave the cop some of Lennon’s jewelry to pass along to Ono. A doctor finally broke the unthinkable news to the widow about 45 minutes after they arrived.

“When the doctor told her John was dead, she just threw herself on the ground and started banging her head on the floor,” recalled Palma.

Palma and his partner later drove Ono home, with Geffen riding along in the patrol car. A horde of media and mourners gathered near the shooting scene, and the cops used the W. 73rd St. entrance — near the coffee shop — to slip Ono inside.

The cop returned to the precinct, where Chapman was in custody. At one point, Palma escorted the murder suspect to the bathroom.

“Do you realize what you just did?” Palma finally asked.

“And he said, ‘I just killed myself. I am John Lennon,’ ” Palma recounted. “At that point, I felt like throwing him out the window.”

Chapman pleaded guilty to the killing, and Palma left the NYPD — eventually landing in New Mexico. Cullen, who retired to Florida, says he’s told the story of that night dozens of times.

“It’s a piece of history,” said Cullen. That’s why you and I are talking right now.”

lmcshane@nydailynews.com

Tags:
john lennon ,
yoko ono ,
sean lennon ,
mark david chapman
Prepare yourself today for the fields of tomorrow


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