John Lennon: Murder Without A Trial review – ‘My work won’t be finished until I’m dead and buried’… The haunting words of the Beatle’s final interview on the day he was killed, writes CHRISTOPHER STEVENS

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Written By Maya Cantina
  • Lennon: Murder Without A Trial by Apple TV+ will premier on December 6 

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The casual confidence of John Lennon’s last prediction, on the day he was murdered, is so tragically ironic, it makes the skin prickle.

‘My work won’t be finished,’ the former Beatle told RKO radio producer Laurie Kaye, taping his final interview, ‘until I’m dead and buried – and I hope that’s a long, long time.’

In a three-part documentary released this week, John Lennon: Murder Without A Trial (Apple TV+), Kaye describes how a pushy, distracted fan badgered them outside Lennon’s apartment block in New York that day in December 1980. Ignoring him, she turned and walked away.

The man, a 25-year-old from Hawaii named Mark David Chapman, demanded an autograph from Lennon – then waited till the star returned that evening and shot him dead, firing five bullets.

The story of Lennon’s murder is so well known that it’s extraordinary to realise how much has never been revealed till now and how many people have not been asked for their testimony. 

For the first time, Jay Hastings, the concierge of the Dakota building where Lennon and his family lived, gives his account – describing how Lennon ran a few steps past him gasping, ‘I’m shot,’ blood streaming from his mouth, before collapsing.

John Lennon arrives at the Times Square recording studio ‘The Hit Factory’ in 1980

Richard Peterson, taxi driver, in

Richard Peterson, taxi driver, in “John Lennon: Murder Without A Trial”

Pictured: Elliot Mintz in the upcoming documentary

Pictured: Elliot Mintz in the upcoming documentary

The man, a 25-year-old from Hawaii named Mark David Chapman (pictured), demanded an autograph from Lennon ¿ then waited till the star returned that evening and shot him dead

The man, a 25-year-old from Hawaii named Mark David Chapman (pictured), demanded an autograph from Lennon – then waited till the star returned that evening and shot him dead 

Narrated by Kiefer Sutherland, the documentary’s title hints at the reason for this: Chapman pleaded guilty to murder, surprising his own defence team, who expected him to claim he was ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’.

As a result, he never stood trial. But the insanity is clear. One New York detective relates how he accompanied Chapman to the toilet at the precinct station: ‘I said to him, ‘Do you know what you’ve done here?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I killed myself, I’m John Lennon’.’

To his defence team, he spun a different fantasy, saying he thought that the murder would transform him into the hero of his favourite book: cynical teenager Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye.

And to the judge, explaining why he was changing his plea to guilty, he claimed God had spoken to him in his cell.

In his first TV interview, speaking from prison to talk show host Larry King in 1991, Chapman talked about himself in the third person.

Even as he insisted he was now mentally healthy, he seemed deranged, and he has never been released from prison.

Recollections of friends from adolescence come closest to explaining the source of his psychotic delusions. Chapman was beaten brutally by his father as a child, and sought escape, using drugs including opium, LSD and mescaline, and also becoming a born-again Christian. 

But other kinds of insanity were on display. One of Lennon’s close friends, DJ Elliot Mintz, describes how distressing it was for widow Yoko Ono to have crowds besieging the Dakota building, singing Lennon’s songs, as if that would bring him back.

Strangest of all, we hear tapes of Chapman’s conversations with his lawyers for the first time, as he undergoes hypnosis and relives the moment of the murder.

That feels eerily like seeing the killing itself.

ᴀʀᴛɪᴄʟᴇ ꜱᴏᴜʀᴄᴇ

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