John Lennon – 30 Years Gone

John Lennon signs LP for Mark David Chapman

John Lennon – 30 Years Gone

RIP December 8, 1980 – 2010

On December 8, 1980 I was in Ocean City, New Jersey, making pizza on the boardwalk at Mack & Mancos and writing a weekly music column for the Atlantic City Sun, a now defunct weekl. The Sun was then owned by Jeffrey Douglas, who was hosting an office Christmas party at his Linwood home the following night after the paper was out on the street.

I forget where I was when I first heard that John Lennon was shot and killed, but one of the first things I did when I learned about it was to call my college friend Kathy Engro, who lived right across the street from the Dakota apartments where Lennon was shot.

Kathy was a year behind me at the University of Dayton (Ohio), where we were both radicalized by the Vietnam War and the movement for educational reform. My freshman year Kevin Kief was the student body president, a tall, thin, long haired radical hippie, who went on to become a chief assistant to the spiritual advisor to the United Nations.

There were two other student body presidents after Kevin who were also pretty radical, but then Kathy Engro was elected, I think probably the first women to be in that position. Her boyfriend, John Judge, was also a radical student who had graduated a few years earlier but stayed around to give the administration trouble, or a conscience.

After graduation Kathy moved to New York City where she worked and lived with a few other young women in a bachelorette apartment on the edge of Central Park, where I visited her a few times, even sleeping on her couch on one occasion.

When I learned that John Lennon had been murdered, I recalled how one day while I was visiting her she remarked that Lennon and Yoko Ono lived across the street in the Dakota apartments, which you could see outside one of the windows of her apartment. I remembered she said that they frequently saw Lennon get out of cabs and limos in front of the Dakota, and sometimes they even waved to each other as they naturally passed each other as neighbors on the street.

But she said she never bothered Lennon by stopping him to talk, and she thought that he appreciated that, and was one of the reasons he liked living in that neighborhood, where his celebrity status was not played up on the street.

So I called Kathy in New York City from my Ocean City, N. J. home and got her on the phone. When I asked her what was happening, I could hear sirens and large crowd noises in the background, and she said that Lennon was dead, murdered right outside, and there were huge crowds forming on the street outside her window.

She was pretty excited, though quite sad and distraught, and began to explain, as it sounded like she had put it into words before, “I had just got home myself, I had gotten out of a cab and was going into my apartment building when I saw him pull up.”

She said that just as she got off the elevator on her floor she heard a gunshot, and went into my apartment and opened the window and watched the scene outside.

I got as much detail as I could out of her and wrote it all down in my notes and called my editor on the phone and asked if I could still get it in the next day’s paper. This was years before computers, so I had to write it, type it up and drive it over to the newspaper office in Absecon, which I did.

Although we were a weekly, the paper went to press that night so it was in the next day’s edition and for once I was on the same deadline as the bigger dailies.

They made it a front page story with a nice rendering of Lennon, and I was real proud of it, and didn’t even notice until someone at the party apologized, as they had forgotten to put my name on the byline.

I knew I wrote it though, and others who read it said it was a really good story, as one person noted it was better than the New York Times’ first news story about the murder because it contained an ear witness report as well as an eyewitness account of the arrest of Mark David Chapman.

Although I had placed Chapman in the psycho-killer category, I later learned that the Dakota doorman was a Cuban, a Bay of Pigs veteran who had been on the CIA payroll, and may have been somehow implicated in the murder. His very presence there certainly made the psycho-killer motive more of a cover for a sophisticated political assassination. John Hinckley’s emergence as a psycho-killer-political-assassin wannabe made this idea more feasible.

Another fact I didn’t know at the time was Lennon’s resurgence as a political activist, a new radicalization that was fostered by his hearing some new music that inspired him to return to the recording studio and to begin a new period in his multi-facited career.

Then I heard a radio interview with the author of a book on the FBI’s Lennon files, which documented the extent they went out of their way to intimidate Lennon and keep him from living in America.

The more I think about it, the more important it seems that these political assassinations should be studied and understood, so they can be counter-acted and prevented from ever happening again.

William Kelly




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