|Rethinking John Lennon’s Assassination|
The FBI’s War on Rock Stars
By Salvador Astucia
Author’s Personal Thoughts
John Lennon was one of the most beloved and influential people who lived in the Twentieth Century. Although his only claim to fame was singing, playing guitar and writing songs, once he achieved superstar status with his rock group, the Beatles, he used his enormous celebrity to promote the cause of peace. He therefore became a threat to those who profit from war. When the world learned of his murder on December 8, 1980, the outpouring of love and grief for the slain Beatle was overwhelming. In life, John Lennon held no position of direct power. He was not an elected official. He was not a president, a king, or religious leader. He led no crusade, formed no political party. He was merely an entertainer who spoke openly about issues he believed were important. Many have compared the world’s reaction to his death to that exhibited when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
I personally was so grief-stricken by Lennon’s sudden death that I became physically ill and quickly developed an ear infection which required antibiotics. I recall stopping at a pharmacy to get my prescription filled, clearly grief-stricken and sick, but I stood in line waiting to pay the cashier for the prescription drugs I needed. Beside me in another line, I heard a young man—a few years older than me—whistling I’ve Just Scene a Face by the Beatles. I knew I was not alone in my pain. For years, I had difficulty reading about his murder. It was so painful to think of someone I felt was my brother being cut down so violently, so brutally. But time has a way of healing wounds. As I grew older I watched some of my loved ones pass on, which gave me strength to reflect on John Lennon’s murder and other tragic events which occurred in my life, but beyond my personal circle of friends and family.
In the final chapter of my book, Opium Lords, (April 2002) I suggested that Lennon was the victim of a government sponsored assassination. Admittedly I focused mainly on motive rather than details of the case because I had not devoted much time to researching the rock star’s murder when I wrote Opium Lords. Nevertheless, I was intrigued that Lennon’s younger son, Sean, had publicly stated his belief that his father was likely assassinated by the United States government. In recent years, Sean reportedly made the following statement:
A short while ago I decided to research John Lennon’s murder in depth. As I suspected Sean was absolutely correct. There was a conspiracy. The United States government had reason to silence John Lennon. I will discuss motive shortly, but for now, let us focus on the crime scene itself. Regardless of motive or the accused killer’s state of mind, I will demonstrate that Mark David Chapman is completely innocent and should therefore be released from prison as soon as possible. Here is a brief summary of my findings:
Fear of Assassination
One of the reasons the Beatles stopped touring in 1966 was because they feared John would be assassinated. On July 29, 1966, Datebook published John’s interview with British journalist Maureen Cleave. Datebook had quoted John out of context, where he stated that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus." The American magazine’s misrepresentation of the innocent statement created anti-Beatle reactions around America, particularly in the South. On August 12, 1966, just before the Beatles next tour began, John held a press conference in Chicago to explain his comments about Christianity and apologize. On August 19, 1966, the Beatles performed at a Memphis concert and someone let off a firecracker. The entire Beatles’ entourage reportedly looked at John, thinking he had been shot.2 Tony Barrow was public relations manager for the Beatles at that time and witnessed the incident. The following is an excerpt from an interview Barrow gave years later where he discussed John’s remarks about Christianity, the Beatles last tour, and the exploding firecracker in Memphis:
That incident apparently affected John deeply for the rest of his life. Two years later he wrote a rather bizarre song entitled "Happiness is a Warm Gun," which appeared on the Beatles White Album. But once you understand about the firecracker incident in Memphis in 1966, the song seems rather down to earth.
John Lennon - background
John Winston Lennon was born October 9, 1940 in Oxford Street Maternity Hospital, in the port city of Liverpool, England, during a lull in the WWII bombing of the city. John was the only child of Julia Stanley (b. March 12, 1914 – d. July 15, 1958) and Alfred Lennon (b. December 14, 1912 – d. April 1, 1976) who were married in Liverpool on December 3, 1938. John had two sons: Julian Lennon (b. April 8, 1963) and Sean Lennon (b. October 9, 1975), the elder son from the union with first wife, Cynthia Powell; the younger son from the union with second wife, Yoko Ono. John had five half-siblings (three maternal half-sisters and two paternal half-brothers).
|John & Yoko|
His half-sisters were Julia Dykins Baird (b. 1947), Jackie Dykins (b. 1949), and Victoria Elizabeth Williams* (b. June 19, 19454)—Julia and Jackie being the offspring of mother Julia and common law husband, John "Bobby" Dykins (b. 1918 - d. 1966); Victoria being the offspring of mother Julia and Taffy Williams. John’s half-brothers were David Henry Lennon (b. February 1969) and Robin Francis Lennon (b. October 1973) from the union of his father and second wife Pauline Jones. John never met his two half-brothers (his father’s sons) who were easily young enough to be John’s sons. John apparently never knew Victoria either; she was reportedly adopted by a Norwegian Captain and his family.
John’s father—Alfred "Freddy" Lennon†—was in the Merchant Navy when John was born and consequently was at sea for long stretches of time. World War II pushed the young couple apart and eventually they divorced. John was raised by his mother Julia’s sister, Mary Elizabeth "Mimi" Stanley (b. 1903 - d. December 6, 1992), and her husband George Toogood Smith (b. 1903 - d. June 5, 1955). John grew up at the Smith’s upper middle-class home, a semi-detached house, known as "Mendips" at 251 Menlove Avenue, Woolton. The Smiths had no children of their own.
John lost contact with his father but remained close to his mother, who visited him often at Menlove Avenue. John frequently visited Julia and her common law husband, John "Bobby" Dykins, and their two daughters, Julia and Jackie, at the family’s Liverpool flat. John experienced two traumatic events before he reached adulthood. When he was fourteen, John’s Uncle George died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage. George was 52. Three years later, when John was 17, Julia was killed in a traffic accident when an off duty policeman ran her down as she walked home from Mimi's house. Julia was 44. John never fully recovered emotionally from the shock of losing his mother so tragically, but he transferred his pain into music and inspirational poetic lyrics which would capture the imagination of the world a few years later. That’s really the essence of all art: channeling the artist’s emotions into a creative outlet. And John’s singing voice—when in top form—seemed to radiate from records directly to the listeners’ hearts. He didn’t have strong technical technique; mainly raw, uninhibited emotion. And the sound of his voice was totally unique.
Years later, John’s half-sister Julia Dykins Baird described her mother’s musical and creative influence over John:
John eventually migrated from the banjo to the guitar and became friends with two other guitar players, Paul McCartney (b. June 18, 1942), George Harrison (b. February 25, 1943 - d. November 29, 2001). By 1955, the three teenagers were enamored with the new American musical craze, rock ‘n’ roll, and imitated the genre’s leader, Elvis Presley. Eventually the threesome picked up drummer Richard Starkey (aka, Ringo Starr; b. July 7, 1940) and evolved into the Beatles, the most influential rock group of the Twentieth Century. In 1964, "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "Love Me Do," and "She Loves You" stayed at the top of the American charts for months, simultaneous with Capitol Records’ sudden release of nearly 60 Beatles recordings—packaged in five albums—to the American public.* Consequently, their music dominated the airwaves for nearly two years and ushered in Beatlemania, the mass hysteria among their teenage fans across the globe. The songwriting team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney epitomized rock creativity in the Sixties. John added to the Beatles’ mystique with the publication of two humorous books, "A Spaniard in the Works" and "In His Own Write."
On August 23, 1962, John married artist Cynthia Powell (b. September 10, 1939). On April 8, 1963, the couple had a son, Julian Lennon. In July 1964, the young family moved to the "Kenwood" mansion in Weybridge, England. But fame, fortune and constant touring took its toll on the marriage. John and Cynthia divorced on November 8, 1968. On March 20, 1969, John married avant garde Japanese artist Yoko Ono (b. February 18, 1933). The couple quickly became outspoken critics of America’s military involvement in Vietnam. John began recording with Yoko, apart from the Beatles, in the Plastic Ono Band. They recorded memorable anti-war songs such as "Give Peace a Chance," "Instant Karma," "Happy Christmas (War is Over)," and "Imagine."
John also began to express political opinions regarding Britain’s persecution of the Irish. His empathy for the Irish probably came from his hometown, Liverpool, a city closely linked to Ireland culturally and geographically. The famous North-England port city is about 120 miles east of Dublin, separated by the Irish Sea. A high level of Irish immigration to Liverpool occurred during and after the Irish potato famine of 1845 through 1848. Consequently, many of the Irish customs became part of Liverpool’s culture, most notably the prominence of the Roman Catholic Church in a Protestant nation historically opposed to Catholicism and known for its oppression of Irish Catholics.6 Like many Liverpudlians, John was raised Roman Catholic, and consequently, was viewed as a second class citizen within the British social order. In fact, John’s heritage was apparently Irish-Catholic on both the maternal and paternal sides of his family. According to Edward MacLysaght’s book, The Surnames of Ireland, "Lennon" is an Irish surname from Counties Cork, Fermanagh, and Galway.7 "Stanley" (the surname of John’s mother) is a common English name which—according to MacLysaght—"is on record in Ireland since the Thirteenth Century, mainly in the Counties Louth and Meath" and "is now fairly numerous in both Leinster and parts of Munster."8
John’s Irish heritage would certainly explain his innate rebellious nature and his eventual public positions on several Irish political struggles. Contrary to popular belief, John’s opinions about Ireland were probably sincere convictions he held his entire life, being the apparent descendant of Irish immigrants who migrated to Liverpool. Ireland was under British colonial rule for centuries, but became a sovereign, independent, democratic state in 1937, although Northern Ireland remains under British rule to this day. In 1972, John wrote and recorded a song, "Sunday Bloody Sunday,"* which describes how British soldiers shot and killed thirteen Irish civilian demonstrators in the Northern Ireland city of Derry on January 30, 1972.9 Sunday Bloody Sunday appeared on John’s 1972 album, Some Time In New York City. On the same album was "The Luck of the Irish," co-written by John and Yoko, which discusses how the British have persecuted the Irish for a thousand years. Although these songs are considered highly political by many, they are quite similar to other Irish popular songs about British atrocities in Ireland, most notably Pete St. John’s "The Fields of Athenry" which has become a de facto national anthem of Ireland.
John took similar positions, not directly in support of the Irish, but in general opposition to British rule. In 1969, John became active in clearing the name of James Francis Hanratty, a British citizen tried by the British government and subsequently executed (hanged) on April 4, 1962 for the murder of Michael Gregsten (36) and the rape and attempted murder of Valerie Storie (22) on August 22, 1961. Irregularities in the Hanratty case paved the way to ending capital punishment in Britain. On December 11, 1969, John and Yoko startled a crowd of fans outside the Kensington Odeon in London at the premiére of Ringo Starr’s movie, The Magic Christian, by carrying a banner reading "Britain Murdered Hanratty." Three days later, on December 14, 1969, John and Yoko attended a speech made by Hanratty’s father at Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park, during which the elder Hanratty declared his son’s innocence.10
John was encouraged to express himself politically by his second wife, Yoko Ono. Yoko is the oldest of three children from the marriage of Eisuke Ono and Isoko Yasuda Ono. Prior to World War II, the Ono family was part of Japanese aristocracy,* but they lost everything after Japan’s defeat in World War II. Yoko said later that during the war years she was always hungry, and the family was often reduced to begging for food door to door. Eventually the Ono family acquired new wealth and social prominence in post-war Japan.
Eight years older than John, Yoko had been married twice before. Her first husband was Julliard student, Toshi Ichiyangi. Her second husband was Tony Cox. She and Cox had a daughter, Kyoko Cox (b. August 8, 1963). Many Beatle fans disliked Yoko; many accused her of breaking up the Beatles. In 1998, Yoko reflected on her life with John:
In 1971, John and Yoko moved to New York City to find Kyoko,† who was being kept away from Yoko by Cox. In June 1973, John and Yoko moved to the Dakota, a chic condominium complex in Manhattan. Shortly after moving in, John and Yoko separated for 15 months, but eventually reconciled. On October 9, 197512 (John’s 35th birthday), Yoko gave birth to a son, Sean. John spent the ensuing five years in seclusion but returned to public life in the fall of 1980. He was assassinated on December 8, 1980. A memorial to John—"Strawberry Fields"—stands in New York City's Central Park West.13
The day after John was killed, Yoko publicly asked people to send donations, in lieu of flowers, to the Spirit Foundation, then located at 1 Battery Park Plaza, New York, NY 10004. She described the Spirit Foundation as "John’s personal charitable foundation." Yoko said the foundation was set up a year earlier by John with a grant of $100,000. The Foundation’s assets were devoted to the following causes: Hale House, East Harlem Family Health Service, Covenant House, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, New York Foundling Hospital, St. Barnabas House Salvation Army, the WBAI-Pacifica radio network, the Police Athletic League and the New York City Police Department Vest Fund to purchase bulletproof vests for officers and WNET, the public television channel.14
|Strawberry Fields plaque in Central Park West|
|Imagine Memorial in Strawberry Fields, Central Park West|
|1||Geoffrey Giuliano, Lennon in America, p. 222|
|2||Two sources describe the firecracker incident in Memphis: (1) David Pritchard & Alan Lysaght, The Beatles: An Oral History, p 224; (2) Marie Clayton & Gareth Thomas, John Lennon: Unseen Archives, p 167. The date of the Memphis concert (August 19, 1966) is shown on a 1966 tour schedule on a Beatles webpage: http://www.beatles.ws/1966.htm.|
|3||David Pritchard & Alan Lysaght, The Beatles: An Oral History, p 224|
|4||Ray Coleman, Lennon: The Definitive Biography, p 88|
|5||David Pritchard & Alan Lysaght, The Beatles: An Oral History, pp. 5-6|
|6||SOURCES: (1) Encyclopedia Britannica: Liverpool; (2) American Automobile Association (AAA): Map of England, Wales & Republic of Ireland|
|7||Edward MacLysaght, The Surnames of Ireland, p 194|
|8||ibid, p 278|
|9||Remembering Bloody Sunday, http://larkspirit.com/bloodysunday/|
|10||SOURCES: (1) Ray Coleman, Lennon: The Definitive Biography, p 710; (2) Marie Clayton & Gareth Thomas, John Lennon: Unseen Archives, pp. 283, 285 & 287|
|11||Yoko Ono, Lennon Anthology: Introduction, pp. 2-5|
|12||Ray Coleman, Lennon: The Definitive Biography, pp 590 & 595. (Page 590 states that John and Yoko’s separation began in the autumn of 1973. Page 595 states that the separation lasted for 15 months.)|
|13||SOURCES (Lennon bio): (1) Ray Coleman, Lennon: The Definitive Biography; (2) Hunter Davis, The Beatles, Second Revised Edition; (3) David Pritchard & Alan Lysaght, The Beatles: An Oral History; (4) http://www.lennon.net; (5) http://www.instantkarma.com/yokobio.html|
|14||SOURCES: (1) Announcement, New York Times, Dec. 10, 1980, "Yoko Ono Asks Mourners to Give To a Foundation Lennon Favored;" (2) Paul L. Montgomery, New York Times, Dec. 11, 1980, "Suspect in Lenon’s Slaying is Put Under Suicide Watch," p B3|