As a high school student coming of age on the cusp of the Beatles generation, he was a spiritual drifter who alternated between drugs and Jesus, found brief salvation in his guitar and the lyrics of John Lennon, went on to scrap a promising career in YMCA youth work and wound up as a security guard.
Mark David Chapman, the son of a middle-class oil company credit manager, rebelled at the notion of becoming a "nowhere man," but ended up floating though life, a young man without a theme.
"He wanted to make a contribution, but he was looking for direction," said Tony Adams, 42, a YMCA official who steered Chapman, the man charged with murdering John Lennon, into summer counseling jobs during his formative years at Columbia High School in Atlanta. "When I knew him, he was the type of guy who was anything but capable of putting a bullet in somebody. Maybe he changed from the culmination of failures, from not being able to accomplish what he most wanted to in life. Whatever that was, he never found his niche." w
Like most teen-agers, he was searching for meaning. He found it for a time in the Beatles albums he played over and over in his upstairs bedroom. He tacked John Lennon's photograph from the White Album on the wall, along with photos of the other Beatles.
"But he like John the best of all because he was the most revolutionary of the Beatles," recalled a close friend from those days, Vance Hunter, now 27. t"Mark was trying to rebel. We all were. He had problems with his family, but we all did. He was always getting put on restriction or grounded for fighting with his younger sister, talking back or breaking curfew, but so was everybody else. Everybody's mother yelled at them to clean up their room."
Once, after Chapman's mother shouted at him not to lock his door, he pried it off the hinges and marched it down the stairs and leaned it against the kitchen wall. "She hit the ceiling," said Hunter, who took off work today as a county surveyor to contemplate the slaying.
"I can't understand it. Mark really idolized John Lennon," said Hunter, who was "best buddies" with Chapman until they drifted apart during his senior year. Chapman turned some of his close friends on to grass for the first time. "He liked songs like 'Helter Skelter' and 'Dear Prudence.' We'd go around humming the lyrics. Lennon was his favorite Beatle."
"He liked Lennon's cynical wit, his touch of misogyny, that [Lennon] was a woman-hater," said Gary Limuti, an Atlanta guitar player in the rock group NEWZ who palled around with Chapman in high school and beyond. "Not that Lennon was a woman-hater, but a lot of his tunes reflected a chauvinistic kind of attitude, down on woman. Mark liked that attitude."
As a pale, thin teen-ager, he wore wire-rimmed glasses, a la Lennon, a green Army jacket and faded jeans. He dropped acid for the first time one weekend in the fall of 1970, a "large dose." He was 15.
"He wasn't the same person after that," recalls a former friend. "He was just changed."
Several "bad trips" turned him on to Jesus, and he began wearing a cross to school, lugging around a Bible and a notebook inscribed "JESUS."
As a summer YMCA camp counselor, he played his guitar for kids and sang the hunting Jerry Jeff Walker song, "Mr. Bojangles," about an old soft-shoe dance man reduced to strumming in jails.
"He more or less lived that song," said Tony Adams in a television interview today. "It says a lot about him."
He worked for the YMCA as a camp counself four summers straight, confessing to young campers that "he felt he had been a bad person and wanted to turn himself around," said Adams. Then he graduated in 1973, and "floated for a year," said a friend.
Chapman went on to dabble in courses at DeKalb Junior College, then worked in supermarkets and made speeches to raise $600 for his air fare to take a job as a YMCA youth counselor in Lebanon in 1975. He was caught in the midst of the civil war, and his tour was short-lived -- two weeks.
He returned to the states frustrated and YMCA officials found him work with their Vietnamese refugee program at Fort Chaffee, Ark.
There, he met a woman named Jessica, and transferred his college credits to her alma mater, Covenant College, a strict Presbyterian school outside Chattanooga, Tenn.
Months later he dropped out and reportedly found work as a security guard in Atlanta. In August 1977, he moved to Hawaii, his mother joining him three months later after she and his father were divorced -- a divorce friends say Chapman took hard.
Chapman found work as a printer in a Hawaiian hospital, became depressed and twice attempted suicide. He was briefly elated working with elderly in a nursing home, and in June 1979 married Gloria Abe of Honolulu, who like John Lennon's wife, Yoko Ono, is of Japanese descent. They lived in a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Honolulu and worked as a $4-an-hour security guard.
Then, last Oct. 23, he quit work, signing the security log "John Lennon."
He bought a .38-caliber revolver and, with $2,000 borrowed from a hospital credit union, he set out for New York. CAPTION: Picture, Hours before slaying, John Lennon signs autograph for Mark Chapman, Newspaper reportedly paid $10,000 for this photo. Copyright (c) 1980, New York Daily News Inc. via AP