Who Shot John Lennon and Why? Mark David Chapman's Motive For Killing Beatles Icon

Today marks 40 years since John Lennon was shot dead on his doorstep in New York City.

The Beatles icon was murdered by Mark David Chapman on December 8, 1980, in a death that shocked the world and continues to inspire grief, anger and wonder.

Upon returning home from a recording studio with his wife Yoko Ono, Lennon was shot four times in the back with a revolver and rushed to hospital where he was pronounced dead at around 11 p.m. He was 40 years old.

Chapman, then aged 25, had traveled from Hawaii and had asked Lennon to sign his copy of his latest album, Double Fantasy, earlier that day.

"I saw the photo where he signed the autograph. It was flashed on TV again and again," Ono went on to write to fans a month later in an ad she took out in major newspapers across the U.S.

Mark David Chapman
In this handout, American criminal Mark David Chapman in a mug shot taken at the Attica Correctional Facility, July 2010. Kypros/Getty Images

"Somehow that photo was harder for me to look at than the death photo," she wrote. "John was in a hurry that afternoon. He did not have to give his autograph but he did, while the man watched him, the man who was to betray John later."

When police found Chapman, he was famously reading a copy of J. D. Salinger's classic novel, "The Catcher in the Rye."

Chapman was sentenced to life in prison, where he remains today. His 12th parole hearing is scheduled for 2022.

What was Mark David Chapman's motive for killing John Lennon?

Mark David Chapman
John Lennon's assassin Mark David Chapman poses for a mugshot on December 9, 1980 in New York. Bureau of Prisons/Getty Images

Chapman, although a fan of Lennon, was upset by the Liverpool singer's views on God—he was particularly irked by a famous Lennon quip, about the Beatles being "more popular than Jesus," as well as the lyrics to later songs "Imagine" and "God."

Having recently had a religious conversion prior to his decision to kill the musician, religion and belief was the motive behind the murder.

Although he refused to talk to the press for years after his arrest, Chapman eventually supplied audiotaped interviews to journalist Jack Jones, who used them to write the 1992 investigative book "Let Me Take You Down: Inside the Mind of Mark David Chapman."

In the book, a sister of one of Chapman's friends Jan Reeves said that he was angry towards Lennon's claim about the band being more popular than Jesus, claiming that it was blasphemy.

Chapman was also said to be highly influenced by the book "John Lennon: One Day at a Time" by Anthony Fawcett, which explored Lennon's life in New York City.

John Lennon
The front pages of several newspapers are on display December 2, 1995 in New York City. The memorial to John Lennon in Central Park called, "Strawberry Fields" still continues to draw people who leave tributes to him. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Liaison) Evan Agostini/Getty Images

Chapman's wife Gloria is quoted as saying: "He was angry that Lennon would preach love and peace but yet have millions."

Chapman later said: "He told us to imagine no possessions and there he was, with millions of dollars and yachts and farms and country estates, laughing at people like me who had believed the lies and bought the records and built a big part of their lives around his music."

He was also obsessed with the concept of anti-phoniness as agonized over by the fictional protagonist of "The Catcher in the Rye," Holden Caulfield.

"Saying that he doesn't believe in Jesus and things like that. At that point, my mind was going through a total blackness of anger and rage. So I brought the Lennon book home, into this 'The Catcher in the Rye' milieu where my mindset is Holden Caulfield and anti-phoniness," Chapman said in "Let Me Take You Down: Inside the Mind of Mark David Chapman."