John Lennon's Anniversary And The American Way Of Death

It's 31 years to the day that John Lennon was gunned down by Mark Chapman in New York, what is it with America and assassination?
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John Lennon: December 8, 1980

At 5pm on the day of the shooting, Mark David Chapman was caught on camera as John Lennon signed his copy of the album Double Fantasy. Three hours later patrolmen Frauenberger and Palma of the NYPD 20th Precinct answered a "shots fired" call to 1 West 72nd Street: the Dakota Building. Arriving at the scene, they found Lennon bleeding from four .38 calibre gunshot wounds. Chapman, having gunned down the rock icon, calmly dropped his pistol and took out a copy of JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye and began to read. Lennon eventually died from major traumatic haemorrhage - he lost 80 per cent of his blood. A campaign to free Chapman has proved unsuccessful so far, despite claims by supporters that "now he has killed his Beatle he is no longer a threat to anyone else."

Malcolm X: February 21, 1965

A former pimp, drug runner and gambler, Malcolm Little converted to The Nation Of Islam in 1952 while serving a seven year stretch. Little had turned to crime after being told by a teacher that being a lawyer was "no realistic goal for a nigger". On his release, the charismatic X helped swell the Nation's members from 300 to 30,000 in less than ten years. After finding out that Elijah Muhammad had been an adulterer, devout Muslim Malcolm grew apart from the Nation and set up his own Muslim Mosque Inc. He further angered his former brothers by coming back from a trip to Mecca and announcing he had met "blue eyed, blond haired men (he) could call brothers" and began preaching integration. His house was blown up on February 14, 1965. Seven days later at the Audoubon Ballroom, Harlem, three men - Talmadge Hayer, Norman '3X' Butler and Thomas '15X' Johnson - shot Malcolm X 15 times at close range. The wounds were fatal.

John F Kennedy: November 22, 1963

The shot that was heard around the world. Or shots, as the case may be. Still the subject of well-founded conspiracy theories, the skinny as presented by the American Government reads as follows: Communist sympathiser Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, fired three shots in rapid succession from a book depository in Dallas, Texas, fatally wounding the President, who was on an open-topped car tour of the city. Before the case could come to trial, Oswald was himself gunned down by nightclub owner Jack Ruby. For a more realistic and far more engaging take on the end of Camelot, read James Elroy's masterpiece American Tabloid and all will become clear. Lyndon B Johnson succeeded JFK and stepped up America's involvement in Vietnam.

Ronald Reagan: March 30, 1981

Departing the Washington DC Hilton Hotel, the President and his entourage were stunned by a sudden, rapid burst of gunfire. Reagan was hit in the chest and nearly died on the operating table. Press Secretary James Brady was hit in the spine and crippled. Other casualties were policemen Thomas Delahanty and Secret Service Agent Tim McCarthy. Arrested on the spot was Jodie Foster obsessive John Hinckley Jr - a man who had seen Taxi Driver 12 times and claimed to be attempting to impress the actress by assassinating the President. Tried in 1982, Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity and currently resides at St Elizabeth's Psychiatric Hospital in Maryland. His unsupervised trips away from the hospital were withdrawn in 2000 when a book on Jodie Foster was found hidden in his bedroom. Ronnie recovered and went on to win his second term in office in 1984.

Arriving at the scene, they found Lennon bleeding from four .38 calibre gunshot wounds. Chapman, having gunned down the rock icon, calmly dropped his pistol and took out a copy of JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye and began to read.

Martin Luther King: April 4, 1968

Leading civil rights activist Dr Martin Luther King was gunned down on the second floor balcony of the Motel Lorraine in Memphis, Tennessee. The conviction of James Earl Ray has always been hotly disputed - Ray claimed he confessed under duress, and retracted his confession almost immediately. The case is shrouded in mystery: a King party "advance man" moved King's room from the ground floor to the second floor a day before he arrived - but King had no advance man. Tree branches which would have obscured the gunman's alleged shot from the boarding house window opposite were chopped down by the City of Memphis a day after the killing. A drunk who had seen a fleeing 'black man' altered the race of the suspect after a $30,000 debt of his was paid by the FBI. Ray died in jail in 1998.

Robert F Kennedy: June 5, 1968

Democratic front-runner Robert F Kennedy had just delivered a speech at a California Primary and was making his way through Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel kitchen when shots rang out. He was hit three times and died the following day. Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian Arab, was arrested with a gun at the scene and is still serving a life sentence in Corcoran State Prison, California. While Sirhan admits to firing shots he claims he was hypnotised and again many aspects of the assassination do not add up: Sirhan was in front of Kennedy, but the fatal shot came from behind.; some 2,410 photographs taken on the night disappeared from the LAPD; and dozens of other gunshots fired by various people on the night are unaccounted for. Sirhan's many applications for parole have been flatly refused. The hotel was recently demolished to make way for a huge Wal-Mart.

Gianni Versace: July 15, 1997

The murder of the flamboyant designer, adored by Naomi, Diana, Elton and Sting, was especially unsettling because of its outwardly random and motiveless nature. The 50 year old fashion legend had strolled back alone to his Miami villa after his usual breakfast at a favourite cafe, when the barrel of a .40 calibre pistol was pressed to his head. Andrew Cunanan pulled the trigger, ending the designer's life on the steps of his own home. Cunanan was on the FBI's 'Ten Most Wanted' list in connection with a cross-country killing spree that had already left four dead in Minnesota, Illinois and New Jersey. He naturally fled the scene of his latest murder and the biggest manhunt Florida had ever seen got underway. With the media dubbing the fugitive a "homosexual serial killer", the chase went on for eight days until, bailed up by SWAT teams on a houseboat in Miami Beach, Cunanan blew his brains out. His suicide left no real clues as to why he singled out Versace.

George C Wallace: May 15, 1972

One time segregationist Wallace was running for the Democratic Presidential ticket when he was targeted by Arthur Bremer - later the inspiration for Travis Bickle. Wallace was notorious as the Governor of Alabama who'd created and supported the intimidating atmosphere faced by the first black students when segregation was abolished in 1963 at the University of Alabama. Aware of the threat of assassination, Wallace spoke from behind an 800-pound bullet-proof podium. Bremer, wearing red, white and blue and with a newly-shaven head, led the supporters' cheers and got behind the screen shooting the governor five times. Wallace was crippled by the shots but did not die. Bremer is still serving out his 53 year sentence in Laurel Prison, Maryland. His Diary Of An Assassin was published in 1973 but revealed no grand political aims, just the desire of a little man to make a mark. "It had to be Nixon or Wallace," he stated. Wallace, meanwhile, renounced his racist views, won over the black vote and became Alabama Governor for a fourth term in 1982. He died in 1988.

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