Becoming ‘Mrs. Mark David Chapman’: A killer’s wife explains why she stayed

Gloria Chapman says she struggled with whether to divorce her husband after he murdered John...
Gloria Chapman says she struggled with whether to divorce her husband after he murdered John Lennon in 1980.(Hawaii News Now)
Updated: Dec. 7, 2020 at 7:37 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Gloria Chapman calls Dec. 8, 1980 the darkest day of her life.

The day she became “Mrs. Mark David Chapman.” The day her husband killed John Lennon.

She had just gotten home from work when she learned the star was dead ― a ticker with the news glided across the bottom of her TV as she sat on her couch watching “Little House on the Prairie.”

In an instant, she knew who the killer was. She had no doubt.

[For special coverage of the 40th anniversary of John Lennon’s death, click here.]

Chapman, who grew up in the islands and has lived off and on in Windward Oahu for decades, declined to speak to Hawaii News Now for its coverage of the 40th anniversary of Lennon’s death.

But she described her “darkest day” several years ago, in a lengthy essay for Christian magazine Alliance in which she also explained her decision to remain married to Mark Chapman.

And not just married, but very much in love.

For more than 25 years, the two have shared conjugal visits at the New York prisons where Chapman has served his time. And together, they run a prison ministry.

For her part, Gloria Chapman understands her story doesn’t sit well with everyone. Her own friends and loved ones encouraged her to leave her husband after Lennon’s murder, she wrote.

Even her husband said divorce would be the best option.

But she says she sought counsel in her faith on whether to leave the marriage.

“In the Book of Malachi, I read, ‘I hate divorce.’ ... For me, that settled it, and I closed my Bible. From that point on, I decided it didn’t matter how long Mark was in prison. I would wait for him,” she said.

Mark David Chapman and Gloria Abe were married in June 1979.

The two had met when Mark Chapman went to a travel agency to plan a whirlwind trip to Asia. Gloria was assigned the account and the two grew close as he came in regularly to make changes.

Before he left on his trip, she met him to give him a lei. He sent her roses and a teddy bear.

And when he was gone, they exchanged letters and postcards.

When he landed back at Honolulu’s airport, Gloria was there to meet him. “We started dating the following night,” she said.

In short order, Gloria converted to Christianity ― after growing up in a Buddhist tradition ― and the two regularly attended church. Everything seemed to be perfect, she wrote in her column.

But after they got married, things seemed to change.

Mark Chapman had gotten a new, higher-paying job at a hospital but lost it in short order after an argument with a supervisor. He then took a job as a security guard, but quit within months.

He also started drinking heavily and, Gloria Chapman said, got physically abusive several times.

By fall 1980, Mark Chapman was struggling with depression and obsessions, including with Lennon. He considered the former Beatles star a “phony” who valued money and fame over his music.

In October, Chapman flew off to New York. And when he returned, he confessed his plan to his wife: He had gone to kill John Lennon but hadn’t carried through.

“He said my love had saved him,” Gloria Chapman said, in her column. “He even had me hold the gun, which was still cold from being in the plane’s cargo hold.”

In December, Chapman traveled to New York again. This time, he told his wife that he wanted to take a trip to clear his head, to grow up “as an adult,” to be a better husband and a better person.

“He said he threw the gun into the ocean, and I believed him. But he had lied to me,” she wrote.

And so that’s how it was that on Dec. 8, 1980, Gloria Chapman knew instantly what her husband had done when she learned of John Lennon’s death.

“Now alone in our apartment, I paced around repeating, ‘Oh, my God. Oh, my God.’” she wrote. “At that terrifying moment, I called out to God to comfort me.”

In the months that followed, Chapman made her decision about staying in the marriage. She traveled to New York for her husband’s sentencing ― 20 years to life ― but stayed out of the courtroom.

There was plenty of doubt in her life.

She writes that she often thought about the “what ifs.” What if her husband hadn’t taken that better-paying job at the hospital with more stress? What if he hadn’t stopped seeing a psychiatrist?

In 1982, Gloria moved to New York to be closer to Chapman. A year later, she moved back to Hawaii.

Every year for decades, the two have spent time together in a prison trailer. They’ve started a prison ministry together. And Gloria Chapman has sought to carve out a quiet life for herself.

“With Mark more than 5,000 miles away, my husband was the lord,” she wrote “I drew near to him.”

In 2000, Mark David Chapman became eligible for parole.

It was denied then and has been denied every time since ― 11 times in all. Even so, Gloria Chapman says she is optimistic that her husband will one day be out of prison and back with her.

She says she’s looking forward to walking with him again on the Kailua beach where he proposed.

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