Cops and Surgeon Who Tried to Save John Lennon’s Life Recall Night of ‘Bedlam,’ Nearly 40 Years Later
Lennon's killer, Mark David Chapman, is up for parole next year.
“You just threw your whole life away!”
They were the words roared by NYPD Officer Peter Cullen to Mark David Chapman, moments after he fatally shot John Lennon on Dec. 8, 1980.
Cullen and his partner, Steve Spiro, were the first to arrive at the ritzy Dakota Building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side that fateful Monday night in New York City.
Nearly 40 years later, the responding officers and the surgeon who tried to save the legendary Beatles musician's life are telling InsideEdition.com how the events of that frantic night unfolded — and its lasting impact on their lives.
‘Sometime in New York City’
In 1975, John Lennon and Yoko Ono had their first child, Sean, and left the bohemian lifestyle they were living in Manhattan’s West Village for the majestic Dakota Building in the more conservative Upper West Side, across from Central Park.
“It was a different era — there was a lot of crime [in New York City] but you could get lost as a celebrity, which is why they were loving life there,” Cullen told InsideEdition.com.
The British artist and his family were known in the neighborhood. They were often seen walking around Central Park and the Upper West Side. At this point, New York City wasn't just a place where Lennon lived — it became his home.
“He never had bodyguards and people respected his privacy,” retired NYPD Officer Herb Frauenberger told InsideEdition.com. “People always hung outside the Dakota.”
In November 1980, Lennon returned from a musical hiatus with the acclaimed Double Fantasy album that he recorded with his wife. But just weeks after its release, he was dead.
‘Out of the Blue’
Dec.8, 1980 started off as nothing out of the ordinary for Officer Frauenberger.
“It was a typical December night, a cold and clear night,” he recalled. “It is normally pretty slow.”
But it was busy for Lennon, 40, and Ono, then 47. That morning, they welcomed Rolling Stone photographer Annie Leibovitz into their apartment for a photo shoot for the magazine.
Later that afternoon, at about 4:30 p.m., Lennon and Ono exited the Dakota and were met by a man who asked to have his copy of Double Fantasy signed. This was nothing out of the ordinary, as Lennon often interacted with fans who gathered outside his home.
Lennon asked the man if he wanted anything else, but the fan just wanted the record signed, according to reports. Lennon and his wife headed to the Record Plant in Midtown Manhattan to work with producer Jack Douglas, who produced Double Fantasy, on Ono’s disco single, “Walking on Thin Ice.”
Several hours later, after 10 p.m., the couple headed home. As they exited their car in front of the Dakota, Ono asked her husband if he wanted to get something to eat at the nearby deli. He declined, saying he would rather tuck 5-year-old Sean into bed and let their nanny head home for the night.
As they neared the building, the same fan he’d greeted earlier approached. But this time, he shot Lennon four times in the chest. Three of the bullets from the stranger’s Charter Arms .38 exited through the singer’s back.
“It was just a very sudden thing,” Ono told Inside Edition in 1997 of her husband’s murder. “It was so sudden that it was very difficult to me.”
The gunman, later identified as 25-year-old Mark David Chapman, stayed at the crime scene and police were called within seconds.
"When we got the call, we thought it was fireworks and not gunshots because it was also Chinese New Year," Cullen recalled.
He and Spiro were the first to arrive at about 10:30 p.m. Cullen says that Dakota doorman, Jose, pointed at Chapman, who was in an overcoat, and identified him as the man who had fired the shots.
“Lennon was already in the vestibule and people were standing around him,” Cullen said. “Everyone was frozen.”
They found the victim bleeding from the mouth and chest but incredibly, he had a pulse.
Chapman, meanwhile, had his hands over his head with a copy of The Catcher in the Rye in between. Spiro pushed him against the wall, read him his Miranda rights, and handcuffed him. Chapman didn’t resist.
Cullen tended to Lennon. “The rest of the night was Bedlam,” he said.
Soon after, another NYPD radio car carrying officers Herb Frauenberger and Tony Palma arrived.
“When you hear something in the Dakota — there is something to it,” Frauenberger said. “We were down there in less than a minute and arrived with weapons drawn.”
At first, the four policemen did not realize who the victim was. Palma remembers hearing a woman screaming.
“I turned his head and something in my mind said, ‘I know this guy,’” Palma said. “We had seen him before; he was a visible figure in New York City. As I turned his head, the doorman said, ‘This is John Lennon.’ It hit me like a ton of bricks.”
They got to work — fast.
“We treated it like a cop was shot,” Palma said.
The radio dispatcher told the officers that an ambulance was 10 minutes away, but they knew they couldn’t wait that long.
“If you see someone bleeding out like that, you don’t want to leave them there,” Palma said.
Another radio car with officers Bill Gamble and Jim Moran arrived on the scene. Frauenberger and Palma put Lennon in that vehicle and they sped to Roosevelt Hospital, located 13 blocks away.
“[Gamble and Moran] radioed that they had a gunshot wound and I said, ‘Don’t say it is John Lennon, we don’t want a zoo at the hospital,’” Frauenberger said.
According to reports, Gamble and Moran tried to speak to Lennon while he was in the back of their patrol car. The musician was conscious and reportedly nodded in response to basic questions.
The trauma staff at Roosevelt was waiting for them. On duty that night was Dr. David Halleran, then a 29-year-old-third year general surgeon.
“In those days we had beepers,” he told InsideEdition.com. “They paged me and said, ‘We have a gunshot wound to the chest.’ They never said it was Lennon.”
But Dr. Halleran suspected something was amiss.
“He arrived by police car," he said. "That was different."
Back at the Dakota, Cullen and Spiro put Chapman in their car and took him to the 20th Precinct.
As they were bringing him to the station, Cullen turned to Chapman. “Are you out of your f***ing mind?” he asked him. “You just threw your whole life away!”
Chapman said something Cullen will never forget.
“He said there is a little person inside of him, a big person, and that night, the little person won,” Cullen said.
Meanwhile, Frauenberger and Palma brought Ono to the hospital.
“She was in shock,” Frauenberger remembers of Ono. “She wasn’t hysterical. She was traumatized. She kept asking if he was going to be alright and we tried to reassure her, but I knew it was serious.”
Inside the operating room, the team of surgeons, doctors, and nurses stripped Lennon of his leather jacket with fur lining, his red shirt, and denim pants.
“It was like a rugby scrum — who cut off his clothes, who took his pulse, who began to open his chest,” Dr. Halleran recalled.
At that point, Lennon had lost so much blood that he had no pulse.
To try to get it back, Dr. Halleran held the British singer’s heart, pumping and massaging it. At first, he had no idea whose heart was in his hands.
“Someone says, ‘That looks like John Lennon,’” Dr. Halleran recounted. “Someone went through his wallet and found his gold AmEx card. He had photos in his coat pocket.”
In the waiting area of the hospital, Ono asked Officer Palma for a quarter so she could call someone. She called their friend, record executive David Geffen, who rushed to the hospital.
“She got off the phone and I took her to a back room in the hospital," Palma said. "I stayed with her for a half-hour while they worked on him.”
Palma recalled how he “tried to calm her down” as she processed what was happening.
As the doctors and nurses treated Lennon, they were soon faced with the worst outcome.
“It looked like we weren't getting anything back," Dr. Halleran recalled. "We weren't getting a pulse back, we weren't getting a blood pressure back, we weren't getting pupil response back. He was very much gone.”
Palma remembers the moment a doctor came into the room to deliver the devastating news to Ono, who was overcome with emotion.
A reporter who’d been hit by a car while riding his motorcycle happened to be getting treatment at the hospital at the same time. That reporter caught on to what was happening around him and called ABC News.
Soon, the news reached Howard Cosell, the host of Monday Night Football. During his broadcast, he revealed John Lennon's death to American audiences for the first time.
Later, hospital ER director Stephen Lynn held a press conference to make the official announcement.
“I wanted to hide under a rock," Dr. Halleran said. “I didn’t feel good. I just wanted to go home.”
Halleran said that he and his team did everything they could to save Lennon.
“You do this for anybody,” he said. “They brought in a mortally wounded patent and you go for it. I wish we had a better outcome.”
Frauenberger and Palma brought a somber and quiet Ono and Geffen back to the Dakota, which by that time, was packed with mourners and press. The two officers called additional officers to the building for crowd control.
The news swiftly traveled around the globe. “It was like the first shot heard around the world,” Palma said.
After leaving Geffen and Ono at the Dakota, Frauenberger and Palma returned to the 20th precinct to file paperwork and meet up with Cullen and Spiro.
Chapman had traveled from Hawaii to kill Lennon in New York City. The married Christian loved The Beatles but felt inspired by Holden Caulfield, the protagonist in The Catcher in the Rye, and believed Lennon was a phony who had sold out his humble roots.
Palma said that he took Chapman to the bathroom in the precinct after they called his wife. The gunman began getting nervous.
“I asked him, ‘Do you know what you just did?’ He said, ‘I am John Lennon. I killed myself,’” Palma recalled.
The police officers who first arrived at the scene were enraged by Chapman, as each had fond memories of The Beatles' and Lennon and how their music impacted their lives.
“[Cullen] wanted to throw him out the window,” said Palma, who admitted that he “fell in love with my first wife to all of The Beatles songs.”
Years earlier, as rookie NYPD officers, Cullen and Frauenberger worked security for The Beatles when they stayed at the Warwick Hotel in Manhattan in 1964.
Frauenberger says it is “ironic” how he started his career as a police officer guarding The Beatles but decades later, “I would be with the death of a Beatle.”
Chapman told the cops he used hollow point bullets on Lennon because they’re more lethal.
“The thought came to me — wouldn't it be something if I killed him?" Chapman told the parole board in 2016. "Once I had that thought, I couldn't get rid of it. It became an obsession."
He said he had planned on attacking Lennon sooner, but each previous attempt had failed.
Chapman was charged with second-degree murder and pleaded guilty to the crime. In August 1981, he was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.
From 1981 to 2012 he was held inside New York State’s Attica State Prison before being transferred to Wende Correctional Facility near Buffalo, where he remains.
Since 2000, he has been eligible for parole every two years and denied every time, most recently in 2016.
“I have to really be concerned about the safety of Julian, and Sean, and myself,” Ono told Inside Edition of Chapman’s first parole hearing 17 years ago.
Chapman is up for parole again in 2018.
“As long as she is alive, I don’t think he is ever getting out,” Cullen said. “I think someone will kill him if he gets out.”
Frauenberger echoed the sentiments, saying, “I bet my life” that Chapman will never get out.
“Lennon still has a family," he added. "You have to be concerned about them. Do you want to take that chance with Yoko and the kids still alive?”
‘Working Class Hero’
“I think in the end, the fact that he was too honest may have offended some people and may have really shortened his life,” Ono told Inside Edition in 1997 of her husband. “I think that sometimes you have to pay a high price and he did it and he gambled on it.”
In the years that followed Lennon’s death, Ono has kept a strong hold on her late husband’s estate and legacy.
“You never get over it — you just have to go on, I suppose,” she told Inside Edition in 2000. “We thought that we were going to be together forever... John’s spirit in a way is still alive in people’s hearts — the statements he made, the music he made, it is still going around the world. It is like he is still alive in a way.”
After Lennon’s murder, Double Fantasy shot to No. 1 on the Billboard chart in America. It would later win Album of the Year at the 1982 Grammy Awards.
Today, Ono remains outspoken about gun control in America.
Following the October 2017 massacre in Las Vegas, where nearly 60 people were gunned down at a country music festival, Ono took to Instagram to call for peace.
“Over 1,186,000 people have been killed by guns in the U.S.A. since John Lennon was shot and killed on December 8, 1980,” she wrote in a post accompanying an image of her husband’s signature eyeglasses, bloody and broken, on a mantle overlooking New York City.
She still lives in the Dakota.
“The Dakota is a place that we lived together and we had a very good time, it was a very sweet time for the family,” she told Inside Edition in 1995.
In 1985, Ono and then-New York City Mayor Ed Koch dedicated a small portion of Central Park to John Lennon called “Strawberry Fields.” The teardrop-shaped area with a circular mosaic that reads “IMAGINE” is across the street from Ono and Lennon’s apartment.
It means she can look down from the windows of their home to see fans lay flowers, light candles and sing his songs.
“People loved John," Palma said. "They loved the music. He was an icon. Think about all the music he could have written and what he could have accomplished.”
“Someone once told me that the music never dies,” Cullen echoed. “It is very true.”
Lennon was cremated. No funeral service was held.
While Lennon’s murder broke hearts across the world, the events of that day affected the arresting officers and the surgeon in a way no one will ever truly understand.
Frauenberger retired from the force in 1984 and lives in upstate New York with his wife.
He still calls the incident “crazy.” He is still close friends with Palma and, for a period, all the officers kept in touch.
“This is one of those things that will never die,” Frauenberger said. “To this day, you get reminded of it with all of The Beatles songs. They are still everywhere.”
Palma retired in 1985 and now splits his time between homes in New Mexico and Mexico. He says he still gets calls from all over the world about the night. “People still talk about it,” he said.
Cullen retired to Florida after 25 years on the force.
“That was a night in history and I was a part of it,” he said.
Dr. Halleran, still is a practicing physician in Syracuse, N.Y., says in the days that followed Lennon’s death, he couldn’t bring himself to do much.
“This is one of those fishbowl cases where I have lived this out over and over,” he said. “I couldn’t listen to a radio, read a newspaper, watch TV for three days after that night.”
Now 37 years later, the doctor, can reflect on the night he became forever linked with a music icon.
“It is a very ‘time and place’ story,” he said. “Any other night, I could have not been there.”
The doctor, a fan of Lennon and The Beatles, said he tries to imagine what Lennon would be doing today in his 70s.
“It would have been nice to see what he would have done at 75,” he said. “The fact that I am talking about this is even more impressive. What we did was a fly speck of history.”
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