December 8, 1980 — John Lennon Killed

Candle being lit at Strawberry Fields, Central Park, New York, USA
Steven Weinberg/The Image Bank/Getty Images

At approximately 5:00 pm, John and Yoko leave the Dakota with an entourage. The killer approaches John, speechless, and holds out his copy of "Double Fantasy" and a pen. Lennon, used to this sort of thing, signs it and asks the killer, "Is that all you want?" The murderer, still starstruck, responds simply, "Yeah." Goresh takes a photo of the signing.

Goresh left once John and Yoko did, but not before the killer urged him to stay, saying, "I’d wait. “You never know if you’ll see him again." In his own testimony, the murderer states that he felt torn at this point, not knowing whether to go home or stay.

10:49 PM: John and Yoko's limousine pulls up to the curb in front of the Dakota. As usual, the iron gates are open and watched over by security guard Jose Perdomo. Both John and Yoko exit the limo, Yoko first. Lennon passes the killer, who is standing to the right of the entrance; he swears later that John recognized him from earlier that evening, but there's no evidence to suggest that. John is carrying a tape from that day's sessions, a Yoko Ono song called "Walking On Thin Ice." The killer later testifies that as John walked past him, a voice in his head kept saying, "Do it," over and over.

The murderer waits until John is five feet from the short staircase that leads to the lobby, and drops into a classic firing position. He calls out, "Mr. Lennon?" When John turns around, the killer opens fire with hollowpoint bullets from a .38 Charter Arms revolver, hitting him twice in the left shoulder. Lennon begins to run and is hit twice more, both shots landing in his back, one piercing his aorta. A total of five shots are fired. John manages somehow to pull himself up the stairs and push the lobby doors open; at that moment Yoko turns around and sees John, and blood.

John makes it all the way to the concierge stand before collapsing, saying, "I'm shot. I'm shot." Yoko begins to scream at the lobby security guard, Jay Hastings, "John's been shot!" He immediately presses the alarm that summons New York City's 20th Precinct, then removes John's shattered glasses and places his uniform over him as a cover. He attempts to use his own tie as a tourniquet, but is unsure where to apply it.

Meanwhile, Jose Perdomo, sobbing, shouts "Leave! Get out of here!" to the shooter. When he doesn't move, Perdomo asks him, "Do you know what you've done?" The murderer replies, "I just shot John Lennon," throws the gun down, removes his overcoat, places it at his feet, and begins reading his copy of "The Catcher In The Rye." Perdomo kicks the gun away from the killer.

When the police arrive, they find Yoko crying over the body of her husband. The murderer is arrested. He says to the police, “Don’t hurt me, I’m unarmed” and “I acted alone.” In the squad car, he keeps saying “I’m sorry I gave you guys all this trouble.” John Lennon, already mortally wounded, is quickly placed in a patrol car and rushed to Roosevelt Hospital. As the car speeds away, driver Officer James Moran yells at John: "Do you know who you are?" Lennon, who cannot speak, nods "yes." At the hospital, Lennon is pronounced dead of shock, having lost 80 percent of his blood.

The murderer's own testimony, taken the night of the murder, goes like this:

"...this morning I went to the bookstore and bought The Catcher in the Rye. I’m sure the large part of me is Holden Caulfield, who is the main person in the book. The small part of me must be the Devil.

I went to the building. It’s called the Dakota. I stayed there until he came out and asked him to sign my album. At that point my big part won and I wanted to go back to my hotel, but I couldn’t. I waited until he came back. He came in a car. Yoko walked past first and I said hello, I didn’t want to hurt her.

Then John came and looked at me and printed me. I took the gun from my coat pocket and fired at him. I can’t believe I could do that. I just stood there clutching the book. I didn’t want to run away. I don’t know what happened to the gun. I remember Jose kicking it away. Jose was crying and telling me to please leave. I felt so sorry for Jose. Then the police came and told me to put my hands on the wall and cuffed me."