Every year, freshmen flood our campus and soon learn the legends and rumors of Covenant, from tunnels under Carter to secret marijuana-growing operations in Maclellan or Founders. One of the more verifiable legends, however, is the story of Covenant’s arguably most infamous student: John Lennon’s killer.
Mark David Chapman fatally shot John Lennon, co-founder of the Beatles, in New York City on December 8, 1980. Only a few years before, Chapman had been enrolled as a student at Covenant College. Chapman attended Covenant for just one semester. The college’s Wikipedia page lists Chapman as a “notable alumnus” even though he never graduated.
Mark David Chapman apparently came to Covenant College to be with his girlfriend. According to a 1980 WDEF News 12 clip, he was enrolled during the Spring semester of 1976 and lived in Belz Hall.
Jack Muller, who was an assistant professor of Psychology and Sociology at the time said, “He came because a girl he liked was a student here. She was a Sociology major. She asked me, ‘I think my boyfriend will be coming here as a student, will you be his advisor?’”
Muller said, “I never had him as a student. I do remember meeting with him and his girlfriend for premarital counseling, maybe twice.” Muller said that the couple eventually broke up.
Mary Anna Belz (’78) remembers Chapman as “one of the people who would be in the lobby and playing guitar and hanging out. He was one of those people that you wondered when they did their homework.”
Muller recalled that Chapman took three, four-hour courses, the minimum to be a full time student. “My guess is he was only here because of this girl and maybe the pretty campus,” Muller said, noting that Chapman had been influenced by Christianity before his semester at Covenant.
Muller says of the shooting, “I never saw this coming. There was nothing I could tell [that was] different about him. We were very surprised when all that happened.”
Andrew Belz (‘77), the public relations director at the time of the shooting, remembers the aftermath. Journalist Arthur Matthews, who had worked with The Presbyterian Journal and Christianity Today, and who was the brother of Craig Lyon, called him. “ He said, ‘I don’t know if you know this, Andrew, but the person who just shot John Lennon was one of your students.’ Arthur Matthews was a confidant of Chapman’s girlfriend in Atlanta. He knew media and knew how to handle this situation. She went to him and he helped,” said Belz.
On his way up to New York to kill Lennon, Chapman, according to Belz, apparently stopped on a layover in Atlanta to see his former girlfriend, even though he had married another woman the year before. Belz said, “We fielded dozens of calls from major media outlets who wanted to know the name of Mark David Chapman’s girlfriend. We would not divulge that. They never did get her name. I felt good about that. I think she appreciated that very much.”
Belz said, “It was the more tawdry newspapers that were eager to get her name.” Belz remembered one call from the New York Post: “He asked the name of the girlfriend. I said, ‘We’re not giving that out.’ He said, ‘We’re just flushing out details.’ I said, ‘That’s a good word for your news.’ He said, ‘Oh, so you’ve seen our newspaper.’ He as much as admitted it was [a non-reputable news source].”
Belz appears briefly in the WDEF News 12 clip as a spokesperson for Covenant College. In the video, he says that Chapman was a declared Sociology major but took only freshman core courses. Looking back, Belz says, “I think we gave probably a little bit more information than we would today. Students today have more privacy. I can’t even see my own kid’s grades.”
The legend of John Lennon’s killer lives on at Covenant. Some students claim to have found his name in the top of pre-construction Carter Tower, though it’s unclear whether Chapman wrote it there himself or someone else did later on.
According to CNN, Chapman was recently denied parole for the ninth time, on the grounds that the crime was “premeditated and celebrity-seeking in nature.”