Chicago ties to newly released John Lennon FBI file

“Monday Night Football” was in its heyday 31 years ago this week and on ABC, where it began.

The Miami Dolphins were playing the New England Patriots in the old Orange Bowl stadium.

Suddenly, from the broadcast booth, came these deliberately-spoken words from the late, great “MNF” color-man, Howard Cosell.

“An unspeakable tragedy, confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City,” Cosell said, interrupting the excitement of a 13-13 game.

“John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous, perhaps, of all the Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead … on … arrival. Hard to go back to the game after that news flash, which, in duty bound, we have to take.”

The field goal attempt that was taking place at the very moment was blocked. The game went into overtime, with no one in the stadium aware of the news that Cosell had just broken to millions of people around the world. It was pre-cell phone and long before Twitter or Facebook — or their founders — were even born.

Miami won the game 16-13, the home crowd celebrated and went home. On that date, Dec. 8, 1980, only three decades ago, fans in the Orange Bowl didn't learn about the murder of John Lennon until turning on their car radios. Or watching reruns of the late TV news. Or, in some cases, until reading the next morning's newspaper.

Lennon had been gunned down by Mark David Chapman, a 25-year-old psycho who opened fire at the most famous of the Fab Four. Several bullets ripped into Lennon's back as he returned to his apartment.

Chapman's motive was never firmly established by prosecutors, who chalked it up to his need for attention. He's at Attica prison in New York, having been denied parole six times.

As with JFK, Elvis, 9/11 and other notorious deaths and events, conspiracy theories abound when it comes to John Lennon.

The last of the FBI's secret files on “John Winston Lennon” that were just unsealed may only serve to enhance those suspicions.

Among the 226 pages is considerable documentation that Lennon and his family were targeted in a $100,000 extortion plot in 1977, three years before the murder. “WE ARE THE TERRORISTS THE FALN PUERTO RICAN INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT,” a letter dated Nov. 29, 1977, announced. “This letter is a positive (THREAT) to your life. …”

The letter, a copy of which is in Lennon's file, demanded that Lennon leave $100,000 in “a strong package” with the ”clerk” by the front entrance of “Dakota House,” in New York City. That is the same front entrance where Lennon would be fatally shot.

Despite knowing that he had been under FBI surveillance, and was considered an enemy by the Nixon White House and the Justice Department, Lennon reported the FALN threat to the Bureau, an internal memo shows.

There were several more death threat letters over the months, into 1978. Lennon never met any of the demands, and nothing happened to him that authorities considered related to the FALN threats.

There is no evidence that federal authorities ever identified those who threatened the Beatle, nor that any arrests were ever made. Coincidentally, two days after John Lennon's murder, 10 members of the FALN's violent cell in Chicago were indicted on federal felony charges including seditious conspiracy. They were convicted in February 1981.

Lennon's three-volume FBI file includes countless references to Chicago hippies, yippies and radical organizations that federal authorities spent untold resources attempting to link to the musician, who was a British national.

One of the most interesting items in Lennon's newly released file doesn't even directly concern him. It involves Chicago City Hall.

In 1972, the FBI was investigating whether Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern received funding and support from radicals Abbie Hoffman and other members of the “Chicago Eight.” Hoffman and the others had been convicted (and later cleared) of instigating the 1968 riots at the Democratic convention in Chicago.

During the '68 convention, McGovern's people famously accused Daley and the Chicago police of using “Gestapo tactics.”

According to a document in Lennon's file, McGovern continued to challenge Daley in 1972 when he “initially agreed to run a slate of delegates in Chicago as a challenge to Mayor (Richard J.) Daley in the Illinois primary, but, after a 20-minute talk in the Mayor's office, decided not to challenge Daley.”

The newly disclosed city hall meeting now gives some context to what McGovern did a few months later at the 1972 Democratic convention in Miami. He dislodged all of Daley's delegates, replaced them with his own supporters led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Alderman Bill Singer and easily won the democratic nomination.

It all took place a long time ago. Mayor Daley is gone. Sen. McGovern lost to Nixon in '72. Now 89, McGovern spent the weekend in a South Dakota hospital after falling and hitting his head.

Like a thousand-piece puzzle, the past can take shape slowly.

Maybe someday we'll find the piece that explains why Lennon was gunned down, as many of us were transfixed on a “Monday Night Football” game 31 years ago.

Ÿ Chuck Goudie, whose column appears each Monday, is the chief investigative reporter at ABC 7 News in Chicago. The views in this column are his own and not those of WLS-TV. He can be reached by email at and followed at

In this 1975 file photo, Mark David Chapman is seen at Fort Chaffee near Fort Smith, Ark. Chapman shot and killed John Lennon on Dec. 8, 1980. Associated Press
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