On Dec. 8, 1980, Paul Goresh crossed paths with Mark David Chapman, murderer of ex-Beatle John Lennon.
Goresh traveled with his Minolta XG1 camera hours before the murder from his home in North Arlington to the Dakota on the corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West in Manhattan. Lennon lived in the apartment building with wife Yoko Ono and their 5-year-old son, Sean.
Chapman was there, too, waiting on the sidewalk for Lennon.
“Chapman comes up to me and he says, ‘Do you want to take my photo?’ And he’s holding the ‘Double Fantasy’ album in his left arm,” Goresh said. “And he’s smiling.”
“And I said, ‘What do I want to take your picture for?’ I’m here for John.”
Goresh did, however, take one photo of Chapman and Lennon together.
It was a tight shot – Lennon signing the album cover and the killer in the background, slightly fuzzy and out of focus.
“I was taking a picture of John and I was trying to squeeze the guy (Chapman) out of the photo,” Goresh said. “He was such a nuisance all that day that I was trying to get him out of the picture. And thank God three-quarters of him is in the picture. It was ironic.”
The historic image is one of the last photos taken of Lennon – and the only one of Lennon with his killer.
Chapman shot the ex-Beatle five hours after the picture was taken.
Thirty-five years later, Goresh wishes he could have done something to prevent the murder.
“Nobody picked up any sign of (Chapman) being a danger,” he said. “He looked like the kid that got picked on in the school playground. He looks like if you blew on him he would have fallen over. If you cracked him in the jaw he would get knocked out. There was nothing to the guy.”
Goresh returned home to North Arlington a few hours before the murder.
When he heard on the news that Lennon had been shot by a deranged fan, he called the New York City Police Department to tell them he may have captured an image of the killer with his camera.
“I told them it could be used as evidence to prove the guy was there,” Goresh said.
The cop who answered at the city’s 20th Precinct police department hung up on him, he says.
Goresh called back.
“You’ve called here three times now in the last hour,” Goresh said he was told. “‘If you call here again, I’m going to trace this call and I’m going to charge you.’ And he hung up on me.”
Goresh then went to local police.
Joe Zadroga, at the time a sergeant in the North Arlington Police Department, recalls the encounter with Goresh – 35 years ago this week – in detail.
“We contacted the New York Daily News for him,” Zadroga said.
“The New York police probably didn’t see any value in the photo,” Zadroga said. “They arrested the guy (Chapman) right away, so they probably didn’t need it.”
Zadroga told Goresh he should sell the photo to the newspaper.
Both Zadroga and Goresh say the Daily News sent a limousine to North Arlington to pick up Goresh and his camera, which contained the undeveloped film of Lennon and Chapman.
The photo editor promised Goresh $2,000 just for coming to the office, Goresh said.
The Daily News bought the photo for $10,000 and helped the amateur photographer enter a syndication deal he says eventually earned him millions.
Today, Goresh continues to license the photo, keeping the original negative in a safe-deposit box.
The Slide Center
Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, contacted Goresh after the murder and asked for 19 pictures the amateur photographer had taken of her husband.
Ono wanted the images used in the documentary “Imagine: John Lennon.”
Goresh knew the image of Lennon with the killer would be important to filmmakers.
“I knew how to print black and white but not color,” Goresh said. “I needed a good lab that I could trust the stuff with and somebody told me about this Rutherford lab.”
Goresh brought the original 35 mm negative to The Slide Center at 375 Carmita Ave. in Rutherford.
“The Slide Center had a very good reputation at the time,” said Clifton resident Christina Kotlar, who worked there as production manager and art director.
Goresh brought the negative to the lab in a briefcase.
“He wanted (the printing) done immediately,” Kotlar said. “Other camera shops would have you leave the negative there. He didn’t want to leave it with anyone, anywhere.”
After the work was complete, Kotlar asked Goresh if she could have a print for herself.
Goresh agreed and signed the print, “Chris, Best Wishes Always.”
“The colors are beautiful, even after 35 years,” Kotlar said. She keeps the picture framed in her home office, where she works as a documentary filmmaker.
Today, Kotlar’s print is one of about 25 made from the original negative.
Life after Lennon
Goresh was 21 at the time of John Lennon’s murder and a criminal justice student at Middlesex County College. He had befriended the singer a couple of years before the murder and often waited outside the Dakota to take photos.
He said Lennon invited him inside, often chatted with him and even used one of Goresh’s photos as artwork on the 45-record sleeve for the song “Watching the Wheels.”
Goresh describes his relationship with Lennon as a “casual friendship” and admits getting to know John Lennon by “stalking him in a good way,” even posing as a TV repairman to get into the singer’s apartment.
Today, Goresh takes few photos. He describes himself as a Beatles fan and a collector of memorabilia and photos.
In his camera bag he still carries the Minolta XG1 he used to take the last photo of Lennon. The camera was purchased for $379 at the old Two Guys discount store in Kearny, he said.
Goresh grants few interviews, citing a disdain for what he calls the media’s tendency to focus on John Lennon’s death and the killer rather than the singer’s life and accomplishments.
“I took a famous photograph. Historically it’s very important and I understand that,” Goresh said.
“But John Lennon was as decent a person as I’ve ever met,” he said. “He treated me wonderful. He never bothered anybody and he wanted to be left alone. He was just very down to earth and he liked regular people more than the beautiful people.”