Pete Cullen remembers Dec. 8, 1980, as a cold night.
December 1980 in Manhattan was among the coldest months the city had ever seen. Temperatures would dip about 20 days later to 1 degree below zero, the coldest in the city's recorded history at that time.
Cullen doesn't just remember the cold. He also remembers those 10 seconds running into the driveway of the Dakota apartment building cold December night as the longest of his life.
With his gun drawn, Cullen said he didn't know what to expect as he ran. All he knew from the call he received over the radio was that there was a report of shots fired at the Dakota.
"It was eerie running into that driveway," said the retired New York City policeman. "The cold felt colder. I was scared."
As he approached the Dakota, Cullen didn't see anyone with a gun. He asked the doorman, Jose Perdomo, what was going on.
"That man just shot John Lennon," the doorman replied, pointing to a cluster of four people that included a handyman, a man in an overcoat and two women.
Cullen raised his gun and pointed it at the handyman when Jose corrected him.
It wasn't the handyman. It was the chubby man in a black overcoat, shirt and tie.
"He looked like a banker," said Cullen.
Curious as to where Lennon was, Cullen said he stepped into the lobby of the Dakota. There, he saw the unthinkable: Lennon was sprawled on the floor, face down. He was bleeding heavily from the mouth.
Cullen motioned to fellow oficers Herb Frauenberger and Tony Palma, who had just arrived at the scene, to offer assistance to Lennon. The officers picked Lennon up and put him into the back seat of a police car to take him to Roosevelt Hospital, about 15 blocks away from the Dakota.
"Officers, do you think you should move him?" came a voice from the crowd. Cullen looked up and saw Yoko Ono, Lennon's wife, who had been waiting outside in her mink coat.
"She had been standing in the group when I first ran up to the Dakota," Cullen said. "I didn't recognize her until she spoke."
Frauenberger looked at Ono and said, "Lady, if we don't move him now, he's dead."
It was 25 years ago today that the founder of The Beatles was shot by a fan to whom he had given an autograph only hours earlier. For Cullen, who now lives in Naples, Lennon's death made him a part of history.
The night was not the first time Cullen had crossed paths with Lennon. The first time was when he was assigned as a 23-year-old rookie to the Warwick Hotel on West 54th Street in New York.
It was 1965, The Beatles' second visit to America, and there were throngs of fans outside, clamoring to get in.
While Cullen worked to calm the frenzied crowd, Lennon and the other Beatles were upstairs, looking at the crowd below.
Fifteen years later, Cullen was assigned to Manhattan's 20th Precinct, which is on New York's Upper West Side.
"We called it 'The Wild West' back then," Cullen said. "It made (Greenwich) Village look tame. There were boys who wanted to be girls, girls who wanted to be boys. There were some rich people, but there was also a lower element that preyed on them."
Cullen and his partner, Steve Spiro, were assigned to the grand larceny car on the night of Dec. 8, 1980. The partners were supposed to respond to minor robberies that night.
That is, until they got the call that there were possible shots fired at the Dakota, which was located at 1 W. 72nd St. — just two blocks away from where Cullen and Spiro were parked.
"When we approached the Dakota, I saw citizens running away from the building. We parked across the street and split up. The driveway had two sides to it," Cullen said. "We didn't want whoever it was that was shooting to get away."
As he crossed the street toward the Dakota, Cullen said, he could only think one thing:
"Please, God, don't let me shoot the wrong person."
It is a cop's biggest fear, he said, that the wrong person would be killed and he would go to jail, where it's pretty dangerous to be a prisoner and a former cop.
But as he approached the Dakota, Cullen also thought about his own life. A citizen, fleeing the sound of the gunshots, said, "Officer, be careful. Someone is shooting a gun over there."
The bulletproof vest had been introduced to the New York City Police Department about two years before, but Cullen wasn't wearing his. It wasn't common to wear the vest in those days, he said.
Turns out, the vest wouldn't be necessary. The man in the overcoat who would eventually be known to the world as 25-year-old Mark David Chapman was waiting patiently for the officers.
The assassin dropped his .38 Charter Arms handgun after the shooting and someone had kicked it down a stairwell.
"It was a cheap gun. It wasn't a very good gun," Cullen said. "Someone found it a few minutes later."
Cullen had seen the former Beatle many times while working his beat on the Upper West Side. Lennon lived at the Dakota with Ono and their 5-year-old son, Sean, at the time of his death.
"He wasn't a disheveled guy like you see in the photograph of him on the cover of Rolling Stone with Yoko Ono," he said. "His hair was short and he wore round glasses."
The night he was murdered, Lennon was returning from a midtown Manhattan recording studio about 10:50 p.m. The limousine had stopped at the ornate 72nd Street gate. Ono emerged, followed by her husband. As they walked toward the Dakota, Chapman called out, "Mr. Lennon!"
Before Lennon had time to react, Chapman leveled the handgun at the rock world's foremost pacifist. He was shot twice in the back and twice in the left shoulder.
"I'm shot," Lennon gasped. Leaving a trail of blood behind him, he staggered six steps into the doorman's office where he collapsed.
Once Chapman had been apprehended and Lennon was on his way to the hospital where he would be pronounced dead less than one hour later, Cullen started talking to witnesses.
Once the scene was secure, it was up to Cullen and Spiro, who is listed as the arresting officer and who handcuffed Chapman after he had been identified by the Dakota's doorman, to take Chapman down to the 20th Precinct, which was at 120 W. 82nd St., not far from the Dakota.
"I didn't feel threatened by (Chapman)," Cullen said. "He could have gotten away, but he didn't. All we knew about him was that he was a fan gone berserk."
Once at the station house, Cullen called Chapman's family in Atlanta and his wife, Gloria, in Hawaii. Chapman, a former security guard, had been living in Hawaii when he made his trip to Manhattan.
Cullen said, as they made their way to the precinct, Chapman started talking. He told Cullen that there were two people inside of him — a big person and a little person. He said that the big person had been winning for days, but that day, the little person won.
"That told us he had been stalking Lennon for at least a few days before he killed him," he said. "The big person was winning, which made us think he had been following Lennon around for days before Dec. 8.
"He kept apologizing for ruining our night. I turned around and told him, 'Don't worry about my life, buddy, you've just ruined yours.'"
Cullen said of everything Chapman talked about that night, Chapman didn't discuss "The Catcher in the Rye," which was the book he carried with him and contained the inscription: "This is my statement."
When he was arrested, Chapman had directed Spiro to a copy of the J.D. Salinger novel, which was on the ground nearby.
"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," Chapman said in his statement to police on Dec. 9, 1980.
Cullen recalls the station house being mobbed with news people, who had been listening to President-elect Ronald Reagan speak at the nearby Waldorf-Astoria when Lennon was shot.
Cullen said New York police were worried Chapman would be shot if he went out the front of the precinct building. While news crews waited to snap the photo of the man who had killed Lennon, the police set up a decoy. Spiro led another officer with a coat over his face out of the front of the station, while Cullen and Chapman left through a side entrance.
Cullen said the gravity of what Chapman had done did not really set in until later, when the vigils began.
"Word got around fast," he said.
He remembers hearing that the New York Daily News paid between $5,000 and $10,000 for the photo of Lennon signing Chapman's "Double Fantasy" album in front of the Dakota about 5 p.m. the day he was shot.
Cullen was assigned to the district attorney's office for several weeks to help work on the case. Chapman, who was charged with second-degree murder, initially entered a plea of insanity. He later changed the plea to guilty.
Chapman was sentenced on Jan. 21, 1981, to 20 years to life in prison, which he is serving in New York's Attica prison. He has been denied parole three times, the last time in October 2004.
Chapman is up for parole next year and, in the past, Yoko Ono has worked to convince parole officials that he should remain in prison. Ono never remarried and still lives in the Dakota.
Cullen, who retired to Naples in 1990 and currently works as a bus driver for the Collier County School System, has returned to the scene of his most memorable arrest many times, the last time in 1993.
"It was smaller than I remembered. The lobby was smaller," he said. "It's funny. It doesn't feel like it happened 25 years ago. I never imagined I would be talking about this 25 years after it happened."