The power of words is often underestimated. Books can inspire people in different ways. You might only think of books having a positive or more worldly influence on our thoughts, but for some people, it can be the opposite.

In 1951, just a few years after J. D. Salinger had left mental hospital, he released the novel which he had started writing whilst fighting for the USA in WWII. 

‘The Catcher in the Rye’ details two days in the life of 16-year-old Holden Caulfield after he has been expelled from prep school. Confused and disillusioned, Holden searches for truth and rails against the “phoniness” of the adult world. 

He desperately wants to hold on to the innocence of childhood and tries to make his friends understand his pain. It was a book, originally intended for adults, but is often read by adolescents for its themes of angst and alienation, and as a critique on superficiality in society.  

D. Salinger is the most famous literary recluse who left society 50 years before his death in 2010. The character of Holden Caulfield is said to be similar to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn from Mark Twain’s ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ and to Salinger himself. 

This book is popular among a massive range of people; including a certain type of people. ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is infamously known as ‘The Serial Killers’ Book’. 

It has been found in the homes of several killers; some claim to have been ‘inspired’ by it, especially by the protagonist: Holden Caulfield. 

Conspiracy theorists have jumped on several ideas including that the book is used by the FBI or by other government organisations to trigger ‘sleeper assassins’. Whatever you believe, the truth is that this book has a strange effect on some people that can’t be easily explained. 

Perhaps, this book is most famously known in connection to the assassination of John Lennon, co-lead vocalist of the band with the record for the most number one hits ever (20): ‘The Beatles’. 

Lennon was shot 4 times in the back outside ‘The Dakota’ building in New York City in 1980 by Mark David Chapman who remained at the scene, reading ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ until he was arrested by the police. 

In March 1981, John Hinckley Jr. was waiting outside the Hilton Hotel, Washington D.C., along with several press reporters. When (the then President) Ronald Reagan came out of the hotel, after speaking in an AFL-CIO conference, Hinckley shot a revolver at Reagan 6 times. 

He missed all his shots but one bullet ricocheted off the limousine Reagan was getting into and indirectly hit him in the chest. He was obsessed with the book but also with John Lennon who had been murdered a few months prior. He said that the world was ‘over’ without Lennon.

American actress Rebecca Schaeffer was shot by a ‘fan’, Robert John Bardo who had stalked her and been obsessed with her for the previous 3 years, at her apartment in L.A. As Bardo fled the scene, he tossed the copy of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ that he had brought with him, onto a roof close by. 

One of the most famous assassinations in American history is, of course, John F. Kennedy’s. The man charged with Kennedy’s murder: Lee Harvey Oswald was investigated by police. 

They found the books ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, ‘Animal Farm’ (by George Orwell) and Adolf Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ in his home in Dallas. He was also known to have been intrigued with the idea of socialism and had studied it a lot as a teenager – maybe he related to the character of Holden.

This last case and the Lennon case are most relevant to the conspiracy theory that the book is a trigger for sleeper assassins trained by the CIA’s MK-Ultra mind control program, which is used to take out individuals. 

The claim is that the book is the trigger used to wake trained sleeper assassins to something they learn while under mind control. The book might be a way of controlling or influencing someone’s thoughts. 

This is related to the idea of a ‘Manchurian Candidate’  which is the focus of a book and a film of the same name. In ‘The Manchurian Candidate (the film), the protagonist is captured, brainwashed and turned into an unaware assassin. 

Lee Harvey Oswald said something strangely close to this during his interrogation. He plead that he was innocent and had nothing to do with the assassination. He referred to himself as a “patsy” – which is essentially a scapegoat or pawn. Which could also be why he was then killed so swiftly. 

The man who killed Oswald when he was on his way to his trial, the day after Kennedy died was Jack Ruby who was later found to have connections to the Mafia. 

There were several CIA officers and at least one member of the Mafia who were arrested in the crowd after the assassination of Kennedy but they were all quickly released by Dallas police. However, it is still suspected that Oswald might not have been the only one shooting at the president. 

There is a quote from ‘The Catcher in the Rye’: “It’s funny, all you have to do is say something nobody understands and they will do practically anything you want them to.”

This may only be a theory, there is no proof to back it up but a truth is that this book reveals to some, the darkness of the world and makes them want to act on it. Either that or just that it has become the symbol of assassinations, inspired by the most relevant case of John Lennon’s.

This book has affected all these men but it’s important not to forget that the man most affected is probably Salinger himself. He must have related so closely with the book as it is seen as fairly autobiographical. 

Both Holden and Salinger spent time in a mental hospital, went to private school, hated talking about their personal lives and Holden’s perspective is evident to the reader as ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is all written in the first person. This allows the reader to really understand the character and his struggles with society.

We may never know the full truth about ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ but it must be said that this book is deadly.

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