Gerri Santoro

Gerri Santoro20s, 1960s, newyork, illegaluntrained, connecticutTable of ContentsGerri’s MarriageThe PregnancySeeking AbortifacientsThe Abortion The AftermathThe Exploitation Post-Legalization Reality

SUMMARY: Geraldine “Gerri” Santoro, age 26, died June 8, 1964 from complications of an abortion perpetrated in a Norwich, Connecticut hotel room by her married lover.

GeriSantoro.jpgGeraldine “Gerri” Twerdy Santoro is the woman in the infamous photo used by abortion advocates to illustrate the horror of illegal abortion. The photo, taken by police, was possibly lifted from the files of New York City Medical Examiner Milton Helpern, who local police had called in for help in solving the crime. The photo showed Gerri, nude, face-down with her knees under her, on the floor of the motel room where she died. Ms. Magazine first published the photo in 1973, and abortion advocates continue to use the picture in posters. And in 1995, Boston filmmaker Jane Gillooly produced a film, “Leona’s Sister Gerri,” to rally people behind the cause of readily available abortion, on PBS, at taxpayer expense.

An icon in death, who was Geraldine Santoro in life?

Gerri’s Marriage
Born August 16, 1935, Gerri’s best friend from high school described her as fun-loving, given to playing hooky and getting sent to the principal’s office for mischief. Gerri wanted to beat an engaged friend to the altar, so she got married at age 18 to Salvatore “Sam” Santoro, three or four weeks after she had met him at a bus stop.

But Santoro was abusive. Gerri’s sister reported often seeing her covered with bruises, and seeing the children beaten with a belt. Santoro reportedly blamed the abuse on sinus problems that gave him headaches that made him irritable, so he moved his little family to California. But the abuse continued. Gerri’s daughter later recounted hearing her mother screaming, going into the bedroom, and seeing her father atop Gerri, his hands around her throat. So in 1963, Gerri left Sam Santoro and took their two daughters to live on her family’s farm in Coventry, Connecticut.

The Pregnancy
Gerri got a job at Mansfield State Training School. There she met Clyde Dixon, a 43-year-old married man who worked with her. Gerri spoke to her sister of one day marrying Dixon, fantasizing about how her children could play in his yard and have their own room. The two had an affair, and Gerri got pregnant.

This was in 1964. Sam Santoro announced he was coming from California to visit his daughters. Gerri, 28 years old and six and a half months pregnant, reportedly feared for either for her life, or that she would lose custody of her children.

Seeking Abortifacients
Gerri asked a friend for some ergot, ostensibly for a another friend. But evidently nothing came of this. Her sister realized Gerri was pregnant, and Gerri asked her, too, for some ergot. But Leona didn’t think this was safe and dissuaded her sister from pursuing this avenue. Leona said she managed to pull together about $700 or $750 for Gerri, thinking Gerri could go someplace far away, to an organization like Catholic Charities, to get help.

The Abortion
On June 8, Gerri and Clyde Dixon checked into a motel in Norwich, Connecticut under aliases. The plan was for Dixon, using surgical instruments and a medical textbook he’d gotten from a co-worker at Mansfield State Training School, to perform an abortion. The co-worker had access to the instruments and book because his wife was a physician.

Dixon started the abortion by inserting a catheter into Gerri’s uterus. However, Gerri began to hemorrhage. Dixon abandoned her, leaving her to bleed to death. Her body was discovered by a maid the following morning.

The Aftermath
Lorena had to go to the hospital to identify her sister’s body. The family told the children that their mother had been hit by a car.

Dixon had fled the state. Three days later, out of gas and out of money, he turned himself into police in Morgantown, West Virginia. He pleaded nolo contender to manslaughter and conspiracy to commit abortion, and was sentenced to a year and a day to three years. Police officers who worked the case called this term “negligible”. Milton Morgan, age 39, the man who had provided the instrument, was also arrested.

It wasn’t until after Ms. published the photo that Gerri’s daughter, Joannie Griffith, then 17, was shown the picture by her aunt and told the truth of her mother’s death. She was outraged at how Ms. was using the photo, saying, “How dare they flaunt this? How dare they take my beautiful mom, my beautiful, beautiful mom, and put this in front of the public eye. And who gave them permission. I was pissed.”

The Exploitation
The headline in Ms. was “Never Again.” Never again, they said, would women die from dangerous abortions as Gerri had died, because the Supreme Court had handed down Roe vs. Wade.

And with that, mainstream feminist interest in women’s needless abortion deaths was layed to rest. Only twice since Roe have I noted mainstream feminists upset over a woman’s death from abortion. The first time was in 1977, when Rosie Jimenez died from an illegal abortion after being told that the taxpayers would not pay for any more elective abortions for her. The second was in 1988, when Becky Bell died of pneumonia shortly after miscarrying.

Post-Legalization Reality
Women continue to die horrible deaths. They were already dying horrible deaths from legal abortions even before Roe.

Jesse Ketchum, a criminal abortionist from Michigan, carpetbagged to New York when that state legalized abortion-on-demand in 1970. Though he had no deaths attributed to him in his criminal practice in Michigan, he managed to let two women, Margaret Smith and Carole Schaner, bleed to death within four months of each other in 1971.

And Roe hardly put the back alley butchers out of business.

In 1973, Linda Padfield was sent home with more than half of her five-month fetus still in her body; she died of infection. Rather than express outrage, prochoicers rallied around the abortionist, Benjamin Munson. Munson had been a “back alley butcher” — a criminal abortionist — prior to Roe. He had no dead women to his discredit. But after a stroke of the pen converted him to a provider of safe and legal abortions, he killed not only Linda, but also Yvonne Mesteth.

Former District of Columbia criminal abortionist Milan Vuitch killed Wilma Harris in 1974, and Georgianna English in 1980. Like Ketchum and Munson, Vuitch never had a criminal abortion death linked to him. And, like Munson, he remained a hero to the cause despite the dead women.

In the 1960s, we see the 20th Century downward trend in abortion mortality resumed — until a brief upturn starting in 1968, when some states first started loosening their abortion laws. For more, see Abortion Deaths in the 1960’s.

For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion

GeraldineSantoroPairInCase.pngIndependent sources:

  • “Pair in Death Case Fired at Mansfield,” Bridgeport (CT) Post, Jun. 17, 1964
  • “Pair Face Sentence in Abortion Death,” Bridgeport (CT) Post, Oct. 7, 1964
  • “Abortionist Surrenders To Morgantown Police,” Raleigh Register (Beckley, WV), Jun. 12, 1964



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