John C. Salvi III (March 2, 1972 – November
29, 1996) was an anti-abortion terrorist and a convicted murderer. He
carried out fatal terrorist attacks on two Planned Parenthood
reproductive health clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts, on December
30, 1994. These were the subject of intense media coverage. In the
second attack security guard Richard Seron returned fire. Salvi then
dropped a bag containing a second gun and 700 rounds of ammunition and
fled. Police were able to identify him from a gun shop receipt in the
John Salvi was captured in Norfolk Virginia, after
another abortion clinic shooting. On March 19, 1996, he was found
guilty of murdering receptionists Lee Ann Nichols and Shannon Lowney.
Despite claims of schizophrenia, he was convicted in both killings.
The shooting at the Hillcrest abortion clinic, in
Norfolk Virginia, was also an abortion clinic picketed by Donald Spitz,
a known supporter of anti-abortion terrorism. It was reported by the
Boston Globe that Salvi had Spitz's name and unlisted phone number on
his person at the time of his arrest. Salvi was seen as a hero by some
anti-abortionists in Norfolk, Virginia. Spitz was never charged in
connection with Salvi's activities.
Salvi was found dead in his prison cell on November
29, 1996. The official report states that Salvi's death was a suicide.
This was a source of some controversy, as other reports claim he was
found with his hands and feet tied together, with cotton shoved in his
mouth and a bag placed and tied with a shoelace over his head. His
lawyers are quoted as saying that his body showed marks of having been
beaten before his death.
During Salvi's trial, the defense argued that Salvi
suffered from schizophrenia. Several expert witnesses testified that
Salvi exhibited schizophrenic behavior and was not competent to stand
trial. John's mother Anne Marie Salvi testified that her son had told
her that he, "was the thief on the cross with Jesus".
The prosecution brought forth Dr. Joel Haycock, who
spent eleven days with Salvi out of his sixty days under observation
at Bridgewater State Hospital. Dr. Haycock claims Salvi purposefully
chose not to give a narrative of the events of December 30, 1994. Dr.
Haycock concludes Salvi has no mental disease and is competent to
stand trial. In further cross examination, the defense brings forth
accounts of Salvi telling his parents, "...the mafia and KKK are out
to get me". Salvi was found competent to stand trial and was found
Salvi's conviction was ultimately overturned by the
sentencing judge. Judge Barbara Dortch-Okara invoked the legal
principle that a conviction may not stand if the accused dies before
his appeals are exhausted.
John Salvi was a conspiracy theorist: "Shortly
after his arrest he released a handwritten note alleging conspiracies
of freemasons, conspiracies to manipulate paper currency, and
conspiracies against Catholics. ... He has talked about the Vatican
printing its own currency and a specific conspiracy of the Ku Klux
Klan, the Freemasons, and the Mob."
Salvi Convicted of Murder in Shootings
By Christopher B. Daly - The Washington Post
March 19, 1996
John C. Salvi III, the troubled young man who went
on a shooting rampage at two suburban abortion clinics, was found
guilty of murder today and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Despite his lawyers' attempts to prove him insane,
a jury convicted Salvi, 24, of all charges against him: two counts of
first-degree murder and five counts of armed assault with intent to
murder, all arising from his Dec. 30, 1994, attacks on the two clinics.
He was taken quickly to state prison.
The attacks were the worst violence against
abortion clinics in U.S. history and capped a decade of assaults on
abortion clinics and their staffs across the country. A federal grand
jury in Alexandria, Va., probing the violence concluded in January
that there was no nationwide conspiracy to commit violence against
abortion clinics or their personnel.
The verdicts against Salvi brought an emotional
climax to a lengthy trial with more than 100 witnesses over six weeks
in Norfolk County Superior Court. Salvi remained characteristically
aloof, staring ahead and rarely blinking.
Cries of anguish were heard in court from the
families of the victims -- Shannon Lowney, 25, and Lee Ann Nichols,
38. Their parents, brothers, sisters, fiances and friends wept, as
they have many times during the trial.
Salvi shot the two women and wounded five other
people during his attack on the clinics in the Boston suburb of
Brookline. Witnesses testified during the trial that he had shouted, "This
is what you get! You should pray the rosary!" as he fired 10 bullets
into Nichols. Salvi was arrested the next day in Norfolk, Va., after
he began shooting at an abortion clinic there.
Just before sentencing, Salvi, whom several defense
psychiatrists called a paranoid schizophrenic, got his long-sought
chance to address the court. He showed no remorse and continued to
request the chance to give interviews to the news media to discuss his
views about a purported anti-Catholic conspiracy.
"As you know, I haven't pled guilty though I am
against abortion," Salvi said. "My position is pro-welfare state, pro-Catholic
labor union and, basically, pro-life."
Moments later, Judge Barbara Dortch-Okara
authorized the clerk to read out the sentences. Salvi was ordered to
serve two consecutive life prison terms, followed by 18 to 20 years
for the assault convictions. Massachusetts does not have a death
penalty. Under state law, a first-degree murder conviction sparks an
Nicki Nichols Gamble, the president of Planned
Parenthood of Massachusetts, which operates one of the clinics
attacked by Salvi, said the verdict "will help to de-escalate the
climate of fear and violence that has surrounded the services we
"Justice was done," said Mark Nichols, a brother of
Lee Ann Nichols. His mother, Ruth Ann Nichols, was allowed to deliver
a victim impact statement to the court. "Without hesitation, I hope
you have sheer misery every day of your life, as you have brought all
the families," she said, addressing Salvi. "I request and hope that
every December 30th they put you in solitary confinement."
Salvi's lead defense attorney, J.W. Carney Jr.,
indicated his appeal will be based in part on the judge's refusal to
allow Salvi to testify. In the closing moments of the trial, Carney
had asserted Salvi's right to testify, but tried to limit the areas in
which the prosecution could cross-examine him, so the judge turned him
At trial, Carney acknowledged in his opening
statement that Salvi had fired the fatal shots, and he declined to
challenge any of the prosecution's witnesses. Instead, the defense
lawyer claimed that Salvi was a "sick, sick young man" who used
careful tactics and foresight in pursuit of a delusional plan. Carney
had sought a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, which would
have placed Salvi in a state mental hospital until a judge ruled that
he was no longer a threat.
Assistant District Attorney John Kivlan portrayed
Salvi as a cunning antiabortion zealot, a "terrorist" who plotted the
murders, then evaded an elaborate police manhunt.
Kivlan showed that Salvi purchased a .22-caliber
Sturm Ruger semiautomatic rifle, and customized it with a folding
stock and pistol grip. Near his home in Hampton, N.H., Salvi purchased
1,000 hollow-tip bullets, designed to maximize injuries to human
Although the prosecution presented evidence that
Salvi had attended meetings of antiabortion groups and had many
pamphlets against abortion, the trial never showed that Salvi had any
links to the organized antiabortion movement.
An Armed Fanatic Raises the Stakes
By Michael D. Lemonick; Edward Barnes; Jenifer
Mattos and Rod Paul - Time.com
January 9, 1995
By all accounts, the somberly clad man acted cool
and composed as he stepped up to the front desk at an abortion clinic
on Beacon Street in Brookline, Massachusetts. "Is this Planned
Parenthood?" he asked. Receptionist Shannon Lowney, 25, replied that
it was, whereupon the man took a .22-cal. semiautomatic rifle from a
black bag and shot her dead. Then he sprayed the room with gunfire and
Ten minutes later, the grisly scene was replayed,
almost step by step, at Preterm Health Services, less than two miles
away. Again the man police identified as John C. Salvi III, a 22-year-old
hairdresser from Hampton, New Hampshire, made sure he was in the right
place. Again he fatally shot the receptionist -- Leanne Nichols, 38 --
and again he kept on shooting. It was only when a security guard
returned fire that the rifleman dropped his bag and fled. Yet even in
retreat, he kept his composure. Says Angel Rodriguez, who witnessed
the shooter's escape: "He was completely calm and took his time. He
kept the gun low on his hip and ran backwards, firing at least five
shots. He was trying to scare people, and it worked."
Salvi moved quickly in the direction of Brookline's
Cleveland Circle. Within hours, police had identified him through a
gun-shop receipt in the bag he had left behind. And on Saturday, even
as local, state and federal law-enforcement officials were mounting a
multistate manhunt for the 5 ft. 11 in. curly-haired fugitive, there
came reports of another, nonfatal shooting at the Hillcrest Clinic in
Norfolk, Virginia. The suspect, arrested shortly thereafter, was John
The final toll in the two-day shooting spree was
two dead and five wounded. Were it not for security guard Richard
Seron's quick reflexes, the casualties could have been much higher:
Salvi's abandoned satchel also contained a second gun and 700 rounds
Salvi's rampage brought to five the number of
abortion-clinic killings nationwide in the past two years. There have
also been countless lesser acts of violence against abortion providers
and their patients, including verbal and physical harassment, assaults
and fire bombings. Government officials and activists on both sides of
the contentious abortion issue were quick to condemn the killings. "You
don't use murder to solve the problem of other murder. It is heresy,"
said the Rev. Flip Benham, director of the antiabortion group
Operation Rescue. Said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Fund for the
Feminist Majority: "While there are two sides to the issue of abortion,
there are no two sides to the issue of shooting people for their
So far, there is no evidence formally linking Salvi
with a particular antiabortion group. He had reportedly been seen
demonstrating outside the Boston clinics, but aside from the picture
of a fetus he had plastered on his pickup truck (his boss made him
remove it), there was little to distinguish him from the vehement but
otherwise nonviolent protesters who make up the vast majority of the
movement. People who know Salvi say he often acted oddly. Says Karen
Harris, who attended the Portsmouth (New Hampshire) Beauty School with
the suspect: "He never showed emotion. He always had a straight face.
But the main thing was how he would stare at people. He'd just stare
and stare and wouldn't look away." Doreen Potter, manager of the
Eccentric Beauty Salon, where Salvi worked as a trainee, recalls that
he flew into a rage a week before the shootings when she told him he
couldn't cut a client's hair. After the incident, she says, "this guy
looked like he was ready to go off."
But even if Salvi lacked ties to the more
aggressive antiabortion organizations, some pro-choice advocates
suspect that a conspiracy to commit violence does exist. And even if
it does not, they say, the propaganda some antiabortion groups put out
can incite attacks. Paul Hill, currently under a death sentence for a
double murder at a Pensacola, Florida, clinic last summer, publicly
advocates the doctrine of "justifiable homicide" against abortionists.
A manual issued by a shadowy group known as the Army of God was found
buried in the backyard of Shelley Shannon, now serving 10 years for
wounding Wichita, Kansas, physician George Tiller in 1993. The
pamphlet celebrates the murder that year of a Pensacola abortion
doctor, gives instructions on how to handle explosives and offers such
advice as: "If terminally ill, use your final months to torch clinics;
by the time the authorities identify you . . . you will have gone to
In response to the rising tide of antiabortion
violence over the past several years, President Clinton last May
signed into law the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act,
prohibiting anyone from using force, threats or physical obstruction
to injure, intimidate or interfere with a person trying to enter or
leave an abortion clinic. Immediately after the Pensacola murders last
summer, Attorney General Janet Reno created the Clinic Violence Task
Force to determine whether there was a conspiracy against abortion
clinics. At about that time, U.S. marshals were deployed to guard
nearly two dozen clinics. By fall, however, the contingent of marshals
was cut drastically on the grounds that the threat had abated.
Abortion activists deny that is so. Says Smeal: "As
of today, there has not been one arrest for death threats, yet there
are known extremists who are making these threats against doctors and
clinics. We're not talking about the entire right-to-life movement.
But for there to be so many threats, and for there to be so few
arrests, it has to be a weak investigation."
Attorney General Reno says there is only so much
her department can do. But a Planned Parenthood spokesman insists the
Beacon Street clinic had been receiving more threats than usual over
the past month -- perhaps because it is one of 20 facilities around
the country testing RU-486, the so-called French abortion pill. Some
Beacon Street clinic workers claim they had asked the local Justice
Department office to supply protection -- a charge the U.S. Attorney
would not discuss.
With Salvi in custody, any threat he might pose is
over. But how many others like him are out there, waiting to act? If
it wasn't already clear to law- enforcement officials, abortion-rights
activists and clinic workers, it should now be tragically evident that
the safeguards that exist to protect a woman's right to abortion are
John C. Salvi III