Story: Aves, Isabel Annie

Page 1 - Aves, Isabel Annie

Aves, Isabel Annie

1887–1938

Abortionist

This biography was written by Barbara Brookes and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 4, 1998

Isabel Annie Michaelsen was born on 18 March 1887 in Waipawa, Hawke's Bay. Her early family life was marred by tragedy. Her father, Harald Michaelsen, a Danish clerk, committed suicide by poisoning himself three months before Annie was born. Three years later his Scottish wife, Kate Layton Fraser, died.

Annie Michaelsen was raised by Annie Davis and her husband, John Sinclair, a storeman. She left school at the end of form two, after achieving her proficiency certificate, and entered domestic service. On 2 April 1907 at Napier, aged 20, she married 42-year-old John Oliver Craike, a grape-grower. Her first child, a son, was born in 1908; her second son, and last child, in 1911. In the mid 1920s she separated from Craike, who died in 1931. Annie supported her sons by working as a cook in an institution; it may have been during this period that she began her work in the illegal trade of abortion. Certainly, Annie had a considerable reputation as an abortionist by the time she married Charles James Aves, a music teacher, at Wellington on 14 April 1932.

Annie Aves established her household in Fitzroy Avenue, a respectable middle-class street in Hastings. Her clients, married and single, came from the surrounding area of Hawke's Bay and as far afield as Wellington, sometimes making return visits. Hers was a specialty much in demand in the depression years. Unlike other abortionists, who preferred to operate before the third month of pregnancy, Aves did not hesitate to perform later abortions. She mostly used the sea-tangle tent, which, when inserted into the mouth of the uterus, absorbed moisture and so caused dilation and eventual miscarriage or premature labour.

Annie Aves was of the view that the man responsible for the pregnancy, rather than the woman who had the abortion, should pay for her services. To this end, she issued IOUs to men who deferred payment, and employed solicitors to chase those who reneged on their commitment, disguising the fee as a loan repayment. Her charges varied according to clients' circumstances and she made a very comfortable living. In one 18-month period, in which she dealt with 183 clients, Annie earned just over £2,200.

When the police raided the Fitzroy Avenue premises in June 1936, they found 22 separate collections of foetal remains buried in the garden. A number of women were willing to admit they had consulted Annie Aves about having an abortion, how much they had paid her, and that she had induced miscarriage. However, there were other people living in the house and there was no evidence to prove that it was Aves who had been responsible for the abortions. Another difficulty was that the women who gave evidence against her were accomplices to the crime, and juries were reluctant to convict abortionists while the women who had used their services went scot-free.

Annie Aves was defended by C. G. Harker, a well-known Napier barrister. When the jury failed to agree, a retrial was ordered and the venue moved to Wellington. Two more inconclusive but widely publicised trials followed and few doubted that when released, Annie Aves would return to her former trade. The Crown would normally have entered a nolle prosequi after three inconclusive trials and dropped the charges, but in this instance a fourth trial was ordered. This final trial, in February 1937, was similarly inconclusive but the judge ordered that Aves report twice weekly to the police wherever she was in New Zealand.

Charles Aves died on 18 April 1937 and Annie moved to Westshore, Napier. It was there, in September 1938, that she was visited by a young woman who preferred an abortion to a hastily arranged marriage. Annie took the young woman in on a Thursday, performed the abortion, and let her client return home on Saturday. By Sunday the woman was very ill. Her partner, Colin Herbert Hercock, a grocer's assistant, insisted that she see a doctor and she was admitted to Waipukurau Hospital. The young man was led to believe that the woman he wished to marry was about to die. Collecting a gun, he knocked on Annie's door and, when she answered, shot her. Annie Aves died the next day, on 3 October 1938, at Napier Hospital. The young woman survived and gave evidence at Hercock's trial, which resulted in a verdict of manslaughter and a twelve-year sentence, reduced on appeal to seven.

Annie Aves was a tall, fashionably dressed woman, with a heavily made-up face, blonded hair, and a penchant for expensive trappings. Her popularity in the community was marked by the lengthy procession that followed her flower-bedecked hearse from her home, and by the crowd that gathered at Hastings cemetery for her burial on 15 October 1938. We do not know how she learned her illegal trade, or her motivation, but we do know that she provided a service sought after by many women.