Eugenia Falleni , born in 1875, wasn’t all that she seemed especially beneath her clothing. She lived in constant fear of discovery. Over the years, this odd disguise would cause her mind to snap and she would begin to kill incessantly to maintain her alter identity, married man Harry Crawford. Believe me when I say Falleni wasn’t the prettiest girl on the block, at least not after her teens. Then again, Crawford was no movie star either. I’ve blogged about a transgender existence before. I am sympathetic to these people: their lives are difficult from the get-go. They are persecuted from the time they are in their youth throughout the remainder of their lives when they finally begin living as the opposite sex. However Falleni doesn’t quite fit into this category. She was a murderer and a very skillful one at that. She killed people to remain undetected. It’s hard to feel sympathy for someone with a sinister nature.
Having said that, Falleni had good reason not to wish to be exposed as a fraud. In Victorian Australia transsexuals and transgenders, who were known incorrectly as transvestites, were unheard of by most people at the turn of the century. And Falleni’s family were hostile and uncomprehending about her need to live as a male. Falleni grew up erroneously believing that impersonating a man was grounds for an arrest. It is entirely possible that her father instilled this belief in Falleni in an effort to get her into a dress, although no such criminal law existed. She was once arrested for vagrancy due to her transgender identity, however. It was this constant, unnecessary worry that would lead to her eventual crime of murder and a prison conviction.
Falleni was the eldest of 22 children, of whom seventeen survived. Falleni’s father, a stern disciplinarian, was a man of many talents. He worked as a carrier with a horse and cart and as a fisherman, among other occupations. He used Eugenia to obtain work in brickyards and stables during her teen years by repeatedly allowing her to dress in male attire. As a child, Eugenia developed into a tomboy. She loved to dress in boys’ clothing and to play rough games with the boys. Unlike other girls in her neighbourhood, she had no interest in dresses or dolls. She was expected to play a major role in helping her mother look after her younger siblings, but she refused. In her early teenage years, she was considered beautiful, but uncontrollable. She clashed with her Italian father, who was unable to accept that Eugenia was not interested in leading a traditional female existence. In her adolescent years, even though she kept her hair very short, Eugenia was considered to be a beautiful young woman. Her disdain for any romantic approach caused would-be suitors to redouble their efforts to gain her favours. Eugenia’s unhappy father couldn’t understand why his daughter so readily rebuffed romantic offers from these fine young men. Her mother was of no help to Eugenia; she supported her husband’s hostility against their first-born child. Only her grandmother accepted her as she was and refrained from trying to change her ways. This emotional support would always remain with Eugenia. Years later when she would give her daughter Josephine (conceived through rape) to another family, Eugenia would refer to her daughter’s foster-mother as Granny.
On 14 September 1894, when Eugenia was nineteen, her father, thinking that it would make his daughter ‘normal’, forced her into a marriage in Wellington to Braseli Innocente. She was horrified to have a stranger and a male forced upon her by her father. Her new husband turned out to be a scoundrel who already had a wife and another family in Auckland. He took Eugenia to Auckland, but she escaped and made her way back to Wellington, where she shunned contact with her family. Finally Eugenia left home in the guise of a cabin boy and began calling herself Eugene Falleni. Falleni’s family made little effort to find her after years of being hostile about her decision to live as a boy, even though they were the ones who encouraged her to dress as a boy in order to work alongside her father. That’s not stupid. All the years of psychological and familial struggle finally convinced her that she had been born into a body of the wrong gender. She only felt comfortable when she wore men’s clothing. She only felt normal when she walked and talked of a man. She was happiest in men’s company and doing manual work that only men were permitted to do. She was at home in a pub with rough, working-class men, drinking pints of beer. Her need to live life as a male was not something she chose. She simply was meant to be a man. She accepted this and followed her instincts.
Falleni left Wellington to sail the seven seas. After a few years at sea as a cabin boy, her anatomical sex was discovered after a drunken conversation with the ship’s captain. They had been talking in Italian when Falleni stated her family considered her to be a ‘piccolina‘ the feminine version of ‘piccolino’ meaning little one. Falleni failed to alleviate the captain’s suspicions as to her sex. She became ostracized by crew members and she was repeatedly raped by the ship’s captain. Ick. I read another account where Falleni deliberately told the captain about her real identity as she was bisexual and was tired of being celibate. Either way, having a woman on board a ship was viewed as bad luck, and Falleni was unceremoniously dumped ashore, pregnant and destitute in 1898 in Newcastle, Australia. No wonder Falleni preferred life as a boy than a girl. In that same year she gave birth to a daughter, Josephine Crawford Falleni, in Sydney and put the child into the care of an Italian-born woman, Mrs. de Angeles. She took on a male identity as ‘Harry Leo Crawford’,of Scots descent, visiting her daughter only when it suited her. Perhaps she suited life as a male for more than one reason. Josephine called Mrs. de Angeles ‘Granny‘ and later recalled that ‘Granny’ said her father was a sea-captain. Josephine knew, however, that Falleni was her biological mother and that she preferred to dress in mens’ clothing.
Falleni eked out a living through several unskilled manual jobs in meatworks, pubs and a rubber factory. Eventually Falleni found work with a a Dr G. R. C. Clarke in Northern Sydney. She was used as a general worker and a sulky driver (no, not having a sulk, sulky means a lightweight car with only two wheels). It was there that she met Dr Clarke’s beautiful housekeeper Annie Birkett, who had been widowed several years before and left with a 13-year-old son, Harry, to support. To Annie, Crawford was a handsome man who paid her vast amounts of attention whilst ignoring the advances of the other female staff. Harry often took mother and son on sulky rides and to visit the circus.
Annie and her son left for Balmain where Annie used some money she’d inherited from her late husband to set up a confectionery shop. Falleni took an interest in the business and in Annie’s wealth.On 19 February 1913, the two were married. Soon after their marriage the couple moved to Drummoyne where Falleni worked in hotels and factories. All of his jobs involved heavy, masculine work. In all that time, witnesses, including Falleni, stated Annie was not aware her husband possessed a female’s anatomy. In 1917 Annie was told by a neighbour that Falleni was a woman. It is difficult to understand how a person could be intimate with a man and not discover that he is actually a she. However, it has been done many times in history throughout the world. Brandon Teena is a modern example of an American girl who lived as a boy and was sexually active with several girls who were astonished to learn after the relationship had ended that Teena was actually a girl. Gemma Barker, 19, in 2012, was convicted of sexual assault when she had sex with underage girls in Los Angeles, while disguised as a boy. A judge commented about her case, it has got a very mean, manipulative streak to it.’ Anyhoo. Back to Annie and Falleni. Annie confronted Falleni but of course she refused to confirm her sex, fearing that Annie would tell the police and have her arrested. Annie resolved to end the marriage against Falleni’s wishes.
One afternoon, Annie suggested that the two of them have a picnic near Lane Cove River. According to Falleni’s later statement to the police, the two of them fought after Annie told Falleni she wanted a divorce since she believed her husband “was a woman.” At some point during the physical “argument” Annie “slipped” and fell backwards, hitting her head on a rock and losing consciousness. Annie died within minutes. Falleni panicked and since there were no witnesses he disposed of Annie’s body by burning it. Nice guy. A real romantic, she left Annie’s body in scrub land, off Mowbray Road, Chatswood. Eventually Annie’s body was discovered but in spite of dental records that included a dental plate Annie wore, Annie’s body was not identified. Newspaper accounts were soon reporting that the police believed it to be a case of suicide based on accounts of a woman ‘whose manner has been regarded as strange‘ being seen in the area. Really? A “strange” woman poured flammable liquid on herself and set herself on fire? This wasn’t the Middle East. Anyhoo. Poor Annie’s remains were buried in a coffin marked ‘The body of an unknown woman’ at Rookwood Cemetery. When Harry asked Falleni about his mother, Falleni told the child that his mother had run off with another man. Eventually a witness at Falleni’s inevitable trial would also claim that Falleni told them Annie had ‘cleared out’. Not the kindest thing ever told to a little boy who had a close relationship with his mother.
In 1919 Falleni met Elizabeth King Allison, known as Lizzie, and fell in love. They married at Canterbury in September 1919 with Falleni again giving his name as Harry Leo Crawford, place of birth as Scotland and his occupation as mechanical engineer. Lizzie was over fifty years of age at the time. Lucky for Lizzie, Falleni’s killing streak would soon be over due to the ongoing concerns of Falleni’s late wife’s son, Harry. After his mother’s disappearance, Harry went to live in Woolloomooloo.In 1920, he visited his aunt and, ‘told her things which led to an interview with the Police’. He stated that after returning from a holiday weekend Falleni took him to the notorious suicide spot The Gap (not the clothing store, silly) where he threw stones off the cliff. Falleni tried to get the boy to walk closer to the edge, but he refused. A week later, Falleni took Harry to scrub land near Manning Road, Double Bay, and asked Harry to dig a large hole. He did, without knowing that it was for his mother, and they returned home.
The boy also told police that his mother only married Falleni because he was so persistent and ‘there were always rows and they were never happy’. Neighbours reported to police that the quarrels increased in frequency when Falleni’s daughter Josephine arrived to live with them. For her part, Josephine was fully aware that Falleni was her mother and not her father. Harry mentioned an incident when Falleni found them after Annie left him to live with her sister, and how he ‘smashed up everything’. Uh-oh. This bit of news was a tad worrisome. Police arrested “the Man-Woman” as Falleni was dubbed by the press, at a hotel in Annandale on 5 July 1920. Falleni asked to be placed in the women’s cells. Who knows? She also requested that Lizzie not be told that she was a woman. In a locked leather suitcase, police located an ‘article’ made of wood and rubber in the shape of a phallus or dildo.
At Falleni’s trial for murder in October 1920, the ‘Man-Woman case’ created a press sensation, with the accused appearing first in a man’s suit and then in women’s clothes, as ordered by the Court. The Prosecutor stated Falleni ‘was so practical in deceit’ as to be able to convince two women ‘for years’ that she was male. A large crowd watched when Falleni was remanded at the Central Police Court on the charge of murder. A newspaper described the accused:
“The accused woman is strangely interesting. She bore an extraordinary resemblance to a man, for facially she is masculine. She wore a man’s clothes. While in the docks she appeared distinctly nervous. She wears a gold band ring on the little finger, and she “fiddled” with the dock rail. In her right hand, she carried a grey felt hat. her hair is almost black and clipped short. It was neatly brushed and parted on the left side of her head. Her face is considerably wrinkled, and suggests that she is older than her stated 43. “
Falleni probably looked older than 43 due to the nature of her work and the stress of living as a man while fearing discovery. The prosecutor was given permission to treat Falleni’s daughter Josephine as a hostile witness. Obviously she must have been very defensive when subpoenaed to appear in court. The D.A. submitted her earlier sworn statement to police as evidence:
“I first remember my mother when about seven years of age. She always wore men’s clothing, and was known as Harry Crawford. I was brought up at Double Bay by Mrs. de Angeles, whom I used to call ‘Granny.’ Granny told me that Harry Crawford was my mother, and that my father was the captain of a boat. My mother was very cruel to me when I was a child, and often forgot me. Granny told me that my mother tried to smother me when I was a baby. Mrs. de Angeles died when I was about 12 years of age, and my mother took me to a little confectionery shop in Balmain, kept by a Mrs. Birkett, who had a son named Harry. My mother told me Mrs. Birkett had some money, and always thought my mother was a man. I said to my mother, ‘She’ll find you out one of these days.‘ My mother replied, ‘Oh, I’ll watch it. I would rather do away with myself than let the police find anything about me.’ My mother told me always to call her father, and not let Mrs. Birkett nor anyone else know that she was a woman. I did not know that my mother was married to Mrs. Birkett, but they occupied the same bed-room. They quarrelled a great deal, and mother used to come out and say, ‘More rows over you. I cannot get any sleep.’ I replied to my mother, and she said, ‘Oh, a lovely daughter I’ve got.’ I said, ‘What can you expect? A lovely mother I’ve got.’ In 1917 I met my mother, who told me everything was unsettled and upside down, as Mrs. Birkett had discovered she was a woman. My mother seemed very agitated, and was always reticent about herself.”
While incarcerated, Falleni was treated no better than a circus freak. She was kept in a cage so members of the public could observe him, all while prodding and poking him with sticks, umbrellas, and anything they could find. I agree Falleni should have been in lock-up and I believe she did murder Annie. I disagree that Falleni should have been treated lower than an animal. What appeared as a “freak-show” to the press was the humiliation of a human being to friends and family of Falleni, and of course, Falleni herself.
Falleni pleaded not guilty to the murder, but she was convicted and condemned to death. Falleni consulted with an attorney, before making a statement to the court: ” ‘I have been three months in Long Bay Gaol. I am near to a nervous breakdown. I am not guilty, your Honor. I know nothing whatsoever of this charge. It is only through false evidence that I have been convicted.” Fortunately for Falleni, her sentence was commuted to life in prison. After some years in prison, Falleni was released. Falleni assumed yet another identity, that of “Mrs. Jean Ford” and became the proprietress of a boarding house in Paddington, Sydney. On 9 June 1938 she stepped off the pavement in front of a motorcar and was struck by it. She died of her injuries the following day in Sydney Hospital. She was only identified through fingerprint records and the £100 she gained from the sale of the boarding house business just before the accident. The inquest returned a verdict of accidental death. Maybe. I’m inclined to believe Falleni deliberately killed herself. Falleni is buried in the Church of England section of Rookwood Cemetery, the very same where her first wife, Annie Birkett.
Public and historic fascination with the case continues today. The Sydney Living Museums, Sydney, Australia, has a collection of Eugenia Falleni photographs from the time of her first arrest in 1920. Sydney’s Justice and Police Museum was the site of Mark Tedeschi’s book launch, Eugenia Falleni: A True Story of Adversity, Tragedy, Crime and Courage. Interest and research into the “Man-Woman” case has never waned; doctors, psychiatrists, journalists, endocrinologists, feminists and historians have tried to make sense of Falleni’s identity. She has been labelled as a sexual hermaphrodite, a “homosexualist”, a masquerader, a person with misplaced atoms, a sex pervert, a passing woman, a transgendered man, and as gender dysphoric. Perhaps the most accurate is the latter, and specifically transgendered man. Obviously these assessments Falleni wasn’t a “hermaphrodite” (now known as intersex). Autopsy records have proven this to be false.