People are not always born happy. Their parents do not make them feel special, their older relatives do not spoil them, their lives are not meant to treat them good, and their bodies are not the ones they are supposed to live in. If you combine all of the above, you will understand Eugenia Falleni’s early years.
Eugenia Falleni was born on July 25, 1875, in Toscane. She was the oldest child of 22 and when she was 2-years-old, her parents decided to immigrate to Wellington of New Zealand.
Right from the start of her life, everyone seemed to understand that Eugenia was not like her sisters or other girls of her age. Her behavior and her habits resembled those of her brothers and even though she looked like a girl, she always felt that her body was wrong. If Eugenia was born today, she would say out loud that she was transgender, but in the 1800s, something like that would be unacceptable.
Eugenia’s father, a man who abused his children, was not happy with his oldest daughter wearing boys clothes and enjoying manual work throughout her teenage years. Having no other choice but teach her a lesson, he constrained Eugenia to get married to Martello Falleni, but it all ended up with her running away to Sydney dressed up like a man. She started working as a cabin boy under the name Eugene Falleni and her family never tried to find her. Eugenia was gone, only to come back again after 21 years.
For a long time, Falleni worked as a man on that ship until one night, when she got drunk with the captain and told him, by mistake, that her grandmother used to call her “piccolina”, which means “little girl.” The crew grabbed her and took off her clothes revealing her real identity, turning her, from that moment, into the ship’s prostitute. The captain and every single member of the crew raped her many times and since, according to tradition, having a woman on board was bad luck, they abandoned her at the Australian Newcastle Port. Falleni was pregnant.
Her daughter, Josephine, was born in 1899 and, after her birth, Eugenia got a male ID and she officially became Harry Leo Crawford. Josephine was raised by the De Angeles family, who were presented to her as grandparents because her father, as everyone told her, was a sailor and he could only visit her every time his ship got back to Sydney.
However, Harry was not a sailor anymore and he was doing a bunch of manual labor jobs to survive until 1912 when he got hired as a janitor for Dr. G.R.C. Clarke in North Sydney. This was when Harry found love for the first time. A love to kill for.
Annie Birkett was a widow with a 13-year-old son, and she was one of the women in Dr. Clarke’s house who were charmed by Harry’s looks. Harry proposed to her and she was happy to become his wife. They got married on February 19, 1913, and they moved in Drummoyne where Harry started working for hotels and factories. Harry’s daughter, Josephine, joined them.
Four happy years after their wedding day, Annie heard some rumors about her husband being genetically a woman. The fact that a woman had never seen her partner’s genital area may seem strange in the 2010s but 100 years ago, women had little participation in the intercourse and were treated just like a sex object. Annie asked for an explanation from Harry who refused to say anything. On September 28, 1917, the couple went for a picnic alone, and Annie announced to Harry that she could not stay married to him knowing that he was a woman. According to Harry, Annie slipped and hit her head on a rock losing her senses. His panic made him burn her to avoid the body’s identification, which would send him straight to jail. According to the Justice, Harry killed Annie.
Annie Birkett’s body was discovered one month after her death, and the forensic report noted the extensive burns as the cause of her death. The body could not be identified, and the case closed. Harry told Annie’s son and friends that she had left him for another man, and he moved to Inner Sydney with his ex-wife’s son after his daughter, Josephine, left the family. Harry met Elizabeth King Allison and they got married in September 1919, but Annie’s son was not feeling comfortable with his mother’s substitute and he left to live with his aunt who quickly got suspicious. The case opened and in 1920, Annie’s body was identified. Harry got arrested for her murder and during his transfer to the male prison, his secret came out, leading him to his immediate transfer to the females wing.
For the first time in 21 years, Harry wore female clothes, and he was tried as Eugenia Falleni. The Justice system, the press, and the public opinion were not supportive at all and, after the evidence that Annie died in the fire, Eugenia got the death penalty. After the governor pardon, Eugenia was sentenced to life, but she was released 11 years later, in February of 1931.
Eugenia Falleni changed her name one more time, and she became Jean Ford to avoid reporters. She bought a small hotel in Sydney and on June 9, 1938, she died in a hit and run car accident. After the publication of Mark Tedeschi AM QC’s book “Eugenia”, a group of people registered a non-profit association, and established a committee to collect funds to place a suitably inscribed headstone on Eugenia’s unmarked grave at Rookwood. The project has the support of the Falleni family.