FALLENI, EUGENIA (c.1875-1938), convicted murderer, was born reputedly in Florence, Italy, and moved with her family to New Zealand about 1877. According to later medical reports, she had frequently run away as a child, seeking jobs in brickyards and other places where she dressed as a boy. In her teens Falleni found employment aboard a ship that plied the south seas. At some point during her voyages, her sex was discovered and she became pregnant. About 1898 Falleni disembarked at Newcastle, New South Wales, friendless, with a baby girl. It is possible that she was the unmarried Lena Falleni, born at Livorno, Italy, who gave birth to a daughter Josephine in Sydney in 1898. The child was put into a Sydney woman’s care and Falleni proceeded to present herself to the world as ‘Harry Leo Crawford’.
Crawford worked in Sydney for employers who thought nothing of the gruff, taciturn man’s bearing. He held a series of manual jobs—in a meat factory, hotels, laundries, a rubber company and in private service. By 1912 he was a yardman and driver for Dr G. R. C. Clarke of Wahroonga, where he met Annie Birkett. A widow with a 9-year-old son, Annie was a general domestic with the Clarkes but had saved a nest egg. Harry took mother and son on sulky rides and to visit the circus. The courting pair resolved to leave service and set up a confectionery shop in Balmain. Claiming to be a widower aged 38, son of a master mariner, also named Harry Leo Crawford, Harry went through a marriage ceremony with Annie on 19 February 1913 at the Methodist Parsonage, Balmain South, and embarked on a brief, stormy family life. It remains unclear whether Annie realized that her husband was not a man. Neighbours later reported that the pair quarrelled frequently, particularly after Falleni’s daughter Josephine reappeared.
While young Harry Birkett was away from home, the Crawfords celebrated the Eight-Hour Day holiday in 1917 with a picnic at Chatswood. Mrs Crawford did not return. On 2 October a woman’s body was discovered, charred beyond recognition and apparently battered. Crawford did not report his wife missing; rather he claimed that she had left him. Josephine moved out and, selling the household goods, Crawford moved to inner Sydney with his stepson. On 29 September 1919 at Canterbury registry office Harry Leo Crawford, a widower and a mechanical engineer, married Elizabeth King Allison. The groom’s parents were given as Harry Crawford, ship-owner, and Elizabeth Falleni. By 1920 the body at Chatswood had been identified as Annie Crawford and police tracked down her husband. Arrested on suspicion of murder on 5 July, Crawford asked to be held in the women’s cells.
The press relished the revelation. Sydney’s ‘man-woman’ created a sensation. At his preliminary hearing in July 1920 the defendant appeared in men’s clothes. At the trial for murder in October, however, the accused sat in the dock dressed as a woman. The Crown argued that Falleni had perpetrated ‘sex fraud’ and had killed to cover her deception. The defence countered that she was innocent and merely a ‘congenital invert’. Falleni was convicted and condemned to death, but her sentence was commuted. Released from Long Bay prison in February 1931 she assumed the name ‘Jean Ford’ and worked as a landlady. She was living at Paddington when she was struck by a motorcar in Oxford Street on 9 June 1938. Falleni died of her injuries the following day in Sydney Hospital and was buried with Anglican rites in Rookwood cemetery.
Speculation about Falleni’s identity and guilt did not stop with her death. At her 1920 trial her daughter had testified: ‘My mother has always gone about dressed as a man’. Since then doctors, psychiatrists, journalists, endocrinologists, feminists, playwrights, film makers and historians have tried to make sense of Falleni. They have labelled her variously 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. Falleni proclaimed her innocence of the murder but never explained what induced her to live as a man.
Book: EUGENIA, A MAN