Day 79 of Colourisation Project – July 25
Born this day 25 July 1875, Eugenia Falleni (also known as Eugene Falleni, Harry Leo Crawford and Jean Ford) was a female-to-male transgender person convicted of the murder of his ‘wife’ in 1920 and the subject of one of the ‘special photos’ mugshots from the NSW Police forensic archives.
Around 130,000 negatives taken by NSW police photographers between 1910 and 1964 are housed at the Justice & Police Museum in Sydney, where they have been since they were rescued from a flooded warehouse in Lidcombe in 1990 by the Historic Houses Trust of NSW. Each negative tells a story. Today it’s Eugenia’s story to tell.
Born in Florence, Italy, her family migrated to Wellington, New Zealand when she was two years old. At the age of 18 Falleni ran away from a hostile home environment and found work as a cabin boy on board a ship. When Falleni’s secret was exposed, she was subjected to repeated rapes from the ship’s captain. She was put ashore at Newcastle, Australia in 1898. Finding herself pregnant and destitute she was forced to later put her child, a daughter into the care of an Italian family in Double Bay.
Disowned by her family, and twice married, hers was the tormented life of a man trapped in the body of a woman. She spent most of her adult life masquerading as a man from 1898 until she was charged with the murder of her first ‘wife’ Annie Birkett in 1920. The Australian press was beside itself reporting in the most merciless way Falleni’s unusual but tragic story.
In those days, there were no support services for transgender people. In an unforgiving society they were generally treated as outcasts and subjected to horrendous vilification by society at large. Throw in a considerable amount of prejudice towards immigrants and you have all the elements for an intriguing murder trial; one that gripped the imagination of a nation.
With salacious details of her story saturating the papers, Falleni didn’t stand a chance of a fair trial. Sydney Crown Prosecutor, Mark Tedeschi in his book, Eugenia: A True Story of Adversity, Tragedy, Crime and Courage released in 2012, explores Falleni’s life and the story of one of the most extraordinary criminal trials in Australia’s legal history and perhaps one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our history.
Believing that Falleni was wrongly convicted on the basis of “fallacious scientific evidence, unreliable sighting witnesses, dubious police practice, and an avalanche of prejudicial publicity,” Tedeschi argues that a more experienced defense counsel could have secured an acquittal or, at worst, a manslaughter verdict.
At the preliminary hearing in July 1920, Falleni appeared in men’s clothes. At the trial for murder in October, however, Falleni sat in the dock dressed as a woman.
After only two hours of deliberation, the jury found Falleni guilty. She was sentenced to death but this was later commuted to life in prison. In 1931 she was released from Long Bay prison after serving 11 years on the condition that she lived as a woman. She did just that, assuming the name, ‘Jean Ford’. Seven years later in 1938 she was struck by a car in Oxford Street, Paddington, ironically the main road which forms the route of Sydney’s Mardi Gras parade. She died the next day from her injuries.
Eugenia Falleni’s story has been the inspiration of many writers, film makers, biographers, museum curators as well as academics with an interest in gender studies. How she managed to dupe her wife and others is anyone’s guess. In this day and age it simply would not be an issue and her story may have unraveled in a very different way.
“His two wives never saw him in the nude. Sex happened in the dark and under covers, under severe constraints. Women knew a lot less about sex than they know today. It was only in the trial that the object that Harry Crawford used to satisfy his wives was shown to the court and it caused an incredible scandal. In court it was known only as “the article”.
Mark Tedeschi – Eugenia: A True Story of Adversity, Tragedy, Crime and Courage