Sadly, for any transgender person born in the late 1800’s, the only socially acceptable, safe choice would’ve been to mask who they were. Eugenia Falleni (sometimes spelled Eugeni) absolutely refused to do this, he was a bit ahead of his time.
Eugenia was born the oldest of more than 20 children, and when she was just a toddler her parents moved the family to New Zealand. By the time he was a teenager, Eugenia had begun dressing as a boy and using the masculine form of his feminine name. As Eugene, he could easily pick up jobs and care for himself. When the teen’s family found out what he was doing, they turned their backs on him; Eugene was completely on his own.
As a young adult, Eugene took a job working on a ship. While at sea, the captain discovered his secret; he was sexually assaulted multiple times over a period of time, and finally dumped ashore in Newcastle once he was found to be with child. A baby girl named Josephine was born; the very last thing Eugene ever wanted to be was a mother, so he found an sweet Italian lady to raise his child.
Eugene moved to a place where he believed nobody would ever find him, and took on the name of Harry Crawford. He claimed to be a widower, and in 1913 Eugene married a widowed woman named Annie Birkett; he helped his new wife raise her son, Harry Birkett.
For 4 years Eugene pulled married life off without a hitch. Those who knew him rarely, if ever, doubted Eugene; he worked very physically demanding jobs, and could hold his liquor with the best of them (most men did this back then). Eugene was masculine in every way – including sexually. Annie, who’d obviously been in a sexual active marriage before, never doubted that her second husband was a man. The details on how Eugene’s secret was discovered are a bit blurry. The most likely story claims that his long lost daughter, Josephine, came looking for her mother. A neighbor put two and two together, and said neighbor told Eugene’s wife. However the discovery happened, in 1917 the jig was finally up.
An angry Annie threatened to go to police in order to expose her husband; her family would later say that she had told them she’d learned something “amazing about Harry” but she never would elaborate. On October 1st, Annie simply went missing; her husband told everyone that his wife had forsaken him and her son to run off with their plumber.
With Annie out of the way, Eugene allowed no grass to grow beneath his feet; he quickly found himself a new wife, a middle aged woman by three name of Elizabeth King Allison. While Annie’s son remained in Eugene’s life, Harry would later claim that his step father had attempted to take his life twice. On one occasion Eugene took the young man to a place known as suicide cliff, hoping that the kid would either fall or he could get up the nerve to push him. In another instance, young Harry was forced to dig a large hole. Nearly 3 years after his mother’s disappearance, the boy told his Aunt about this, and that he knew another big secret as well; Harry’s Aunt immediately informed the police.
This is when investigators realized that the Jane Doe who they had buried a couple years earlier had really been Annie. The corpse had been mistaken for a possibly mentally unstable towns woman who had last been seen with kerosene. Because of this, the investigation had been deemed a suicide and closed very quickly. Now that they’d realized their mistake, police promptly dug Annie back up and her death was deemed a murder.
In the 1920, Eugene was arrested for his first wife’s death. During a search of his property, a phallus fashioned from wood and leather was discovered. Eugene’s current wife, Elizabeth, stated that she had mistaken her husband for being physically insecure, this discovery explained why he had never allowed her to have a good look at him.
According to Eugene, Annie’s death had happened like this: On the day in which she had gone missing, the couple had visited Lane Cove River in order to talk. While there, Annie admitted that she was planning to divulge her husband’s secret to everyone in order to obtain a divorce. Eugene claimed that he had never meant to do his wife any harm; Annie had accidentally slipped and hit her head on a stone during this heated conversation. He said that she was bleeding out quickly, and though he tried to help her, Eugene couldn’t save her. He then said that he’d basically lost his cool, and quickly decided that the only thing left to do was to cover up the accidental death by setting fire to Annie’s corpse.
While it appeared that this was the sequence of events, the coroner said he could tell that Annie had been burnt alive by the blisters on her skin.
The court did not believe Eugene’s story, especially with Annie’s son claiming that there had been two attempts on his life. After a sensational trial which seemed to focus more on who and what Eugene was than the crime he was accused of (that homemade phallus was evidence at the trial, and later sent to a museum) he was sentenced to death. His sentence was later commuted; all together Eugene spent 11 years in prison. At this time he was released back into the public, but only after he promised never to dress as a man again.
Eugene tried to make a new life for himself. After taking on the name of Jean Ford, he took a job running a boarding school in Sydney until his death. On June 9th of 1938, he was struck by a vehicle; the death was investigated and deemed to have been an accident. Either way, it was a tragic ending to a tragic life.
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