By all accounts, Annie Birkett died a horrible death. However, it was not the victim that gave the case its notoriety, but her transgender husband Eugene Falleni, who was eventually convicted of her murder.
Eugene Falleni was born in about 1875 and was given the name Eugenia, but from an early age identified as male.
Born in Italy, the eldest of 22 children, Eugene was often punished for dressing in boys’ clothes.
At 19, his father forced him into a marriage to an Italian man- leaving Eugene with no choice but to run away for good.
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Signing on as a cabin boy aboard ships, Eugene lived as a man for several years until a captain discovered that he had been born a woman.
The captain subjected Eugene to countless rapes, before forcing him ashore when he fell pregnant.
Docking in Newcastle in 1898, Eugene made his way to Sydney where he gave birth to a daughter he named Josephine.
Harry Leo Crawford is born
Josephine was left in the care of an Italian woman in Double Bay and Eugene Falleni took on the identity of Harry Leo Crawford.
Although some thought him strange and somewhat reserved, none of his co-workers suspected Eugene had been assigned female at birth. They knew him to be a good worker who, despite his small frame, was not afraid of hard work.
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Eugene had always spurned the interest of young ladies until in 1912, when he fell for his boss’s housekeeper Annie Birkett, a widowed mother of a teenage son.
Annie and Eugene married in 1913 and later set up a confectionery shop in Balmain together.
Witness testimonies and Falleni himself would later confirm that Annie was unaware her husband was trans.
In 1917, Annie was told by a neighbour that Falleni was assigned female at birth.
She confronted her husband, who refused to answer the question- fearing that Annie would have him arrested.
A fatal picnic
On October 1, Annie suggested they go for a picnic near Lane Cove River to discuss their future.
According to Falleni’s statement, the two fought after Annie revealed her intention to leave him.
Falleni said that Annie then slipped and fell backward- hitting her head on a rock.
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He would later allege that despite his best efforts, Annie died within minutes.
Fearing he would be arrested and his biological sex would be revealed, Eugene decided to conceal her death.
Falleni burnt Annie’s body and hide it in scrubland, before telling her son that she had run away with another man.
Annie’s body was not identified, and when police found her burnt remains they determined it was likely suicide.
In 1919, Falleni met Elizabeth King Allison, known as Lizzie, and the couple soon married.
While Falleni was living in wedded bliss with Lizzie, Annie’s son was living with his Aunt and expressed his doubts about his stepfather’s version of events.
Having never heard from his mother again, he went to the police to report Annie missing.
The murder trial of the century
Dates and dental records were checked and on October 5 1920, three years after the fatal picnic, Eugene Falleni was charged with the murder of his wife.
Taken to Long Bay Goal. he was told to undress, have a bath, and put on prison clothes.
Eugene agreed, but said he would have to do it in the women’s section. At first the prison authorities refused. A doctor was then called, and after an examination declared that Eugene Falleni had been born a woman.
When news of the arrest hit the media, Eugene’s gender identity received more attention than the crime he allegedly perpetrated.
Eugene appeared in court in women’s clothing, the first time in 30 years he had presented as female.
He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death, with the sentence later commuted to life imprisonment. Falleni was released in 1931- on the condition that he promised to live the remainder of his life as a woman.
Taking on the name Jean Ford, he bought a house in Paddignton where he lived quietly while maintaining his innocence.
On the 9th of June 1938, he stepped off the kerb in Oxford Street and was hit by a car, dying shortly afterwards.
When no one could trace Jean Ford’s relatives, or discover her background. Fingerprints were taken, and it was discovered that the dead woman was Eugenia Falleni- better known as Eugene.
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