What we thought: A sobering tale of human tragedy. In Australia in 1920, a woman, Eugenia Falleni, was charged with the murder of her wife. Born into a large Italian migrant family, Eugenia began passing herself off as a man at a young age. Easily able to tackle tough construction jobs and join in the rough male drinking life, her existence as a man was always perilous though, and in a horrific experience on a merchant ship, her gender was uncovered.
The story then follows the twenty-two years she lived in Sydney as the hard-drinking, foul-mouthed Scotsman Harry Crawford, and how Harry managed to convince his two wives that he was a man. However, Harry's first wife, Annie Birkett, eventually discovered the truth, and Annie disappeared. Her burnt body was discovered at Lane Cove and by the time Eugenia Falleni was charged with her murder, Harry Crawford had married a second woman, again successfully maintaining the elaborate cover-up.
The trial of Eugenia Falleni for Annie Birkett’s murder is extensively analysed by the author, Crown Prosecutor Mark Tedeschi QC, one of Australia's foremost criminal law barristers. He reveals a grim, fascinating and extraordinary tale against the vivid backdrop of working-class Sydney in the years leading up to the Great Depression. It is an interesting study of how Eugenia's case was subject to mishandling and to the prejudices of the times. A fascinating subject: a woman trapped in a man’s body, in a male justice system, I couldn’t help but sympathise with Eugenia, who had not a single friend, or family member, with whom she could share her terrible secret. I can’t begin to imagine how she must have lived in constant terror that her secret would be exposed and she would be ridiculed. I admire the great courage she displayed in managing to turn her life around in spite of such tragedy.
You’ll enjoy this if you like: True Australian crime stories.
Avoid if you don’t like: outdated notions of sexuality, intricate detail of, and unjust, criminal legal proceedings.
Ideal accompaniments: A roo-burger and a can of Fosters.
Genre: True crime