More about Harry Crawford

Ok let me tell you a little more about Harry Crawford aka Eugenia Falleni, at the committal hearing in August 1920, witnesses included the dentist who made the false teeth found with Annie young Harry’s mum and his aunt also identified the gemstone found with the body as being Annie’s.

Young Harry also gave evidence about how his mother only married Crawford/Falleni because he was so persistent and that there had always been fights between them and it was never a happy marriage. He told how his mum was worried about Crawford and how they left him but he found them and smashed up everything.

He told how when Crawford took him to the Gap and tried to get the boy to follow him through the fence to the cliff edge but as young Harry felt that his step-father didn’t like him and his manner was more unpleasant then normal he didn’t trust the man so stayed back, of course his lawyer objected to the evidence but the magistrate allowed it on the ground that it indicated Crawford’s state of mind.

The Government Medical Officer (Dr Palmer) repeated his testimony from the post-mortem that he believed Annie died of burns and was alive when the fire began, due to blistering on the skin he could not say if she was conscious or not, although he did state the small cracks on the skull were likely a result of the fire but a more substantial one could have been the result of violence against her person.

Henrietta Schieblich, who rented a room to Harry after Annie’s death, said he told her his wife had left him and added “We had a jolly good row, and I gave her a crack on the head, and she cleared off”. She also claimed Harry had said he was going to kill Annie’s son on the night he took him to dig holes in the scrub. Another witness supported young Harry’s evidence that Harry, who couldn’t read or write and had asked others to look for mentions of a murder in the newspapers in the weeks after Annie’s disappearance.

The prosecutor was given permission to treat Harry/Eugenia’s daughter Josephine as a hostile witness and submitted her earlier sworn statement to police as evidence:

“I first remember my mother when about seven years of age. She always wore men’s clothing, and was known as Harry Crawford. I was brought up at Double Bay by Mrs. de Angeles, whom I used to call ‘Granny.’ Granny told me that Harry Crawford was my mother, and that my father was the captain of a boat. My mother was very cruel to me when I was a child, and often forgot me. Granny told me that my mother tried to smother me when I was a baby. Mrs. de Angeles died when I was about 12 years of age, and my mother took me to a little confectionery shop in Balmain, kept by a Mrs. Birkett, who had a son named Harry. My mother told me Mrs. Birkett had some money, and always thought my mother was a man. I said to my mother, ‘She’ll find you out one of these days.’ My mother replied, ‘Oh, I’ll watch it. I would rather do away with myself than let the police find anything about me.’ My mother told me always to call her father, and not let Mrs. Birkett nor anyone else know that she was a woman. I did not know that my mother was married to Mrs. Birkett, but they occupied the same bed-room. They quarrelled a great deal, and mother used to come out and say, ‘More rows over you. I cannot get any sleep.’ I replied to my mother, and she said, ‘Oh, a lovely daughter I’ve got.’ I said, ‘What can you expect? A lovely mother I’ve got.’ In 1917 I met my mother, who told me everything was unsettled and upside down, as Mrs. Birkett had discovered she was a woman. My mother seemed very agitated, and was always reticent about herself.

At the end of the hearing Crawford/Falleni was committed for trial and refused bail. A few days after the committal hearing, the magistrate, Mr. Gale, was criticised in a Sydney newspaper for personally escorting into the courtroom, and providing ‘box seats’ for, a popular actor and actress.

The trial of course caused a press sensation with the accused appearing in the dock first in a man’s suit then in women’s clothes

The Crown case followed the evidence presented at the committal, although the Prosecutor was reticent when ‘referring to the relations between the accused and the deceased because “there were some matters to which he did not care to refer to in the presence of women”.He was rebuked by the presiding Chief Justice, Sir William Cullen, who responded that if women came to a Criminal Court they must be prepared to hear such things otherwise they would stay away. The Prosecutor then concluded with information that he said demonstrated the accused ‘was so practical in deceit’ as to be able to convince two women ‘for years’ that he was biologically male. Only described as ‘an article’ at the time, later newspaper accounts report the Police search of the home Falleni shared with Lizzie in Stanmore, and the discovery of a dildo in a bag belonging to Falleni the exchange between Falleni and the Police detective was repeated in Court:

[Falleni] said: ‘You will find it, something there that I have been using.’

Detective: ‘What is it, something artificial?’

[Falleni] replied: ‘Yes, don’t let her see it.’

Detective: ‘Do you mean to say that she doesn’t know anything about this?’

[Falleni] said his first wife had not known about it either, ‘Not until the latter part of our marriage.’

Evidence from other witnesses did not always support the Crown’s case. While on his way to work, David Lowe saw a woman with a suitcase behaving in a ‘half-witted’ way, who disappeared into the scrub 200 yards from where the burned remains were found and Police-Inspector Mayes was one of those, at the original inquest, who suggested the body may have been of a woman who set herself on fire accidentally.

Naturally Harry pleaded not guilty to the murder but the jury took only two hours to reach their verdict and he was convicted and sentenced to death, asked by the Chief Justice if he had anything to say he spoke to his lawyer and replied “ I have been three months in Long Bay Gaol, I am near to a nervous breakdown, I am not guilty, I know nothing about this charge and it is only through false evidence that I have been convicted. Naturally he appeal against the conviction on the basis of

…that the jury’s verdict was against evidence, that the evidence tendered by the Crown was weak and merely circumstantial; that the case against the accused set up by the Crown was destroyed by the evidence of the Crown’s medical witnesses; that the identification of the appellant with some person alleged by the Crown to have been seen in the neighbourhood of the place where a charred body was found was unsatisfactory, and that owing to nervous prostration at the trial, the appellant was physically unable to make a statement of facts, which would have answered the circumstantial evidence…”

The Court of Criminal Appeal dismissed the case finding that if the original jury ‘came to the conclusion that the accused was the person who had brought about the death of the woman, no matter by what means, it was justified in finding a verdict of guilty’

Although his sentence was commuted to imprisonment for life but his alleged immorality in passing as a biological male was made much of in the popular press, which portrayed him as a monster and a pervert.

Friends of Harry and ‘prison reform workers’ petitioned ‘on several occasions’ for his release and in February, 1931, reportedly following an hour-long visit with the prisoner, the Minister for Justice granted him freedom on the basis that he was nearly sixty years old and ‘not of robust health’.Upon leaving Long Bay Prison, he was taken by car ‘for an unknown destination’.

In the Evening News questions were again raised about the case such as there being no certainty that the body was Birkett’s, the skull fractures and the effect of the fire, the possibility of poison and the lack of ‘definite evidence that Falleni had taken the woman’s life’.

In April 1935, when Inspector Stuart Robson gave a speech upon taking on the role of officer in charge of the Broken Hill Police District, he recalled his involvement with the Falleni case:

“I was also responsible for the arrest of Eugenia Falleni, the famous man-woman. She was the child of an Italian skipper and he dressed her in male clothes and she worked as a cabin boy. She kept to male attire, and her exploits are well known. She was convicted for the murder of her ‘wife,’ and was sentenced to life imprisonment. I arrested her when she was working as a man, breaking down rum in a Sydney hotel cellar. That was three years after the murder. I thought I had arrested a man, and it was not until she declined to undress that I thought there was something wrong. A doctor made the discovery. She was subsequently released and has completely disappeared.”

Crawford/Falleni had assumed the name “Mrs. Jean Ford” and became the proprietor of a boarding house in Paddington, Sydney. On 9th June 1938 he stepped off the pavement in front of a motorcar in nearby Oxford Street and was struck by it, and died of his injuries the following day in Sydney. He was only identified through fingerprint records and the £100 she gained from the sale of the boarding house business, just before the accident, was found in his bag. The inquest returned a verdict of accidental death. Crawford/Falleni’s funeral notice was announced under his final name and he was buried in the Church of England section of Rookwood Cemetery.

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2 thoughts on “More about Harry Crawford

  1. There were a few twists and turns in this tale that had me saying, “wait, what?” For instance, who says, “We had a jolly good row, and I gave her a crack on the head?” That’s a bizarre thing to bring about in casual conversation. And how was there a lack of evidence? Didn’t Falleni essentially admit it? I doubt this case would have been handled the same way today.

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