EUGENIA - Mark Tedeschi

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

I really think that whenever I feel like a bit of a whinge about the way life is these days, I should read a book like EUGENIA. Eugenia Falleni was a woman born into a large Italian Family, who grew up in New Zealand, and spent most of her all too short life in Australia, living most of it as a man.

Mark Tedeschi QC looks at what happened to Eugenia in her early life, a rape and subsequent birth of a daughter which complicated her life even more, how she functioned in day-to-day life, her first marriage and the death of her wife for which she was charged with murder, along with a second marriage and life post trial and time in jail.

Whilst the book is written by a lawyer, and looks closely at the rights, wrong and inadequacies of the trial and sentencing that she endured, it's not just about the legal. Tedeschi considers many of the elements that made up Falleni's difficult and tragic life, considering the question of her gender dysmorphia, and how she kept it a secret, particularly, it seems in the case of two marriages to women. Although her first wife, Annie Birkett, had finally discovered the truth, her second wife Lizzie Crawford refused to acknowledge that her husband, was in fact, a woman, even after police and had arrested Falleni, and doctors had examined her and declared the obvious.

It's impossible to read EUGENIA and not have sympathy for a woman who, may or may not have committed murder, although the book's conclusion is that her defence could have argued accidental / manslaughter. It's impossible not to consider how incredibly difficult, confronting and complicated her life must have been with such an obvious case of gender dysmorphia. Despite even the worst of idiocy about such issues in current day society, at the very least you'd hope there would be some support, understanding, and friendship somewhere. Alas for Falleni she was the target of ridicule and disrespect from everywhere. She was subjected to the worst sexual violence, attacked by the press, treated like a freak by the public and let down badly by her defence. Although there was finally kindness in jail, it was a bit of a kick in the teeth to find out that even her death was an absolute, flat out, utter and complete tragedy.

I'd never heard of Eugenia Falleni before I read a short story in a true crime collection a while ago, so I'm really grateful that Tedeschi took the time to delve, consider and write this book. Eugenia Falleni deserves it.

Year of Publication

This is the true crime account of Eugenia Falleni, a woman who in 1920 was charged with the murder of her wife. Eugenia had lived in Australia for twenty-two years as a man and during that time officially married twice. She lived a full married life with her first wife, Annie, for four years before Annie realised that her husband was a woman. Even after Annie knew, they lived together for eight months before they went on a bush picnic, when Annie mysteriously died. Her body was not identified for almost three years, and during this time Eugenia married again, this time to Lizzie. When Eugenia was finally arrested and charged with Annie’s murder, the police attempted to tell Lizzie that her husband was a woman. She laughed at them—she was so convinced that her husband was a man that she thought she was pregnant to him.

This is the story of one of the most extraordinary criminal trials in legal history anywhere in the world. The book traces Eugenia’s history: from her early years in an Italian immigrant family in New Zealand, to her brutal treatment when she first tried living as a man. The story then follows the twenty-two years that she lived in Sydney as Harry Crawford—exploring how Harry managed to convince two wives that he was a man. The trial of Eugenia Falleni for Annie’s murder is extensively analysed in a clear and easily understood way by the author, Senior Crown Prosecutor Mark Tedeschi QC, one of Australia’s foremost criminal law barristers with experience both as a prosecutor and a defender.

The book continues with Eugenia’s fascinating life after her trial. The last eight years of her life are described, in which she was forced by an unforgiving society to live life as a woman. This book is true crime, true grit, and truly gripping. It includes: a tragic main character who believed she was a man trapped in the body of a woman, sexual deception in the dark, an allegation of murder, an over exuberant police investigation, an erudite judge, a determined prosecutor, an overwhelmed defender, a Press gone feral, a public clamouring for blood—a mix that inevitably led to a miscarriage of justice.

Review EUGENIA - Mark Tedeschi
Karen Chisholm
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Blog CR - Eugenia, Mark Tedeschi
Karen Chisholm
Saturday, January 5, 2013

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