morning have you heard of Eugenia Falleni, aka Harry Crawford, no
didn't think so, so today I am going to tell you a bit about
back in 1917 the mother of young boy Harry Birkett went missing young
Harry was too busy with life to concern himself about his mums
disappearance in fact for two-and-a-half years Harry was too busy
with the demands of life to concern himself with searching for his
mother who vanished over the Eight-Hour Day long weekend in October
this time Harry was in the care of his step-father Harry Crawford,
living in boarding houses including the home of Mrs Marcellina
Bombelli and in mid 1918 young Harry went to live with Mrs Bombelli's
son this was when young Harry discovered that his step-father was in
fact a woman. It was after discovering this that Harry decided to
look into what happened to his mother.
Bombelli told Harry that Crawford was a woman called “Nina” who
liked to dress as a man and that his mother knew Nina's family in New
Zealand, Frank said he didn't think it was right to tell Harry when
he first moved in with him as Harry was only 14 and he thought it was
inappropriate to tell him such scandalous details, however, by the
time young Harry turned seventeen Frank decided he was old enough to
know the truth.
hearing this information young Harry was suddenly panicked about what
happened to his mother. Thinking back to the last months of their
family life before she disappeared he could now see that there had
been an abrupt change in her attitude to her husband.
older his mother's actions made more sense as a young teenager he had
just accepted what his step-father had said in way of explanation for
his mother's disappearance. He could also vividly remember the
journeys to The Gap and Woolahra that his father dragged him to in
the week after his mother vanished (a infamous suicide spot)
then had a moment of shock when the revelation hit him with the
memory of how his step-father had asked him to read an article about
an unidentified, burned body that had been found in the Lane Cove
River Park and the strange emotional reaction he had seen in his
Harry Birkett became totally convinced that his mother had been
murdered by Harry Crawford and that the body that had been found near
the Cumberland Paper Mills was her. He was determined to uncover his
mother's fate, no matter what it was. If his step-father had
murdered her he wanted him brought to justice, whether he was a man
Harry sought out his aunt whom he had not seen in about three years
to tell her of his suspicions she was pleased to see him but when he
informed her that he hadn't seen or heard from his mother since
October 1917 she became terribly distressed and concerned about her
aunt told him that his mother had told her shortly before her
disappearance that Harry was a not a man, as they discussed his
mother's disappearance they fed off each other's suspicions until his
aunt came to the same view as her nephew that her sister had been
murdered by Harry Crawford.
decided to report Annie (his mum) as a missing person and tell the
police of their suspicions about Harry Crawford and that they would
inform the police of the strange facts they had been given about his
gender and his Italian origins and his New Zealand family.
May 1920, Harry and his aunt Lily attended the Criminal Investigation
Branch of the New South Wales Police, they were interviewed by
Detective Sergeant Stewart Robson, who assumed the role of chief
investigator. Harry told the Detective Sergeant as much of the
circumstances as he could recall about the strange fortnight after
his mother had disappeared.
included mention of the article in the newspaper about the body that
had been found in the Lane Cove River Park around the time his mother
had disappeared and his strong suspicion that the body could be his
Robson was naturally intrigued at this extraordinary information, and
resolved that, if it was true, he would use it to his advantage
during the investigation. He asked them both to come back to see him
several weeks later, by which time he would have been able to
ascertain what evidence still remained from the original police
investigation in 1917, and they could then make formal written
was an easy task for Detective Sergeant Robson to locate the police
documentation about the investigation in 1917 of the body that had
remained unidentified. He simply called for the file and exhibits,
which had been retained at the Chatswood police station.
mid-June, several weeks after their visit, Harry and Lily again
attended the Criminal Investigation Branch, where Detective Robson
showed them the jewellery, shoes, enamel cup, picnic basket, and the
small piece of gabardine material that had been recovered from the
park. They were able to identify the items as having belonged to
long last, more than two-and-a-half years after Annie’s death,
there was sufficient circumstantial evidence to conclude that the
body was hers.
Sergeant Robson took formal statements from his two witnesses. He
deliberately did not include in their written accounts the
information about Harry’s gender and origins, but kept this up his
sleeve so that he could use it as a potentially powerful
would later present it in an unduly self-complimentary way that
suggested it had only emerged because of his comprehensive and
exemplary skills as a detective, rather than attributing this
connection to Annie’s son.
does not appear that the police engaged in any further inquiries
before deciding to arrest and question Harry Crawford. For Detective
Sergeant Robson, the information he already had from Harry and Lily
was sufficient to make the decision to arrest Harry Crawford. Robson
thought that there was a good chance that, on being confronted with
what the police already knew, Harry Crawford might confess to the
murder of his wife.
decision to adopt this course of action, trying to prompt a
confession from their suspect was made in the belief that if Harry
did admit to the murder, it would make the police investigation much
more straightforward and require far less laborious police legwork.
was a common approach by the police to the prospect of an involved
and lengthy investigation, so the decision was made to delay any
further investigations till after Harry Crawford had been
the 5th July 1920 two detectives went to were Crawford was
working and went up to him and and said “I am Detective Sergeant
Stewart Robson and this is my colleague Detective Watkins. What is
Harry did not initially know the purpose of the visit by these two
officers, any confrontation with the police was sufficient to raise
his level of stress and fear. As a highly experienced police officer,
Sergeant Robson immediately detected that rise in tension and his
instinct was to exploit it to his advantage.
asking his name, the sergeant asked, ‘How long have you been
working here?’ to which Crawford replied, ‘A few weeks.’
Robson then asked him, ‘What nationality are you?’ This was
ostensibly a strange question for Robson to ask at this early stage,
but understandable if one knew what young Harry had told him.
response was to ask the detective, ‘What do you want to know that
for?’, to which the policeman replied, ‘I believe you are an
Italian.’ Crawford said, ‘No, I am a Scotchman and was born in
said, ‘I have my doubts about you, and I am going to take you to
the Central Court or the Detectives Office to make further
investigations.’ The moment that Harry Crawford had dreaded for so
many years had finally arrived.
a legal sense, Robson was deliberately vague as to whether or not
Crawford was then under arrest, although his suspect would clearly
have thought he had no option but to accompany the police to wherever
they wanted to take him. The law provided that if Detective Sergeant
Robson was going to arrest Crawford, he was under an obligation to
take him to the Central Police Court at the ‘earliest reasonable
this hour, around the middle of the day, there was clearly no
impediment to meeting this requirement of the law, as the Central
Police Court in Liverpool Street, contiguous to the Central police
station, would still have been in session. However, instead of taking
Harry Crawford to the court, Detective Sergeant Robson took him to
the Criminal Investigation Branch offices at the Central police
station. No doubt, if Robson had been queried about this diversion,
he would have asserted that Crawford was not under arrest and had
voluntarily accompanied them to the police station for questioning.
Crawford was escorted to the third-floor offices of the Criminal
Investigation Branch. He was introduced to Superintendent Bannan, who
was the officer in charge.
the authority of his office and his superior age supporting him, the
Superintendent said to Crawford: ‘These officers, Robson and
Watkins, have been enquiring for some days about a matter which we
think concerns you a great deal.
what I want to know is whether you are willing to make a statement
setting out your social relations with different people since you
have been here, where you have been working, and people that you know
will be taken out to the top room and you can make your statement
there. But, before you do go, I wish you to thoroughly understand
that the statements that you do make shall be absolutely voluntary.’
replied, ‘All right.’
was then taken to one of a series of small interview rooms on the top
floor of the police station. A formal statement was then typed out by
a police typist based on Crawford’s answers in response to Sergeant
Robson’s questions. After the statement had been completed,
Sergeant Robson invited Crawford to read it.
the fact that Crawford was illiterate, he gave the appearance of
reading the document, and then signed it. The statement contained
numerous lies about his origins and personal history and, most
importantly of all, stated that he had been a single man all his life
until marrying Lizzie Allison in September 1919.
the making of the statement, Sergeant Robson left the interview room
for five or ten minutes and then returned to inform Crawford for the
first time that he had interviewed Harry Birkett and Lily Nugent and
that he had reason to believe that Crawford had married Harry
Birkett’s mother some years earlier.
Robson also told Crawford that he proposed to produce Harry Birkett
in his presence, and he gave Crawford the option of an identification
line-up with other people if he wished. Crawford declined the offer,
saying, ‘I don’t want to be lined up with a lot of other people.
I have got enough worry on my head at present.’
then followed a most extraordinary exchange between Sergeant Robson
and his unsuspecting and disadvantaged suspect, who did not know the
extent of the Sergeant’s knowledge about his identity.
Robson skilfully used the information he had been given by Harry
Birkett and Lily Nugent to unbalance his suspect and to push him into
a corner from where, Robson hoped, he could only escape by making
admissions. According to the police, it went like this:
You still say that your name is Harry Crawford and you were born in
Have you any marks about your body that will assist in identifying
you as a Scotchman and where you say you were born?
Strip off a little and let me see.
No, I object to that.
Very well, the government medical officer is in this building — Dr
Palmer. Would you care to go before him?
I do not mind.
then took Crawford to Dr Palmer’s office, nearby in the same
complex. By this stage, Harry Crawford was in a complete panic. He
had no idea what evidence the police had to link him to Annie’s
to him, there was in fact very little. Robson was playing a very
nimble game of cat-and-mouse. Crawford had a flashback to the time
many years earlier when, as a sailor on the Norwegian barque, he had
been caught out and exposed, and he shuddered with horror at the
memory of the terrifying ordeal that had followed.
was fearful that the police were intending to charge him and that he
would be sent straight to a men’s jail where he would again be
viciously raped. He was prepared to do anything to avoid a repetition
of the terrible, violent invasion of his body suffered all those
when confronted with Dr Palmer, Crawford could not bring himself to
disrobe, and so he objected to the doctor examining him. Robson then
took Crawford back to the interview room, and their conversation
I suppose now I will have to go to jail?
I am not quite sure about that yet, at the present juncture.
What do they do with you when they take you to jail?
Well, I’m not quite familiar with their methods, but I think they
first give you a good bath and a change of clothes.
Well, I want to go into the women’s ward.
Oh, not quite. No chance of that.
Come here. I want to tell you something (calling Robson away from the
typist). I want to tell you that I am a woman and not a man.
Well, I can only take you as you appear to be, dressed as a man, and
that is a matter entirely for the doctor.
Is the doctor here now?
Yes, he is still there.
Well, can I go and see him?
again took Crawford to see Dr Palmer and, in Robson’s quite
intrusive presence, Crawford disrobed a little and told the doctor
that he was a woman. After an examination that required a mere second
or two, Dr Palmer declared that Crawford was indeed a woman. Robson
and Crawford then returned once again to the interview room, where
the conversation continued:
This is a terrible thing for me, and the worry of my life.
Well, we are going out to your place now, where you say your wife is,
and I am going to make a little search.
(desperately pleading) I do not want you to let her know anything.
What, do you mean to say that she has not found out anything since
you have been living with her?
No, she does not know anything.
that point, Robson brought Harry Birkett into the room. The young man
immediately identified Crawford as the man who had married his mother
years earlier, and promptly left the interview room without the
slightest acknowledgement of his step-father.
then offered to read Harry Birkett’s statement to Crawford. After
reading it to him, their conversation continued:
How is it you never mentioned anything to me about this first wife,
that is explained in the statement?
Oh, you have it all now. You have got as much as I could tell you. I
did not want to say anything about it. She had been drinking a great
deal, a source of worry to me, and she had been going with other men.
then followed several further questions about the circumstances of
Annie leaving home in 1917. Robson then informed Crawford that he and
the police would go to where he was living with his present wife, in
order for the police to conduct a search.
at this stage still maintained a deliberate obfuscation about whether
Crawford was under arrest and whether he was compelled to accompany
them to his home. Crawford had still not formally been placed under
arrest, but neither had he been told that he had a choice whether or
not to accompany the police to his home.
this stage, Crawford was feeling quite terrified and thoroughly
confused at his predicament. He was horrified at the thought that
Lizzie, whom he dearly loved, might discover his true identity and
the reality of their lovemaking.
firmly believed that if she did find out, their relationship would
disintegrate, just as had the one with Annie. More than anything
else, he wanted to protect Lizzie’s feelings.
Robson and Watkins then took Crawford to his home when they arrived,
Detective Robson introduced himself to Lizzie, told her that they
were investigating a murder and informed her that they were going to
search the house.
began to cry, and continued crying for the whole time that they were
there. The two police officers, with Crawford in tow, went into the
main bedroom, where the police commenced to search. Crawford felt
completely defenceless and overwhelmed by his overriding concerns for
Lizzie, who was crying in another room.
one corner of the bedroom there was a large, handsome, solid leather
portmanteau inscribed in gold letters with the initials ‘HLC‘.
Robson walked across the room as if to open the portmanteau, when
Crawford interrupted him, Let me open the bag and I will give you
something that is in it.
No, I could not do that.
Well, don’t let the wife see it.
What is in the bag?
You will find it, something there that I have been using.
What is it? Something artificial?
Yes, don’t let her see it.
Do you mean to say that she doesn’t know anything about this?
No, and I do not want you to let her know.
then opened the portmanteau and searched through it. He found a pair
of well-tailored trousers, braces, shirts, sleeve links, sleeve
suspenders, collars, socks — in fact a complete masculine outfit.
also found a revolver that contained two live rounds, two empty fired
cases and one empty chamber. Hidden underneath, he found a cloth bag.
He opened the bag and in it he found the object Crawford had so
carefully fashioned all those years before and with which he had so
surreptitiously but successfully pleasured many women, including both
a furrowed brow, Robson gingerly removed the object from the bag and
in front of Crawford held it up by the strap between two fingers, as
though it were the tail of a decomposed rat that the cat had brought
in. The conversation continued:
Is this what you referred to as having used on your wife?
Did your first wife know that you were using anything like this?
No, not until about the latter part of our marriage. Not until about
the latter stages of our married life. I think somebody had been
this stage, Robson clearly thought that he had sufficient evidence
with which to charge Crawford. The police took him from the house
telling Lizzie only where they were taking her husband and leaving
her in a state of complete ignorance about what had just occurred.
proceeded directly back to the Central police station to charge their
suspect with the murder of Annie Birkett.
the space of just a few hours, the persona of Harry Crawford, which
had been so carefully crafted and successfully maintained for
twenty-two years, had abruptly disintegrated, as he was forced to
revert to his original identity as Eugenia Falleni.
felt as though his inner soul had been ripped from within him.
Eugenia was an alien presence that had ‘passed away’ years
earlier and now she had been forcibly resurrected.
that is all for this part I will do a second part next week to wrap
up what there is to know about Harry Crawford or should I say Eugenia