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Kirill Finkelshteyn
In the wrong body. The secret life of Nicolai de Raylan.
Moscow: IDRIS publisher.  2021; 416 p. 16+


    Let’s digress from the main thread of our historical investigation for a time and return to Nicolai de Raylan’s life story, one of the most intriguing aspects of which are his relationships with his wives. After Nicolai’s death, both asserted, “My husband was a man, there is no doubt whatsoever about that.” But can we believe in the sincerity of their claims? Is it possible to live with a spouse for several years without suspecting that he is biologically a woman? And if the wives knew Raylan’s chief secret, why did they keep it concealed? In this chapter, we will try to find answers to these questions using newspaper articles from that time, court documents from Nicolai de Raylan’s divorce from his first spouse, Eugenia, and the inheritance claim case filed by his second spouse, Anna.

    Eugenia was born in Warsaw in 1868, arrived in the United States in 1893, and lived in New York and Chicago[1].  Nicolai’s friend Charles Tanner told correspondents, “…once, Raylan was accompanying the Russian Consul to New York, and he brought a Polish woman back with him. He lived with her for some period of time and spent a lot of money on her”[2]. Eugenia herself stated at the divorce proceedings that they were officially wed on December 21, 1898, and that Raylan left her on November 1, 1902.

    According to the information of a Phoenix bank teller (in a 1907 interview), Nicolai confided in him twice and told him that, while in New York, he met a Polish woman and lived with her for some time. “When he was getting ready to return to Chicago, his girlfriend wanted to go with him. Nicolai objected on the grounds that it would be difficult to explain her presence to his Chicago friends. The woman replied that he could introduce her as his relative. She went with him, and they lived together for a couple of years, rather unhappily – it appears that the marriage was never formalized. Finally, they decided to part, and de Raylan said that the lawyer to whom he related this story advised him to formally file for divorce, which was done”[3]. In reality, Nicolai and Eugenia lived together for no less than four years, a period that was more than sufficient for them to find out everything about each other. But Eugenia made no revelations about the details of her family life to reporters. She only said that she had never doubted Raylan’s male sex, and that the cause of the divorce had been her husband’s infidelity and cruel treatment.

        Seamstress Lucy Kwitschoff, who gave a lengthy interview two weeks after Raylan’s death, helped lift the veil of secrecy over Nicolai and Eugenia’s life together. For eight years, she had been married to a member of a rich Russian family, but the marriage did not work out. At the beginning of 1902, Lucy left her husband and placed an ad in the newspaper, offering her services as a seamstress. The Raylans responded and hired her as a fashion seamstress[2]. From that time on, Lucy lived in their home for several months and witnessed the odd relationship between the spouses.

The revelations given below, with minor redactions, were published in the newspaper New York World on December 21, 1906 under the heading, “Wife Beat de Raylan.”

    "When I read several days ago," said Mrs. Kwitschoff, yesterday, "of the death at Phoenix, Ariz., of Nicholas de Raylan, the strange circumstance of my close relationship with the De Raylans during my year's stay in their home came over me with a vividness that for a time unnerved me. Be he man or woman, there never was a person whom I respected and admired more than Nicholas de Raylan. Now that the discosure has been made, it seems queer to me that I did not myself fathom the mystery of his sex. But if this individual could completely fool the women he had married as to his true position in society, it was not at all strange that I myself was deceived.

    "I am convinced that Mrs. de Raylan never knew that her husband was a woman. I enjoyed her closest confidence for a long time, and when I look back over the events of the year I was with them the most astounding thing to me is the wife's almost insane jealousy of De Raylan. It was her belief that his neglect of her was due to his infatuation for other women. She loved him with a passion that only a Russian woman can display, and at times she was half crazed to think that the affection De Raylan should have lavished on her was showered upon unworthy rivals.

    "The Mrs. De Raylan I know was the one from whom the supposed husband obtained a divorce in 1903. The papers have said that she got the decree. This is not true. De Raylan brought the suit and won it on the ground of cruelty, and I was a witness of the specific act that proved the culminating point in their married life.

     "The woman who thought that she was the wife of the dapper little secretary was one of the most beautiful I have ever met. She was a veritable Juno, magnificently proportioned and with a wealth of golden hair. As a rule women do not rave over their kind, but of this girl I must say she was a splendid creature — one that any man would be proud to call his wife. When I became a member of the household I was as much impressed with the dainty femininity of the husband as I was with the grand womanly qualities of the wife.

    "Nicholas De Raylan was pretty — that is the only word that adequately describes him. He did not weigh over one hundred pounds, he had fair skin and black, curly hair. His feet and hands were small, small even for a woman. In fact, he was the personification of all that was exquisite — that is all, excepting his habits. In that regard he was fully a man. He had all the manly attributes. He drank, he smoked, he swore, and — sad to relate — he stayed out late o nights. This latter habit was the one that got him in the greatest trouble with his wife.

     "I had not been with the De Raylans long before I noticed that there were some queer things in their domestic economy. The couple appeared very loving, but on the husband's part it was all on the surface. It was not long before Mrs. de Raylan began to pour her troubles into my ears. I sympathized with her, of course, but deep down in my heart I had a feeling for the husband — a feeling that there was a mystery about him that caused him to be unhappy. And then, in the last months of my stay there I began to feel sorry for him because of the abuse that his jealous wife heaped upon him. "One thing that I noticed was that De Raylan never took his wife out with him. They never appeared in public together, and Mrs. De Raylan told me that during their married life they had never been the companions that husband and wife usually are. With tears in her eyes, she one day took me to her husband's room and, throwing herself on the bed, cried out between her sobs that in reality she had never been a wife to the man she loved above all others in the world.

     "When her grief had subsided, Mrs. de Raylan confided to me that before the marriage ceremony her husband told her that he was a sufferer from consumption. He compelled her to agree that she would never incur danger of contracting the disease by becoming any more than his wife in name only. Mrs. de Raylan said that even the knowledge that the man she loved was doomed to an early death did not deter her from marrying him. Although De Raylan really did die of tuberculosis finally, it is quite certain that he did not have the disease at the time he married. Yet it was by constantly impressing upon his wife the danger of her being infected through contact with him that he kept her from discovering his secret.

    "The room that De Raylan occupied was like a lady's boudoir. He had a dresser upon which were all the accessories dear to the feminine heart. His underclothing was of dainty material, generally in blue and pale pink colors. In dress he was immaculate. All his clothing was made by fashionable tailors. He had a nippy little walk and a soft, gentle voice that was poetry in itself. As I picture him in my mind's eye I cannot help thinking what a pretty little woman he would have made if he had dressed the part. , When I was in the family he was twenty-four years old; Mrs. de Raylan thirty-four.

       "It would seem that the wife would surely, have discovered the masquerade, yet there was' one thing which I am sure tended largely to keep Mrs. de Raylan ignorant of the true staff of affairs. That was De Raylan 's mode of living. I myself was sorely puzzled by the evidence constantly brought to my eyes that the husband was something of a fake. In fact, his habits were deplorable. He went the whole gamut of 'wine, women and song' with a vengeance. Mrs. de Raylan complained bitterly to me that her husband was in the habit of meeting other women. 'He will not live with me as his wife,' she said to me once, 'but he goes out every night and meets women that are as the ground beneath my feet. 

     "Mrs. de Raylan was the very acme of the jealous wife. For hours she used to tell me of her suspicions of her husband's conduct, and she was always laying traps to catch him in a compromising position. On several occasions she compelled me to ring up De Raylan at the consulate and pretend that I was a girl seeking to make an engagement with him, and I would disguise my voice, give myself a fancy name, and try to get De Raylan to commit himself. All the time the wife would be listening with me at the receiver. His replies were always of an innocent nature and showed evident astonishment. In thinking the matter over I have come to the conclusion that much of De Raylan's apparent wickedness with other women was for the purpose of keeping up the deception with his wife.

    "But that De Raylan stayed out late at night, that he would come home intoxicated, and that he would swear like a pirate upon occasions there is no doubt. It was very seldom that he spent an evening with his wife. His usual time for getting in was around 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning. Often he would reel up the stairs intoxicated. Then he would come in for a typical wifely lecture. However, the next day the couple would be as loving as ever. He always kissed his wife good-by, although I noticed that he never was nearly as affectionate toward her as she was toward him.

     "Some nights after De Raylan had gone, his wife would put on her best clothes and go out herself. She would often say to me that as her husband would not take her with him she had to go out once in a while to have a good time herself. She took delight in leaving the house upon thе rare occasions when she knew that lier husband intended to stay at home. Then he would come to me and ask me if I knew where she had gone. He always appeared very anxious about her.
    "While De Raylan was very friendly with Baron Schlippenbalh and a certain Russian prince, who was in Chicago at the time, he never had any male friends other than them at the house. Where he spent his evenings was a mystery to his wife. He was a member of the Chicago Hussars, a showy cavalry company, and rode a horse like a Cossack. His favorite was a large black mare, and he made a splendid figure whenever he got in the saddle. I know that De Raylan served in the Spanish War as I have seen documents and medals that proved it. I was always suspicious that he was connected with the Russian secret service, and I think it probable that his work in that direction was one of the reasons for the concealment of the fact that he was a woman. I also have reasons to believe that certain prominent Russians in Chicago knew the secret.

    "Mrs. de Raylan would never tell me her past history or how she came to marry her husband. Her only explanation of that to me was that she loved him so. Only once did I ever hear lier refer to his effeminate habits. One morning after he had been out unusually late the night before she sneered about his custom of taking baths in perfumed water. He was a very light eater. For breakfast he always wanted little cakes and cocoa.
    "During the last few months of my stay at the house Mrs. de Raylan began to grow abusive toward her husband. She seemed to resent more and more his neglect of her. She was not the kind of a woman that could stand that kind of thing very long. The climax came one morning when in going into his room after his departure she found something that seemed proof to her that her husband was unfaithful. That night when De Raylan came home there was a terrible scene. The wife lost control of her temper and laid violent hands upon her husband. She beat him cruelly and he never even attempted to defend himself. When it was all over I cried for sympathy for him.

   "His wife's attack upon him was the direct cause of De Raylan leaving her. I remained at the house only a few days after the scene I have described. I visited Mrs. de Raylan several times after that and frequently saw De Raylan upon the streets. After leaving Chicago a year ago I lost track of them until I read of his, or rather her, death."

    At first glance, Lucy Kwitschoff’s revelations appear quite convincing. Her tale lifts the veil over the realities of the elegant couple’s family life and partially explains why, after four years of living together, the wife had no clue that the husband who slighted her wasn’t a man at all. The only reason why Mrs. Kwitschoff might have embellished the truth was her obvious partiality for Nicolai and even some degree of passion for the “unhappy husband.”

    Still, her assertions that Eugenia was madly in love with her spouse and that he had initiated the divorce and won the divorce proceedings do not align with reality. We can be assured of this by the remaining court documents from the Raylan divorce case, which was heard in the Cook County Circuit Court in the state of Illinois on June 23 and 29, 1903[1]. These clearly indicate that the case was filed by Mrs. Eugenia Raylan on the basis of her husband’s cruel treatment, and that she won the suit. The complainant and two witnesses from her side, the landlady of the apartment building where the Raylans were tenants and their upstairs neighbor, were questioned at the first hearing. Nicolai himself was not present at the proceedings; it appears the lawsuit did not interest him in the least.

    It is apparent from the divorce case files that this was not an impartial hearing, but rather, a farce previously agreed upon by the participants. For instance, Eugenia’s legal counsel was Raylan’s friend and business partner Francis Bradchulis, who later became Eugenia’s husband. One of the newspaper articles published after Nicolai’s death claimed that Nicolai himself had suggested that Francis marry the wife Nicolai was weary of; we might conjecture that she became Bradchulis’s lover before divorcing her “beloved husband,” for which we can hardly blame her.

    The court documents include a divorce filing composed by Bradchulis on behalf of Eugenia Raylan, dated June 10, 1903. The complainant requested the dissolution of her marriage and accused the defendant, Nicolai de Raylan of extreme, repeated cruelty: “…he beat, punched, pinched, choked, and applied force to the complainant, said filthy, insulting words to her, and threatened her life, so that her fate was miserable.” The complaint further provides a list of the spouse’s cruelties with the respective dates.

“Your oratrix further shows unto Your Honors and charges that the said defendant, Nicolai Raylan…

“On or about the 10th day of April, 1899, said defendant struck your oratrix[1] in the face with his hand and threw water at your oratrix, and said defendant then and there attempted to take the life of your oratrix with a sword which he then and there held in his hand, and he, said defendant, then and there made several wounds with said sword on the body of your oratrix in attempting to kill or to do great bodily injury.

“On or about the 4th day of July, 1899, the said defendant came home in an inebriated condition, and while your oratrix was nursing a child, said defendant struck your oratrix in her arm a blow with his fist.

“On or about the 10th day of October, 1900, while your oratrix was ill in bed, said defendant came home intoxicated, pulled your oratrix out of bed, and pulled her hair and struck her heavy blow with his fist in your oratrix’ face.

“On or about the 20th day of February, 1901, the said defendant threw at your oratrix a glass and broken plates.

“On or about the 13th day of May, 1902, said defendant accused your oratrix of stealing his money, and while using vile and opprobrious language toward your oratrix, he, said defendant, kicked your oratrix in the leg, causing your oratrix to suffer from wound so inflicted sever pain and suffering.

“On or about 15th day of May 1903, willfully and without any reasonable or just cause therefore deserted and abandoned your oratrix and wholly refused to live and cohabit with her any longer as husband and wife, and still does so without any fault on the part of your oratrix".



    With regard to herself, the complainant (Eugenia Raylan) stated that during her marriage, she “took care of her husband, was a true and virtuous wife”.

    It’s surprising that the wife could remember, with accuracy down to a few days, offenses perpetrated by her treacherous husband several years before the divorce proceedings. It’s unlikely that she kept a diary where she carefully noted Nicolai’s transgressions, including such “cruelties” as throwing a glass and breaking plates.

     At the first hearing, after the preliminary questions to the complainant required in such cases (name, marital status, place of residence, date of marriage, etc.), the judge and Counsel Bradchulis questioned Eugenia about her reasons for divorce. Given below, with minor redactions, is the court transcript; it is rather curious.

                                  .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       .       

[1] Information from Eugenia de Raylan’s petition to obtain a U.S. passport (The U.S. National Archives database:

[2] ”De Raylan the woman”, Arizona Republican, December 20, 1906: 7.

[3] “The body of de Raylan completely identified”, Arizona Republican, May 29, 1907: 1.

[1] “The body of de Raylan completely identified”, Arizona Republican, May 29, 1907: 1.

[2] Eugenia Raylan was a dressmaker who accepted orders at her home.

[1] Eugenia Raylan vs. Nicolai Raylan. De Raylan Divorce files.

[1] In his case the oratrix or female orator was the complaint Eugenia Raylan.

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