The killer had taken the wrong hat – it was a mistake that was to cost him his life
The first railway murder was committed on a summer’s day in 1864. Thomas Briggs, 70, the chief clerk of Robarts Bank in Lombard Street took the North London Railway Train from Fenchurch Street to Hackney Wick. Two passengers got into the first-class carriage at Hackney Wick and noticed blood on a seat. They alerted the police who found the bloodied body of Briggs on the line between Bow and Hackney Wick. He had been attacked on the train, beaten up, robbed of his gold watch (but the killer missed ₤5 in his pockets) and thrown off the train.
He died later of his injuries. When the police searched the train compartment they found a bag and a walking stick belonging to Mr Briggs and a silk top hat that didn’t. In his hurry the killer had taken the wrong hat —it was a mistake that was to cost him his life.
Headed by Dick Tanner, a founder member of the detective force, the police also checked local jewellers and discovered that a gold chain on the dead man’s watch had been swapped for a new one, in the Cheapside shop owned by a man called John Death, by a man with a foreign accent. Thanks to newspaper publicity a man named Jonathan Matthews came forward and said he had bought two hats like the one found in the carriage, one for himself and the other for 25-year-old Franz Muller, a German tailor, who lived in Bow.
On a train between Bow and Hackney Wick, London, England
Saturday 9 July 1864
When the police went to Muller’s home, he had already left for America aboard the SS Victoria. Police caught the faster City of Manchester and were waiting for him when the ship docked at New York.
Muller was wearing Mr Briggs’s hat and was carrying his gold watch when he was arrested. Muller was tried at the Old Bailey on 27 October 1864 before Mr Baron Martin. The German Legal Protection Society paid for Muller’s defence. The jury took just 15 minutes to convict and Muller was sentenced to death. Despite a plea for clemency from the King of Prussia, Muller was hanged outside Newgate Prison on 14 November 1864 as a large crowd watched. The German maintained his innocence until a few moments before the trap door swung open, when he confessed.