There was considerable public concern about
the safety of train travel in the 1860’s so a murder occurring on the railway
was headline news. The person convicted of
this crime was a young German called Franz Műller,
age 23, who had originated in
The victim was sixty nine year old Mr.
Thomas Briggs who was the chief clerk at the bank of Messrs. Robarts, Curtis, and Co., of
Two bank clerks, Harry Vernez
and Sidney Jones, were travelling home and got into a first class carriage at
Hackney and noticed that it was empty but for a black bag and that there was
blood on the window, a seat and the floor.
They alerted the guard, Benjamin Aimes, who
discovered a blood stained hat and a walking cane. Aimes telegraphed
his superior, Mr.
There was a significant amount of blood on the seat of the train compartment indicating that Mr. Briggs had been attacked therein, prior to being robbed of his watch and chain and thrown from the moving train. Mr. Briggs’ walking cane may well have been the weapon used as there was a considerable amount of blood on it. Further injury was caused by the fall from the moving train onto the ballast below.
A suspect emerges.
Jonathan Matthews was a cabdriver who had
known Műller for around two years and on hearing
about the murder had become suspicious of Műller,
whom he knew had gone to
Despite the huge publicity surrounding the case Matthews stated in court that he had only heard about the murder nine days after it was committed as he did not read newspapers regularly. A £300 reward had been offered for information leading to an arrest. He later gave evidence that he had purchased the hat found in the train after Műller took a liking to a similar one that he himself had.
The police went to Műller’s
address in Park Terrace and showed the hat found in the carriage to Műller’s landlady Mrs. Ellen Blyth. She confirmed that it was Műller’s
and told the police that he had left her household on the 14th of July. In fact
enquiries revealed that he had emigrated on a sailing ship, “The Victoria”,
There was sufficient circumstantial
evidence to obtain an arrest warrant which was issued on the 19th of July by
the Chief Magistrate at Bow Street Magistrate’s Court. Chief Inspector Richard
Tanner and his sergeant, George Clarke, together with Jonathan Matthews and
John Death, took a faster steamship, “The SS City of Manchester” on the 22nd of
July and arrived in
Műller came to trial at the Old Bailey on the 24th of October 1864 before Mr. Baron Martin. The Solicitor General, Mr. Sergeant Ballantine led for the prosecution with Mr. Sergeant Barry and his team forming the defence. The prosecution presented the evidence outlined above. On the third day of the trial the defence made their opening arguments. A Mr. Thomas Lee who knew Mr. Briggs said that he saw two men in the carriage with Mr. Briggs, one whom he described as stout with light whiskers and the other tall and dark. Neither fitted Műller’s description. However Lee had not thought this worth reporting to the police at the time. Műller claimed that he was visiting his girlfriend, Mary Ann Eldred in Camberwell at the time of the crime. Defending counsel, Mr. Beard who had been briefed by the German Legal Protection Society was able to produce a telegram delivered to May Ann’s landlady showing that Műller had told May Ann of the proposed visit. However the jury were not swayed by the defence and retired at 2.45 p.m. on the third day of the trial, taking just 15 minutes to find Műller guilty.
A full transcript of the trial can be found here.
On Monday the 7th of November Műller was informed by the Under Sheriffs, the Ordinary and the Governor of Newgate, Mr. Jonas that his execution had been fixed for Monday the 14th. They exhorted him to use the remaining week to repent and confess but to no avail. On the 10th of November a deputation from the German Legal Protection Society was received at the Home Office claiming to have new evidence and requesting a stay of execution whilst it was considered. However this was to no avail and on the 12th of November, the Home Secretary, Sir George Grey, announced that there would be no reprieve.
On the Sunday night the gallows was drawn
out of the prison by two horses and prepared in front of the Debtor’s Door. Műller was hanged outside Newgate at 8 a.m. on Monday
the 14th of November 1864 by William Calcraft. At 7.45 a.m. the bell of St. Sepulchere’s began to toll.
A few minutes before 8 a.m. Műller was
led to the Press Room where Calcraft put a leather
body belt around his waist to which his arms were strapped. His wrists were strapped in front and his
collar removed before he was led to the gallows. Here Calcraft
placed the noose around his neck and hooked the other end of the rope onto the
chain hanging down from the beam. He
drew the white hood over Műller’s head. On the gallows Műller
was questioned by Dr. Louis Cappel, a German speaking
The execution was attended by a large
crowd, estimated at 50,000, whose rowdy behaviour was, as had by now become the
norm, condemned at least by the Times and
the Sporting Times newspapers. A
young man and at least two women plus the baby of one of them were injured in
the crowd. A death cast was made and is
still in Scotland Yard’s
Although 1864 was a busy year for London and Middlesex executions with eight in total, there would only be a further three public hangings outside Newgate after Műller’s, before the passing of the Capital Punishment (Amendment) Act in 1868.
It is unclear what Műller’s motive was to kill Mr. Briggs. Simple theft is the most probable one and perhaps he didn’t have time or opportunity to go through Mr Briggs’ pockets and take the money from them. It seems unlikely that the two got into such a violent quarrel on the short journey. Sadly we will never know for sure why he did it.
After this incident the railway companies began installing small circular windows between train compartments, which became known as “Műller's lights”. In 1868 the Regulation of Railways Act (Section 22) stipulated that a means of communication must be installed in each carriage of trains that travelled more than 20 miles so that passengers could inform the train crew in the event of an emergency.