All aboard, we’re going back to the Victorian era to shed some light on the first ever murder on a train in Britain at a time when people were already terrified on this crazy new technology. It’s not all high speed steam trains though, we’ve even got a super slow-mo police chase across the Atlantic!
A Topper and a Beaver: The Murder of Thomas Briggs
In the 1860s, railway travel was in the process of redefining a nation. Britain was changing as cheap, efficient travel spread out with a web of iron tracks, connecting distant towns to the largest cities. The very notion of time and space had changed and with this change came a growing fear. There was a myriad of ways in which train travel was reported to be dangerous to one’s health and in 1864, a new contender arose to terrify passengers, that of murder. This is dark histories, where the facts are worse than fiction.
By 1864, over 10,000 miles of iron trackway had been laid across Britain and the rail network had spread out across green fields and through the centre of hamlets in all corners of the isle. In London, just a year previous, the world’s first underground rail had opened and steam trains carved through tunnels below the capital, bypassing the cluttered horse drawn traffic in the roads above. This vast network had trampled the standard for time and size, villages that had been days of travel away were now reachable within hours, news that similarly took days to disperse throughout the nation was now able to be reported, printed and distributed the same day. Goods could have a greater, more efficient reach and labour markets had found a new freedom. For the more affluent, rail travel saw long-established class boundaries being dismantled and new wealth growing in unfamiliar locales. Rail travel fueled the industrial revolution as it carried tourists, workers, mail and newspapers to strict timetables wherever they needed to be. The landscape changed as towns shrunk and grew, or found themselves host to a new rail line that ripped through the heart of their peaceful and at times, historical villages indiscriminately. Writer and Social Critics like John Ruskin commented on rail travel as:
“The lothsomest form of devilry now extant, destructive of all wise forms of social habit and natural beauty.”
The trains themselves were self contained carriages lit with a single gas light and with no joining compartments between, meaning that each carriage was essentially a locked room, speeding across it’s tracks at 60 mph. This had caused a certain degree of alarm, as people questioned the safety of passengers who could not alert a person of authority if something untoward was to happen between stations. This fear wasn’t entirely baseless, and had been fueled by a long running backlash against the social progress that cheap, efficient travel had brought. This backlash manifested as it so often does, in a campaign of fear and papers such as Terrey and Millers “The Invisible Plague: The rise of mental illness from 1750 to the present” warned that rail travel could “injure the brain” with there jarring motions, “unhinging the mind”. Fears that a passenger could flip at any moment, turning madman in a locked room full of unsuspecting passengers was very real for Victorian travellers. “Punch”, the satirical weekly, illustrated a map of Britain, with an asylum and connecting rail networks to show how an escaped mental health patient could quickly make a getaway and wreak his or her particular brand of havoc.
This fear of rail travel was widespread and deep, however, it was undeniable, even to the greatest critics, that this form of travel had bought new opportunities. Travel that allowed the lower classes to move their labour into the inner cities, also allowed the more affluent to relocate themselves to newly emerging, leafy, commuter suburbs. Thomas Briggs was one such commuter, having moved his family from the stuffy, pollution filled streets of London to spacious Hackney, now just 20 minutes travel to his place of work in “The City”, the financial and business district of the British capital. He was entirely typical and one of thousands who had done the same. As the heat of summer crept over the horizon, his name was to stand out amongst the rest, stirring the undercurrent of fear, threatening to boil over.
Thomas Briggs Murder
Thomas Briggs was born in Lancashire in 1795 and had moved to London with his family as a young teenager. He had married a woman named Mary and had six children, four sons and two daughters. The large family was well off and Thomas, now aged 69, still worked hard as a Head Clerk in the Bank of Messrs. Roberts and Co. of Lombard Street, the City of London. In recent years he had moved his family to Hackney and now commuted daily to work on the North London Railway suburban line, a semicircular track that connected Hackney to the heart of London. He was 5;9” and described as a “stout and slawart” man, who dressed in a waistcoat, silken top hat and carried a heavy cane and leather bag. He was, the very picture of a middle class, Victorian City worker.
On Saturday 9th July, 1864, Thomas Briggs had visited relatives in Peckham for the evening and was returning home around 8:30 Pm, walking to Old Kent Road where he took a bus to King William Street and stepped into Fenchurch Street, a station that served trains on the same Northern Railway line he used for work. He bought his First Class ticket and chatted with the ticket collector, who he knew well being that he was a regular on the line. At 9:50PM, he boarded the train, settled down in the corner, placing his bag and cane on the seat next to him and relaxed, now on his final leg for his journey home to hackney.
At 10:01PM the train pulled into Bow, at Hackney Wick at 10:05 and Hackney at 10:10PM. It was in fact, running slightly late and the conductor, Benjamin Aimes, let out a sigh as he heard a commotion further down the platform, coming from two men. Sydney jones and Harry Verners were clerks who were boarding the train at Hackney and had the unfortunate experience of opening the door to the same first class carriage Thomas Briggs had boarded just 4 stops previously, only to find an empty carriage, covered in blood. Benjamin Aimes sent a telegraph ahead to Chalk Farm station, where the train was to terminate and completed the journey ensuring no one else was to stumble into the macabre scene in the carriage.
At the same time, Alfred Ekin was driving an empty train along the same track in the opposite direction, headed for Fenchurch Street. He’d passed through Hackney Wick and was about a third of the way to Bow when he noticed a dark shape lying on the bank next to the train tracks. Pulling the train to a stop, he jumped onto the gravel and headed back to see what it could be and remove it from the trackway, expecting it to be an unfortunate animal that had strayed a little too close to the line. As he stepped closer, he found instead to his shock, the body of Thomas Briggs. Briggs was in a poor state, with several head wounds, but faintly alive and Alfred Ekin alerted the help of passers by further up the bank to help him to carry Briggs to the Mitford Castle pub, an establishment that backed onto the line. There, PC Dougan was the first official to the scene in the Mitford Arms. He had spotted the men carrying briggs’ lifeless body from the tracks and immediately headed in the pub to see what was going on. Upon searching the body, he removed a diamond ring, several pounds in cash from his pockets as well as several letters. The letters were addressed to Roberts and Co. Bank and so he sent for a member of the banks staff to come and identify the man, which along with the letters, was promptly confirmed to be that of Briggs. By 2am, his family had been contacted and Briggs’ son arrived in the Mitford Castle and accompanied his father as he was removed from the pub. The following day, Thomas Briggs passed away from his injuries, consisting almost entirely around his head, leaving him with deep wounds and a fractured skull, attributed to having been struck by a blunt instrument along with gashes by his left ear across his temples that were thought to have occurred as he fell, or was thrown from the train. Back in Chalk Farm station, the bloody carriage sat silently on the tracks, waiting for the murder investigation to begin.
In 1864, any form of detailed forensic police work was still a glint on the horizon, chemistry was not yet used, nor microscopic evidence, even basic fingerprinting would not be used widely by police until 1891. Detectives, a relatively new concept in themselves, therefore, had to deduce the ins and outs of crime scenes from the evidence they could see plainly before them. Walter Kerressey was the first detective to step aboard the quiet carriage, now stationed at Chalk Farm station and given the tools available to him, he deduced a considerable amount about the crime.
“The door handle was bloody. A large quantity of blood appeared to have flowed profusely from the corner seat. There was also a small quantity of blood on the window, two spots, like splashes.”
From this along with the fact that Thomas Briggs was not a small man and the attack was quick, over in around 3 minutes given the position of Briggs between the two stations, the detective deduced that he had been asleep, with his head against the window at the time of the attack and was therefore unable to mount any sort of defense. He also concluded that from the amount of blood on the door handle and the fact that Briggs had no blood on his own hands, the killer had thrown Briggs out of the train himself, quashing earlier suspicions he may have jumped out of the train to avoid a robbery or assault himself. Kerressey also found Briggs’ stick, his bag and a crushed Beaver hat, damaged in the assault. A gold jump ring, usually attached to a piece of jewelry and notably, a watch chain, was also found, crushed into the floor of the train car. Seeing as how no watch or chain had been found on the body of Briggs, robbery was concluded ot have been the motive for the attack. The police took the items to Briggs family who confirmed that both the stick and the bag had belonged to their father, however, no one recognised the hat, Thomas Briggs wore a silk Top hat, much more costly and suiting a man of his station than the beaver hat the detective had retrieved. The family also confirmed that Briggs was indeed carrying a gold watch on a chain and described it, including serial numbers. This initial inspection of the train car had given police two important leads on the case, the first being the missing jewelry. If it was a robbery, then it would be highly likely that the culprit would be looking to sell it on somewhere and secondly the mysterious Beaver hat, which just so happened to bear the name of the maker in the lining, J.H Walker of 49 Crawford Street, Marylebone.
The next day the press reported on the murder, it was the sort of story the public could feast on and the press were well aware, sensationalist reporting of gruesome murders were already a staple and this particular crime had an added twist, it was the first murder to have been carried out on a train in Britain. With rail travel already eyed suspiciously at best and outright feared at worst, the stories stoked the public’s imagination by pointing out that Thomas Briggs was a First Class passenger and described him as a “gentleman”, striking a blow to the middle classes and at the same time making a point that the murderer must also have looked just like any ordinary, well put together member of the public to have been able to board a first class carriage without suspicion. “Death”, they were told “Was lurking in every travellers shadow”
“Worst of all is the horrid consciousness not merely that you are uneasy, but that you are making the traveller in the opposite corner uneasy too… You know as the train rolls on, that though he may pretend to be looking out the window, your vis-a-vis is keeping half an eye on your movements, just as you are keeping half an eye on his.”
The police were well aware of the perception of the case by the public and looking to resolve the ordeal as quick as possible, both to allay fears and to avoid criticism in the press, they appointed Inspector Richard Tanner as lead detective. Inspector Tanner was considered ‘brilliant’ and at only 31 years old, he was an ambitious, rising star in the Met police. He quickly set about business by measuring the distances between stops on the North London line, and concluded that the attack had taken place between 10:01 PM and 10:05pm taking a maximum of three minutes from start to finish. Witnesses around the station were not forthcoming and it appeared no one had seen any suspicious person leave Hackney Station on the night of the murder, nor any persons covered in blood. The possibility dawned on the police that perhaps the murderer had left the train as it slowed and took off across the tracks in the opposite direction of the station itself to avoid detection and if that was the case, it was highly unlikely anyone would have caught a glimpse of him. Likewise, the hunt for a murder weapon was unfruitful, despite searching along the tracks. The police eventually decided that it was most likely that Briggs had been attacked with his own stick which was a weighty, heavy affair. Though the amount of blood on the instrument caused some debate, with nothing else found, it was the best the investigation had.
A reward for information of £200 was issued, eventually rising to £300, £100 each from the North London Railway, the Government and Briggs workplace, the Roberts and Co. bank. This was a substantial sum in 1864, equivalent to several years wages for a craftsman. The same appeal also offered a pardon for those that may come forward with connections to the murder, providing they were not the murderer themselves. Tanner ordered 2000 posters printed, providing details of the case, including the offer of reward and had them pasted all over London, outside of newsstands, rail stations and reprinted in newspapers across the country.
After the reports in the press, the public interest soared and thousands of letters were sent to their offices, most of them were hoaxers claiming to know more than they did or suggestions for the police on how best to handle the investigation, regardless all leads had to be followed up on. One letter however, held more promise than a lot of the others, a letter from a Mr John Death, a pawnbroker who owned a shop in cheapside and who claimed to have had dealt with a watch chain matching the description released by police. Inspector Kerressey visited Death immediately and confirmed that a man speaking good English, but with a German or possibly Swiss accent had come into his shop to pawn a chain worth £3.10s. The man he said, had swapped the chain with one valued at £3.5s. He had also taken a small finger ring with a white stone to make up the difference. He couldn’t give any detailed description of the man however, as he had acted suspiciously, seemingly trying to avoid direct eye contact.
The next breakthrough came on the ninth day of the investigation when a cab driver named Jonathan Matthews stepped forward offering information on a man he knew who owned a hat that seemed to match the Beaver hat found in the train carriage. Initially, Inspector Tanner was not impressed by matthews and described him as such:
“His manner appeared mysterious. There didn’t appear any truth in him.”
The police found it odd that it had taken Matthews so long to come forward and assumed he had eyes on the reward money, nevertheless, the cab driver certainly had a story and if it was to be believed, he also had a name for the man.
Jonathan Matthews had had a somewhat rocky past, but was now settled in London, living with his family and now driving a cab. He was acquainted with a young German tailor by the name of Franz Muller, a friend of the family who often came to dinner. There were some questions concerning Matthews and Mullers relationship, specifically that Muller had, it seems to have been engaged to Matthews sister in law at one time or another, though the relationship had broken down.
Franz Muller was a 25 year old German, born in Saxe Weimar. He had apprenticed as a gunsmith in germany, though had turned tailor after he immigrated to England in 1862, where he presumably met Matthews sister -in-law and then through association, Matthews himself.
Muller had once remarked on Matthews hat and the pair struck a deal that Matthews would source another the same in exchange for Muller making him a waistcoat. The hat was a Beaver hat, made by the self-same J. H. Walker as the one found aboard the train car, Muller had also left an empty jewelry box after Matthews young daughter had taken a shine to it and the jewelry box was stamped with the name and address of Deaths pawn shop . Matthews story was a solid lead on the case, though it did have some inconsistencies. Police questioned Matthews on why it had taken him so long to come forward with the information, however, he replied he had simply been unaware of the story until he had heard gossip concerning the murder floating around his taxi rank.Regardless, he supplied the police with not only Mullers name, but his calling card too, furnished with a photograph of the German, along with his address where he lodged.
Inspector Tanner wasted no time in tracking the address. When he wrapped on the door to 16 Park Terrace in Bow, belonging to a Mr and Mrs Blyth, his high spirits were quickly dashed. Franz Muller had indeed lodged at the address for the past two years and Police found a hat box in his room that would have once contained the Beaver. Mrs Blyth told Inspector Tanner Muller was:
“A quiet well behaved, inoffensive young man of a human and affectionate disposition.”
This was not the description Tanner was expecting, furthermore, Muller was no longer residing with the Blyths. He had left, tanner was told, three days prior, on the 16th July, aboard a ship bound for America named named the “Victoria”.
Tanner had little time to waste, he requested permission to chase Muller across the Atlantic. If Muller arrived in America, there was every chance he could slip away from justice and this was not an outcome that tanner was relishing. The ship “Victoria” was a sailing ship and that meant the police had one advantage over Muller. An arrest warrant was granted and Tanner left for Liverpool the same night aboard an express train, taking both Death and Matthews to gain passage on a much faster Steamship named the “City of Manchester”. Steamships were significantly faster than sailing ships, meaning that the entourage could land in New York before Muller and await his arrival, allowing them to catch him unguarded and place him under arrest. On the morning of the 20th July, they set sail from Liverpool. The journey would take two and a half weeks, during which time a void of information would appear. The story of Thomas Briggs’ murder that had captured the public’s imagination, knocking even news of the American Civil War off the front page, would be left to stew as news of the Transatlantic chase and extradition hearing in America would drip back across the ocean. The press however, had other ideas.
Across the Atlantic
Whilst the “City of Manchester” Sailed across the Atlantic in pursuit of Muller, the press back home in London found they had a public hungry for news and very little hard facts to feed them. Instead they turned to editorialising on the guilt of Muller to continue to stimulate their circulation, with almost all reports skewing negatively against him. Rumours of the ship “Victoria” were cast out daily with little rhyme or reason and very little truth. Muller was reported on as an “Assassin” and reminders that Capital Punishment awaited Muller were in almost every paper.
In general, the British had accepted German immigration into England with a relative indifference, however, with the outbreak of Germany’s war against the British Ally of Denmark in the early months of 1864, a sea change of opinion against German immigrants had found attitudes and prejudices changing and they were not in favour of Muller.
At the same time, a statement was delivered at the inquest from a Mr Lee. Lee was a friend of Thomas Briggs and had travelled on the same line regularly. He had had some hesitation in coming forward on account that on the night of the murder, he was visiting a young lady who was not his wife. After he officially came forward, this was documented as Lee simply “Taking a walk”. Lee’s story was curious, not in that he had seen Briggs on the train just before his murder, he had said good night to him as he walked passed his carriage on the platform, but that Lee claimed to have also seen two other men in the carriage, men who were not there when the train arrived, sans Briggs in Hackney. Police asked Lee to describe the men and neither description matched that of Muller.
Still time passed, still the press printed their stories. Subtle changes were happening however, and now, bolstered by Lees statement, the press begun to change their tact. Details of Matthews begun to leak out, that he was recently bankrupt and that his taxi cab was unlicensed, along with the details of his past legal run ins. Questions begun falling upon his own motives for coming forward to police, was he spinning a yarn hoping to collect the reward money? Or perhaps even an accomplice of Muller? ‘The Daily Telegraph’ even published an article that warned the public against prematurely judging Muller and the DAily Mail wrote that:
“Evidence rendered his guilt extremely improbable. No wise and cautious man would dare to say at present that Muller cannot be innocent.”
The Police too found themselves coming under the firing line for their “Glaring Incapacity” and “Clodhopping blundering”, calling in to question their half million pound yearly budget.
Mercifully, the ‘City of Manchester pulled into New York on the 5th August, allowing for new news to take the fore. The ship the detectives had travelled on was so quick across the ocean however, that they had a full three weeks of waiting, time enough for extradition preparations to be outlined, before Mullers ‘Victoria’ came into sight on the Horizon on the evening of the 25th August. Inspector Tanner and Kerressey, who had followed Tanner to New York, waited on the docks after alerting pilot boats to the details of the incoming passenger, warning them against the possibility of escaping passengers and reminding them they weren’t to mention anything about Muller, to be sure he would not be alerted to the Police lying in wait for his arrival.
After the ship docked, Tanner went aboard and the captain sent two armed guards to follow Muller discretely. The passengers were called for a quarantine check and when Mullers name was called out and he stepped forward, Tanner took him to one side and arrested him for the wilful murder of Thomas Briggs on the North London Line. Far from acting paniced, Muller said simply that he was never on the line and that he had no idea who Briggs was. The police took him to his room where they assembled a makeshift lineup and called for Death who pointed out and identified Muller immediately as the man who had come into his shop and when they searched Mullers personal items, the inspectors found both the gold watch that had belonged to Thomas Briggs and a silk top hat matching the description of the one Briggs often wore. Muller claimed that he had bought the hat on the used market over a year ago and the watch, he claimed, had been bought at the docks back on London prior to his boarding the Victoria. It was not the most convincing story and whlst he remained calm, Muller must’ve realised the predicament he was now in. He was taken ashore and the extradition process began.
During the extradition hearing which opened on the 26th July, , Muller was defended by Chauncey Shaffer, a verbose and flamboyant attorney with a good record of defending difficult criminal cases.
“You could always rely on Schaff to provide good copy”
Remarked the press. Schaffer lived up to expectations, opening the proceedings by claiming that the extradition proceedings were invalid and that any treatise between America and England were no longer applicable.
“England and the United States are in a war! An undeclared war, but nonetheless a state of war. A mixed and unsolemn state of war, as Groetus defined it. A state of things that, by the common consent of mankind, suspends all treaties between the two countries concerned.
“England cannot say she is neutral when she furnishes our rebellious subjects with vessels of war, opens her ports to them, furnishes them with arms and ammunition and sends them forth on their errands of destruction.”
Schaffer steered a steady course throughout the hearing, ramping up his speech and underlining all manner of Anglo-American disagreements, aiming to exploit the tensions between the countries, all to great public amusement and applause. At one point he pointed to Inspector Tanner and damned the English for
“Murdering our citizens, destroying our commerce and humiliating our nation.
“England must come into court with clean hands. She must not come here and ask of us to honour her justice, when she dishonours her own, breaks her treatise and cries peace and neutrality while at the same time, she lets slip the dogs of war.”
The crowded courthouse loved it. Schaffer had certainly “given good copy”. It was not enough however and once evidence had been given as to the guilt of Muller, his extradition was granted. Whilst the papers had a field day with Schaffers speeches, they commented on Muller as ‘vacant’ and ‘indifferent’ stating that he was surely either a simpleton or an innocent man to have remained so calm.
The now sizeable party of Tanner, Kerressey, Death, Matthews and Muller sailed back to England on the 1st of September aboard the ship ‘Etna’, docking in Liverpool on the 16th September to much excitement. The public were finally to catch a glimpse of this most foul murderer they had heard so much about. When they arrived there was a suitable crowd, vying to catch a glimpse of Muller. Quite aside from the monster they were expecting however, he appeared like most other young men, after the hype of the press during their time at sea, his appearance was not much more than a disappointment. The press remarked that he had seemed quiet and cheerful and on the return journey to England under the surveillance of Inspector Tanner, who had roomed with him the whole journey, had shown exemplary behaviour, so far that no form of restraint or handcuffs were found necessary. The party fought through the crowds awaiting their arrival and the police took Muller to Bow Street to be formally charged and then placed him in a cell in Holloway Prison to await trial.
Whilst no one had seen Muller aboard the train, or indeed in any of the station along the North London Line on the night of the murder, the weight of the circumstantial evidence appeared to stack heavily against Muller. His possession of both hat and watch that had belonged to Thomas Briggs were damning indeed and his life was very much on the line. Muller, it turned out however, had something of an alibis.
The trial began on the 27th October. The German Legal Protection Society, an organisation lead by a group of influential German immigrants paid for Franz Mullers defence and as soon as the proceedings opened, the courtroom was filled. Public interest was such that the Solicitor general who opened the case for the prosecution warned the Jury:
“This is a case which has excited unusual and painful interest. It is one which, as we all know, has been canvassed in almost every newspaper. I might say in almost every house in the kingdom. And it is one on which some persons might be inclined already to form an opinion. I must entreat you gentleman, in approaching this most solemn enquiry, to discard from your minds anything that you may have read on the subject.”
The prosecution laid down the evidence against Muller with concise precision. The Beaver hat left behind by the culprit had been one of only 4 made by the hat maker Walker that included that specific lining, one other being that owned by Matthews which meant that if this was not the hat that belonged to Muller, it was one of only two others. The top hat found in Mullers possession in New York aboard the Victoria was adjusted by Digance, the hat maker, who testified that he had stuffed the lining with tissue paper to create a better fit for Thomas Briggs. Despite the hat owned by Muller having been cut down by about an inch and a half, it did indeed show evidence on having been lined with tissue paper. The crude cutting down of the hat was not the job of a hat maker who would have glued the seams, it was heard, but having been stitched back together, it was rather a job that a tailor might employ. Briggs junior was brought out to identify the watch found on Mullers person and he claimed, without hesitation that it was his father’s, absolutely unmistakable, with serial numbers to back it up.
The defense opened with a strong damning of the presses handling of the story in the lead up to the trial and went on to question Matthews, pointing out that in the past he had lied wilfully before a coroner and magistrate and the likelihood that his motives for coming forward were entirely based upon profiting from the reward. The long speech also drew attention to the fact that no blooded clothing was ever found on Muller, that he wore the same clothing the day after the murder as he was wearing on the day of and the small issue that as slight as he was, it was highly doubtful that Muller could have carried out the attack against the 5’ 9” Briggs in under three minutes, including carrying his body to the doorway and tossing him out onto the opposite tracks.
“you can see for yourselves that I am not describing this wrongly when I say that the prisoner is a young man possessed of no great amount of physical force. His physique is slight in the extreme. It is proved that Mr. Briggs was perfectly sober, and it is said that he was sleeping. Now, gentlemen, you have to say whether you can form an opinion as to whether that struggle, which ended in the death of a powerful, sober man, could have been sustained by the young man at the bar. If you believe in your own minds and consciences that this young man, with the physique that he has, and which you yourselves can see, could not have murdered Mr. Briggs, then you will acquit him.”
Mr Lee was called to the witness stand and reiterated his story concerning the two men he had seen the carriage with Briggs on the night of his murder and then the defense pulled their ace.
Muller had been earlier suffering from an injury caused by a passing cart running into his foot. During the days of the murder, he was often seen to be wearing a slipper on the injured foot rather than a shoe and the defense called a bus conductor who had seen a man wearing a slipper on his foot at 9:50pm on the night of the murder, the exact time the killer would have been in the carriage in North London. Though he was not able to swear it was Muller and could not identify him, he swore that he had seen the slippered man board the bus in Camberwell, in South London. Backing this story up was a deaf woman named Mary Anne Eldrid, who was something of a sweetheart of Mullers and her landlady, Mrs Jones. Mrs Jones told the court how Muller had called in on Mary Anne at 9pm on the night of Thomas Briggs murder and told him that Mary Anne wasn’t home, she then spent ten minutes talking to him, bolstering the claim that he was boarding the bus in Camberwell at the time fo the murder. The defence also warned the jury to forget their prejudice against German immigrants.
Whilst this seemed like a strong defence, it was yet more circumstantial evidence. Worse was the misjudgement of the public mood in regards to German immigrants. Far from finding empathy, the outcome was more of a doubling down on previous opinion. It also turned out that Mary Anne Eldrid was a prostitute and Mrs jones, rather than a landlady per-se, was something more akin to a brothel owner. Once these facts were uncovered, they had quite a damaging effect against the defenses speech.
Mullers trial lasted for three days in total, the jury was out for a mere fifteen minutes before the verdict was returned and the court found Muller guilty for the murder of Thomas Briggs.
“I have no more doubt that you committed this murder than I have with reference to the occurrence of any other event of which I am certain, but which I did not see with my own eyes.”
Spoke the judge as he handed down Mullers sentence of public execution by hanging. Muller stood and gave his response.
“I am satisfied with the sentence which your lordship has passed. I know very well that it is what the law of the country prescribes. What I have to say is, that I have not been convicted on a true statement of the facts, but on a false statement.”
Muller was then lead away to await execution.
In the days leading to the public execution of Franz Muller, several petitions were lodged against the verdict by the German Legal Protection Society, including a visit to the Briggs house to try and convince Briggs family to sign. It was however, an invitation that was swiftly denied. Several times Muller met with a priest who tried to convince him to confess to his crimes, which he did not do and finally, on the morning of the 14th November, Muller stood on the scaffold outside the Old Bailey, noose tied around his neck. The priest gave him one final chance to confess his crimes and as scaffold creaked and lurched into action, Muller spoke his final words, in German.
“Ich habe es getan… I did it”.
The case of Thomas Briggs and the conviction of Franz Muller lingerd for a while, questions were raised and many left unanswered. Slowly it petered out of the public’s mind. Matthews collected his reward and several proposals to make trains safer for passengers were discussed in parliament, eventually leading to the implementation of emergency brake cables in carriages and various other safety measures. Mullers final confession appears to wrap the case up on the side of the good, however, to anyone reading today, there are serious questions on the side of both Mullers guilt and innocence. Mr Lee’s story remains high on the list, along with Mullers alibis, free from the prejudiced of Victorian England, we can measure its credibility with less bias. On the flipside, how had Muller came into possession of Thomas Briggs hat and watch, if he had not murdered him himself? Was Muller naive in the extreme by telling everyone of his trip to America, including even the name of the ship he was to sail on and buying a ticket in his own name, or was he simply an innocent man, not aware that his actions might later be seen as a guilty man running from justice? His final confession stamps a finality on the affair, but for those that fall on the side of judging him innocent, remains a cryptic thing to have said, if he said it at all…