Franz Muller

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Franz Müller
Born (1840-10-31)31 October 1840
Died 14 November 1864(1864-11-14)
London, England
Nationality German
Occupation Tailor
Criminal charge Murder
Criminal penalty Death by hanging
Criminal status Executed

Franz Müller (31 October 1840 – 14 November 1864), was a German tailor who was hanged for the murder of Thomas Briggs, the first killing on a British train. The case caught the imagination of the public due to increasing safety fears about rail travel at the time, and the pursuit of Müller across the Atlantic Ocean to New York by Scotland Yard.


On 9 July 1864 Thomas Briggs, a 69-year-old City banker, was beaten and robbed while he travelled on the 9.50pm North London Railway train from Fenchurch Street to Chalk Farm. The assailant took his gold watch and gold spectacles, but left £5 in Briggs's pockets, and threw his body from the compartment. Just after 10.00pm, the driver of a train travelling in the opposite direction spotted Briggs lying on the embankment next to the tracks between the old Bow and Victoria Park & Hackney Wick stations,[1] described as "his foot towards London and his head towards Hackney, at a spot about two-thirds of the distance 1 mile 414 yards between Bow and Hackney stations" or approximately 51°32′23.08″N 0°1′36.21″W / 51.5397444°N 0.0267250°W / 51.5397444; -0.0267250.

The banker died of his wounds shortly after being taken to the nearby Mitford Castle public house (now named Top o' the Morning) on Cadogan Terrace.[2]


When the train reached Hackney Wick, the guard was alerted by two bankers who discovered pools of blood in Briggs' compartment. Police later found a black beaver hat.[3] Initially it was presumed to have belonged to the deceased but it subsequently turned out to have belonged to the murderer.

On 18 July, a cab driver called Matthews came forward with suspicions about a German called Franz Müller.[4] He told police that the 24-year-old tailor had come to his house with a gold chain in a box. After he had attached his fob watch to the chain, Matthews gave the box to his daughter. The box had been sold by a jeweller named John Death from a shop in Cheapside.

Death identified Müller from a photograph and told investigators that the German had visited his shop on 11 July to exchange a gold chain. This was later identified as belonging to Briggs. With this evidence, a warrant for Müller's arrest was issued.[5]

Transatlantic escape[edit]

However, by the time an arrest warrant was issued, Müller had boarded a sailing ship – the Victoria – to New York. On 20 July, Richard Tanner, a Scotland Yard inspector,[6][7][8] along with Matthews and Death sailed for New York from Liverpool on the Inman steamer City of Manchester in pursuit of Müller. The faster ship arrived in New York three weeks before Müller.

When Müller finally arrived in Manhattan on 25 August he was arrested. Among his possessions was Briggs's gold watch and a hat. Müller had altered the hat by cutting the crown by half its height and carefully sewing it to the brim. Although diplomatic relations between the United States and the United Kingdom remained severely strained due to British involvement in the American Civil War (such as the building of Confederate commerce raider the CSS Alabama), an American judge upheld the extradition request to return Müller to Britain.

Trial and conviction[edit]

Although most of the evidence against Müller was circumstantial, the prosecutor Mr Serjeant Ballantine made a strong case. Defence concerns that Matthews had come forward only to receive the reward were of little effect. Müller maintained his innocence throughout his three-day trial at the Old Bailey.

After he was found guilty, he was sentenced to death.[9] King Wilhelm I of Prussia (subsequently the Kaiser of Germany) failed to get the British Government to postpone the execution.[10]


The public hanging of Müller took place outside Newgate Prison in London on 14 November amid scenes of drunkenness and disorderly conduct by 50,000 spectators. Although this was one of the last public executions in England, they did not end until 1868.

Despite consistently claiming innocence at his trial and while awaiting sentence, Müller reportedly confessed to the crime immediately before being hanged. Dr Louis Cappel, the German-speaking Lutheran pastor appointed to attend the prisoner, claimed afterwards that Müller's last words (in German) were "Ich habe es getan" (English: I did it) in response to the question, was he responsible for the death of Briggs.[11][12] This confession led to a large-scale public outcry over whether the chaplain had overstepped his authority by breaking the seal of the Confessional.[citation needed]


Briggs had been murdered in a closed compartment that had no corridor; when the train started there was no way to leave until the next station. Public reaction resulted in the establishment of the communication cord on trains that allowed passengers to contact members of the railway crew, required by the Regulation of Railways Act 1868. It also led to the creation of railway carriages that had corridors. The new coach/carriage designs would have side corridors that allowed passengers to move from their compartments while the train was in motion. Old compartment stock was modified by some companies to include circular peepholes in the partitions; these became known as "Muller's Lights".


  1. ^ Knott, George. "Trial of Franz Muller". 1911. Butterworth & Co (Internet Archive). Retrieved 17 February 2013. 
  2. ^ Colquhoun (2011) pp.20,25
  3. ^ Colquhoun (2011) pp.1-5
  4. ^ Colquhoun (2011) p.66
  5. ^ Colquhoun (2011) p.85
  6. ^ Thompson, Ed. "The First Railway Murder in Britain". British Transport Police History Group. Retrieved 2014-11-09. 
  7. ^ Arkell, Harriet (15 February 2013). "Murder on the Hackney Express: The first-class train killing that terrified the Victorian middle-classes". Daily Mail. 
  8. ^ Knott, George H. (1911). "Trial Of Franz Muller". p. 67. 
  9. ^ Colquhoun (2011) pp.235-237
  10. ^ Colquhoun (2011) p.262
  11. ^ Colquhoun (2011) p.268
  12. ^ Knott (1911) xxi; 187-8


  • Colquhoun, Kate (2011). Mr Briggs' Hat: A Sensational Account of Britain's First Railway Murder. London: Little, Brown. ISBN 0-7481-1567-6. 
  • James Gardner, The First British Railway Murder. 2013

External links[edit]