On this day in history : 14th November 1864 – German tailor Franz Muller is publicly hanged at Newgate Prison, for the murder of Thomas Briggs – the first killing on a British train….

Franz Muller – Public domain

On the 9th of July 1864 city banker Thomas Briggs had been travelling on the 9.50pm London Railway train between Fenchurch Street and Hackney Wick…. Train travel at the time was not without its risks – robberies were commonplace but as of yet nobody had been killed…. However, this was about to change…. Briggs was beaten, robbed of his gold spectacles, watch and chain…. He was then thrown from the train, to be later found by the driver of another train travelling in the opposite direction…. He was taken to a nearby public house but died of his injuries….

A pool of blood was found in the compartment of the train where Briggs had been sitting – along with a black beaver hat assumed belonging to the murderer…. Then John Death, a jeweller from Cheapside, gave a description of a German man who had exchanged a gold chain two days after the attack – this chain was identified as having belonged to Briggs….

Nine days after, by which time a substantial £300 reward had been offered, a cab driver by the name of Matthews came forward with information…. He claimed he had not heard about the murder (even though it had been widely publicised) – but said he had become suspicious about a jeweller’s box with Death’s name on it, in the possession of his future son-in-law…. The cab driver’s daughter was engaged to 24-year-old Franz Muller – and Matthews was able to provide a photograph of the German…. This was then identified by the jeweller as being the man who had exchanged the chain; a warrant was issued for Muller’s arrest….

However, Muller was now onboard a passenger liner heading for New York…. Fortunately two detectives from Scotland Yard managed to get passage on a much faster ship and were in New York three weeks before Muller – who was arrested upon his arrival….

Extradition was to prove a little tricky as diplomatic relations were not good between America and Britain at the time, due to the American Civil War…. But eventually Muller was brought back to face trial….

The trial caught the attention of the British public, who were becoming increasingly wary about the safety of travelling by train…. Many believed Matthews had only shopped his future son-in-law to get the reward money and speculated that he might even have been involved in the crime himself…. Much of the evidence against Muller was circumstantial and he pleaded not guilty, protesting his innocence throughout…. Nevertheless he was found guilty and sentenced to hang…. His was one of the last public executions and a large, unruly, drunken crowd of some 50,000 gathered to watch…. Muller’s last words were “Ich habe es getan” ~ “I did it”….

Engraving of Newgate Prison, early 1800s – Public domain

The case was to lead to the establishment of the communication cord onboard trains, giving passengers a way of contacting train staff…. Briggs had been murdered in a closed compartment with no way of exiting between stops…. As a result railway carriages were created with corridors….

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