Station Buffet | Historical


The first Murder actually commited on a Train in the UK

At 10.20 p.m. the driver of a train travelling in the opposite direction saw something in the six-foot between Hackney Wick and Bow Stations. He stopped the train and found an unconscious, severely injured man, who was taken to a nearby public house. The victim of what had obviously been a murderous attack proved to be Mr. Thomas BRIGGS, chief clerk of a bank in Lombard Street. He was nearly seventy years old and died of his wounds the following night.

The bag and stick found in the compartment were identified as the property of Mr. Briggs. The hat was not identified and provided an initial clue in the form of the address of the maker at Crawford Street, Marylebone. Robbery was evidently the motive for the murder because Mr. BRIGGS' gold watch and chain, and gold eye-glasses, could not be found. The publicity given to what was then a unique crime caused considerable agitation for better protection to be given to railway passengers. The Government and the bank which employed Mr. BRIGGS offered substantial rewards for information.

The first important information came from a jeweller named, curiously enough, John DEATH. He gave a description of a man, believed to be a German, who called at his shop in Cheapside on 11th July and exchanged a gold chain which was identified as that of Mr. BRIGGS. Next, on 18th July, a cabman told the Police (after some delay which was never satisfactorily explained) that he had seen in his house a small cardboard box bearing the name 'DEATH' which had been given to one of his children by a young German named Franz MULLER, formerly engaged to his eldest daughter. Inquiries showed that MULLER had sailed for New York on 15th July in the sailing ship 'Victoria.'

The Cabman also stated that the black beaver hat found in the train was one purchased by him on behalf of MULLER at the Marylebone address. He gave the Police a photograph of Muller and this was identified by DEATH, the jeweller, as that of the man who had exchanged the gold chain.

MULLER was now linked with the property stolen from the murdered man and with the hat found in the compartment. The mechanism of detection had functioned well. A warrant for his arrest was granted by the Chief Magistrate at Bow Street and on 19th July Inspector TANNER and Sergeant CLARKE left Euston for Liverpool. On 20th July they sailed for New York in the steamship 'City of Manchester' and reached there on 5th August, three weeks before MULLER. When MULLER arrived he was arrested and searched and in his possession were found the missing watch and a hat believed to be that of Mr. BRIGGS.

Extradition proceedings were begun on 26th August and on 3rd September the officers left for England with their prisoner. When they reached Euston on 17th September a large and angry crowd awaited them but the L.N.W.R. Police dealt with the situation successfully.

On 27th October 1864, MULLER appeared at the Old Bailey and evidence for the prosecution was given by several railway witnesses including the ticket collector who punched Mr. BRIGGS' ticket at the beginning of his fateful journey, by the guard of the 9.50 p.m. train, and by the driver who found the body.

MULLER'S defence was an alibi, i.e., he tried to prove that he was elsewhere at the time of the murder. One defence witness stated that he had seen Mr. BRIGGS in the compartment with two other men, neither of whom he recognised as the prisoner. Another witness, a prostitute, said MULLER was with her at the material time. Prosecuting counsel said "little reliance should be placed on a clock in a brothel" although it is difficult to see what connection there could be between a clock on the mantelpiece and what went on in some other part of the room. There was also a suggestion by the defence that the hat left in the compartment might have belonged to the cabman who could easily have been the murderer. MULLER, who had a previous conviction for larceny, asserted his innocence to the end but was found guilty on the strongest possible evidence. He was publicly executed amid scenes of drunkenness and disorder which contributed to the ultimate abolition of these revolting exhibitions.

The crime aroused, and has continued to arouse, great interest for several reasons. It. was the first murder on a British Railway and the pursuit across the Atlantic caught the imagination of the public in much the same way as the CRIPPEN case fifty years later. The extradition proceedings in New York were very lively because the British were not popular in America at this time as a result of the 'Alabama' incident and the trial in England demonstrated once more the weight of circumstantial evidence.

The murderer himself will go down to posterity as the prime cause of an agitation which led to the compulsory installation of a means of communication between the passenger and the train-crew, as required by Section 22 of the Regulation of Railways Act, 1868. If Mr. BRIGGS had been able to pull the communication cord he might have been able to save his life.

This article was written by William Owen GAY (Former Chief Constable of the British Transport Police) and was part of a series "Murder in Transit" published in the BTP Journal.



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