Historical Murders presented by Paul Stickler

Britain’s first railway murder

aka The murder of Thomas Briggs

9 July 1864

Headshot for the Britain’s first railway murder
Headshot for the Britain’s first railway murder

On 9 July 1864, Thomas Briggs left his home in Clapton Square to travel by train to the City of London where he worked as a chief clerk in a bank.

He was wearing his customary silk top hat, was carrying his walking cane and sporting a gold-coloured fob watch and chain. It was a Saturday, and in the afternoon he visited his niece in south London before returning to Fenchurch Street railway station to return to Hackney. He did not survive the journey. Later that evening his body was found beside the railway track at Duckett’s canal. He had been hit about the head and his watch and chain had been stolen. He died shortly afterwards from his injuries.

“This foul and brutal crime, committed in the very centre and heart of our civilisation is the most horrible ever to disgrace this country”

The police investigation identified the blood-stained carriage in which Briggs had been attacked and found a top hat and walking cane.

The cane was identified as belonging to the victim but the top hat was not his. Whoever had attacked him had mistakenly picked up the wrong hat leaving his own behind. Very quickly it was established that the stolen chain had been exchanged in a jeweller’s shop in Cheapside for another chain and ring by a man with a German accent. The watch remained outstanding.

As a result of publicity about the case, a German-speaking man by the name of Franz Müller was identified as a suspect and an investigation revealed that was the owner of a hat like the one found in the railway carriage. He had been seen shortly after the murder wearing a new, much smarter one. It became obvious that he had travelled to America by ship, but he was pursued across the Atlantic by Scotland Yard detectives. Despite the head start Müller had, he was found in New York in possession of Briggs’ watch. He was extradited and stood trial in London where he was convicted and later hanged on 14 November 1864.

The victim...
Victim Image
Thomas Briggs

Thomas Briggs was a 69-year-old chief clerk at Robarts, Curtis bank in the City of London. He lived at 5, Clapton Square, Hackney with his wife and daughter, both called Mary. He also had two sons, Thomas and Netterville. He travelled most days to the bank by train from Hackney to Fenchurch Street and it was on this line that he met his death on 9 July 1864.

  • What was the detective abilities of the police in 1864?

    The first detectives appeared in London in 1842, though only 8 officers were appointed. There numbers grew over the next few decades, but their expertise focussed on surveillance of known offenders rather than investigating specific offences. This was a period of time well ahead of fingerprint analysis and photography was not used at crime scenes. It would take the East End murders of 1888 to focus minds on investigative expertise.

  • What was the weapon used to kill Briggs?

    It was never established. His injuries could have been caused as he was thrown from a moving train. More likely, he could have been hit about the head with a blunt instrument since the carriage was heavily blood-stained.

  • What led to the identity of Müller first becoming known?

    Friends of his showed that he had been in possession of a new hat, had a jewellery box with the Cheapside brand on it, and was in possession of a new ring and chain. One of the people identified Müller’s hat and positively identified him by means of a photograph. He had a German accent as described by the jeweller who had bought the stolen ring.

  • How difficult was it to extradite people in 1864?

    Extradition has never been a simple process. In 1864, of course, America was in the middle of a civil war, but Müller was extradited under the terms of the British-American Extradition Treaty 1842. The warrant was signed by Abraham Lincoln.

  • Was Franz Müller hanged in public?

    Yes, he was. Thousands turned up to see the macabre event in November 1864. Four years later, hangings were carried out behind prison walls such was the depth of feeling about them being carried out in the public arena.

Further reading...
Cover of Mr Briggs’ Hat

Mr Briggs’ Hat

Kate Colquhoun



Britain's First Railway Murder case is available as a presentation. Whether delivered on world-wide cruise ships or in a local village hall, it's absorbing, informative, and entertaining. Contact Paul Stickler for more information...

Paul Stickler presenting on stage on a cruise ship