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Thomas Muller and the Railway Murder

The story started on the evening of Saturday 9 July 1864 when two bank clerks boarded a Highbury-bound North London Railway train at Hackney and found their first-class compartment to be soaked in blood.  In the compartment was a walking stick which had apparently been used as a weapon, a leather bag belonging to a Mr Briggs, and a hat.   There was no sign of a victim of any attack.   Soon afterwards, the victim, Mr Thomas Briggs, Chief Clerk in the bank of Messrs Robarts, Curtis & Co of Lombard Street in the City of London, was found unconscious on the railway track with a serious head wound.   His hat and his pocket watch were missing, and he died the following evening.  The attack had apparently been carried out on the 5-minute journey between Bow and Hackney Wick.    

Inspector Richard Tanner was put on to the case. There were two immediate lines of enquiry.   Firstly, a description of Mr Briggs' stolen gold watch and chain was circulated.   Information soon came in that a silversmith in Cheapside had taken in Mr Briggs' watch chain on the Monday, two days after the attack.   The silversmith, who rejoiced in the name of John Death, described the man as having a sallow complexion with thin features, wearing a black frock coat and vest, and probably German.    

The second clue was that the suspect appeared to have put on Mr Briggs' hat by mistake and to have left his own hat behind at the scene of the crime.   The suspect's hat was unusual and had been cut down, resulting in it being shorter than Mr Briggs' silk top hat.   The alteration had been made not by a hatter, but by somebody who also sewed neatly.   A £300 reward offered for the apprehension of the murderer resulted in a cab driver by the name of Matthews coming forward.   He had purchased a hat for a young German tailor called Franz Müller, who had given Matthews’ young daughter a box bearing Mr Death's name at about 3pm on the Monday.   Fortunately Mr Matthews' wife had been given an address in Bethnal Green where Müller would be staying, but Inspector Tanner found when he called there that his suspect had already left England on the ship Victoria  bound for America.  

 But Tanner set sail from Liverpool in a faster ship, ss City of Manchester, reached New York before Müller, and initiated extradition proceedings to bring him back to London.   Crowds waited at Euston station for a glimpse of Müller, and, when the party finally arrived, they expressed their indignation at him before he was driven off to Bow Street court, which is still today the traditional court for dealing with extradition cases.    There were some suggestions that there had been another man in the carriage assisting Müller when he attacked Thomas Briggs, but it was Müller alone who was sent for trial at the Old Bailey.    He was convicted and executed at Newgate in November 1864.

 This was a case where Richard Tanner had started to build up Scotland Yard’s international reputation.   The Times said in October of that year that no murderer had excited such interest since Courvoisier for the killing of Lord William Russell in June 1840, or Dr William Palmer for the poisoning of a Mr Cook in May 1856.  

The detection and successful prosecution of Franz Müller had satisfied the public that violence on the new railways would be efficiently dealt with.  It also indicated the commitment which Scotland Yard showed in the first chase of a fugitive across the Atlantic, and provides an early example of using an extradition treaty to bring a criminal to justice.

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