A city banker, Thomas Briggs, 69, had the misfortune to become the first man ever to be murdered on a train in Britain, possibly even in the world. On July 9th, 1864, he was travelling on the 9.50 p.m. North London Railway train between Fenchurch Street and Hackney Wick when he was beaten up, robbed of his gold watch and gold spectacles, and his body was thrown from the carriage.
Mr. Briggs, mortally injured, was spotted by the driver of a train travelling in the opposite direction. He was taken to a nearby pub, but died shortly afterwards.
The murder threw the entire country into a panic. The idea of a respectable businessman being attacked and robbed while travelling home by train appalled and frightened the British public.
What are the authorities going to do, they demanded? Is it no longer safe to travel by rail? Are murderous gangs lying in wait at every station?
The murderer, Franz Muller, a poor German tailor, had immediately departed to America, hoping to start a new life in the New World. But two Scotland Yard detectives pursued him and when it was known that there was a manhunt on the high seas an armada of little ships sailed out from New York harbour to greet the arrival of the fugitives ship, the Victoria.
As the ship came in sight they shouted, Welcome to America, murderer! and, Muller the murderer! Muller the murderer!
He was arrested on the quay and brought back to face trial at the Old Bailey, where the jury was told that a most significant clue in tracing him was that he had left his hat in the murder carriage.
There was no doubting that it was his hat. A witness, Elizabeth Repsch, whose husband was a friend of Mullers, said, I have never seen a hat lined that way before. When he came visiting us, I often held his hat for him.
Another equally significant clue was that after leaving his hat behind Muller wore his victims hat. He had clearly taken the wrong one from the carriage, with no thought about how incriminating that could be.
Muller declared that he was in a brothel at the time of the murder. The time he was there was much disputed by the prosecution, causing the solicitor-general to expostulate: Is this whole case going to rest on the reliability of a brothel clock?
Found guilty, Muller walked to the scaffold on Monday, November 14th, 1864, to the jeers and catcalls of more than 50,000 people. A fraction of a second before the trap-door opened under his feet, he gasped to the German pastor at his side: Ich habe es gethan. (I did it).
After that, fearful that more of their passengers might get bludgeoned to death, several railway companies cut safety peepholes in the partitions. They were inevitably nicknamed Mullers Lights.
The idea was that other passengers could keep an eye open for any trouble in adjoining compartments. But it didnt work out like that. Mullers Lights were eventually filled in following complaints from courting couples that they ruined their only chance of privacy.