Skip to content

The Brutal Murder of Joseph Mallti

If not for an eyewitness, the murderer would probably have gotten away with the crime.
Joseph Mattli hatchet

Here’s a story most people have never heard of but is a nifty little true crime nonetheless.

In June of 1902, a Swiss immigrant named Joseph Mattli (known as Mallti in some sources) worked at a local mill owned by a Joseph Brigger (confusingly, also known as Briggan). Mattli’s duties included splitting logs into shingles for new buildings and homes that were springing up all over San Mateo County.

That June Mattli went missing. People might have suspected that Mattli just left the area. He apparently had no wife or family, so he could have abandoned his life in the County and gone off to start a new life.

This assumption was complicated, however, by an eyewitness named Koard seeing Brigger leave Mattli’s small cabin on the morning of his disappearance. Brigger appeared to have blood on his clothing.

This fact eventually brought in Sheriff Joel Mansfield, who searched Mattli’s cabin and discovered bloodstains in several places of the small building. A subsequent search of the immediate area uncovered a poorly disguised shallow grave with Mattli’s hacked up body inside.

Brigger was arrested and brought to trial. Testimony revealed that Brigger owed Mattli between $100 and $500 in wages. Apparently not wanting to pay him, Brigger instead killed the man with a hatchet and probably would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for that eyewitness. Brigger was found guilty of first-degree murder and sent to San Quentin. Surprisingly, he only served eight years before being paroled. After his release, he went off to parts unknown and we don’t know what became of him.

Mattli’s June 21st obituary in the Times-Gazette called the crime a “particularly atrocious one.”

The whole story is confusing, besides the puzzle of the spelling of the last names. The San Francisco Call newspaper stated that Brigger (now spelled “Briggen”) was a dairyman, as was Mattli. It reported that the jury deliberated for only one hour before stating that he should get life in prison.

And Brigger’s hijinks didn’t end with his imprisonment. The Alameda Daily Argus reported on April 16, 1910, that Brigger told his soon-to-be-released cellmate named Manning the location of $1,360 in buried gold coins. Brigger wanted the money for his ongoing legal defense. Instead, Manning reportedly dug up the loot and disappeared.

Mattli was buried in an unmarked public grave in Redwood City’s Union Cemetery. His murder, which shocked the local populace at the time, fell into the category of crimes that have faded into obscurity over time.

Douglas MacGowan

About the Author: Douglas MacGowan

Doug MacGowan has authored seven books and countless articles, mainly about history and true crime. He has been a resident of Redwood City since 2000.
Read more