The Crimes of Joseph Briggen

Joseph Briggen (born 1850), was a hog farmer in Sierra Morena, California, descended from a family of farmers. The Briggen land was difficult to farm; his crops failed regularly and if it weren’t for the pigs, he probably wouldn’t have made a living. From an early age Joseph always liked the pigs and seemed to have a talent for raising them. As an adult, he worked hard to raise his Berkshire Hogs and became famous for their size and high prices at auction. They also won the blue ribbon prize at the annual Sacramento State fair. Other farmers pestered Briggen for his secret, how did he manage to raise the best pigs? He maintained his silence, only saying that it was “all in the feeding” and the best possible care he could give (

Farming can be seasonal and hard work and Joseph would venture into Sacramento to hire new farm hands, preferring to take on homeless and transients. In some circumstances this could be considered philanthropic and commendable, but I don’t write about happy stories. When hiring, Joseph would promise food and board in exchange for labour, which probably seemed like a good deal to anyone living on the streets. However, his staff never stayed long, sometimes only a week, especially once they questioned the poor living conditions and no pay. Joseph was known to complain to other farmers his staff just didn’t stick around.

Early in 1902, Joseph hired a man called Steven Korad to work on the farm, not knowing that this man would be his undoing. Whilst in his accommodation, Korad made the gruesome discovery of two severed fingers behind his bed ( Reasonably, he was uneasy, and when able he slipped away from the farm to contact the authorities. Police conducted a thorough search of the farm and found the skulls and bones of at least twelve humans in the pig sty. Joseph Briggen’s secret ingredient for the pig feed was no longer a secret. It’s difficult to be sure exactly when he started killing, but it’s believed to be around 1880.

The police could prove twelve victims, from the remains found and missing people, but suspect the body count was actually much higher due to the transient nature of his employees. They had uncovered enough evidence from the farm that in August 1902, Joseph Briggen was tried and sentenced to life in prison for the twelve murders. He died shortly after arriving at San Quentin prison in 1903. 

How did these events come about? Did he kill first and use the pigs to hide the evidence? Did he kill for better pig food? We will never know. How many people he actually killed will also remain a mystery.

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