Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Killer Publican

1875 saw one of the most cold blooded killings seen in Liverpool when a pub licensee shot a man in London Road, paying for the crime with his life after appeals for clemency were dismissed.

35 year old William Baker managed the Rainbow in Williamson Square and was the son of a well known and respected victualler in the town. However in the early hours of Sunday 11th July he got into an altercation with 34 year old Charles Langan, a cab driver and former prize fighter at the corner of London Road and St Vincent Street outside the Swan Inn. He produced a revolver and fired one shot at Langan, who dropped to the ground.

A policeman was on the scene within seconds and on being told Baker had fired the shot and the revovler was in his pocket, quickly disarmed him and took him into custody. On arrival at the Main Bridewell he claimed that he was acting in self defence and only intended to his Langan with the revolver, but it had gone off. Langan was removed to the Royal Infirmary where he was pronounced dead on arrival, the bullet having passed through the base of his skull.

On the Monday at the Coroner's Inquest witnesses, some of whom knew both men, told how they had been walking up London road when Baker called out 'Charley I want you'. They went on to say how Langan replied that he had no business with Baker and refused his challenge to a fight.  No threats were made before the revolver was produced. The most telling evidence though came from 15 year old George English, who was returning home from working in a theatre. He didn't know either party but said he was sure he saw Baker fire the shot and there had been no provocation. A verdict of wilful murder was returned and Baker was committed for trial. The funeral of Langan took place on 13th July.

The trial took place on 17th August, with witnesses giving consistent evidence in relation to the way the shot was fired. Baker claimed that he bought the revolver to defend himself as he had been threatened by Langan previously, but couldn't show that he had been provoked immediately prior to the shooting. In summing up, Mr Justice Archibald said that there was no doubt about whether or not Baker had carried out the shooting, the only question was if he hadn't intended the gun to go off, in which case a verdict of manslaughter could be returned.

After retiring for an hour and a half, a guilty verdict was returned with a recommendation for mercy. Prior to receiving the death sentence, Baker told the court that his counsel had adopted the wrong line of defence and that the jury should have learnt more about Langan's character. As he donned the black cap, Justice Archibald said he had acted in the most wanton manner and he would have been astonished if the jury had reached any other conclusion.

Baker, who was married with a young child, had a lot of friends in Liverpool and with his father being a well known tradesman, there was plenty of sympathy on his part. A petition was presented to the Home Secretary, signed by 11 of the jury and 10 town councillors. This was met with an angry response by Langan's brothers, who objected to claims that he had threatened Baker after being refused service in the Rainbow. On 4th September, three days before the execution date, the Home Secretary confirmed there would be no reprieve, possibly having taken into account his previous arrests for beating a woman and robbery of a betting shop.

On 7th September Baker was hanged by Marwood alongside American seaman Edward Cooper. The Liverpool Mercury reported that he had to be helped up and looked bewildered, haggard and pale, unlike Cooper who went 'nobly to the scaffold.' As a mark of respect, the Rainbow remained closed all day while the blinds in his father's premises next door remained drawn.

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