Who would have ever dreamed that Santa would rob a bank! But, it happened in Cisco, Texas. On December 23, 1927, a man dressed as Santa Claus walked down the sidewalk in downtown Cisco, followed by several small excited children, and into the First National Bank. After shooing the children away, he pulled out a gun and robbed the bank.
Santa – Marshall Ratliff – and three accomplices then conducted one of the most inept bank robberies in the annals of ineptitude. A general gun battle erupted during the robbery, owing to the general citizenry being armed, and a standing reward of $5,000 available from the bank association for shooting a bank robber in the act. Over 200 bullet holes were found in the bank building.
When the four robbers finally fought their way out of the bank and to a getaway car, killing two police officers in the process, they realized the car was almost out of gas. The robbers drove off in a hail of gunfire but made it only a few miles out of town. After their car ran out of gas, they commandeered another car from a citizen, and continued their way north.
During the next three days they stole two more automobiles from other victims, but never made it more than about sixty miles from Cisco. After three days of dodging the largest manhunt in Texas history, everyone was rounded up, although one of them was shot dead. The other two received death sentences. Henry Helms was electrocuted by “ole sparky” in Texas’ electric chair on September 6, 1929.
Santa, rather Ratliff, had his execution delayed by a sanity hearing that brought him back to Eastland County, where he feigned illness and killed a guard in an abortive escape attempt. The good citizens of Cisco decided that they’d had about enough of due process.
The following is quoted from a newspaper report about what happened to Mr. Ratliff:
All yesterday they gathered in little groups about the town and muttered about (the guard) Jones’ shooting which physicians said probably would prove fatal. Last night a crowd in front of the jail swelled to nearly a thousand at 8:30 o’clock.
At about 9 o’clock, some 200 men slipped into a side door of the jail and asked for the man. Jailer Gilborn refused to give him up. They then overpowered Gilborn, took his keys and got Ratliff. He was dragged in the direction of the public square, but the crowd would not wait to go those few blocks.
At 200 yards from the jail a strong telephone cable was pointed out, a rope flung across it. A noose was put around Ratliff’s neck and a dozen men on the other end of the rope bent their weight, and Ratliff was jerked from the ground. The rope broke. Messengers were sent for another rope, and again the mob set to its task. Then someone remembered that men about to die are usually given a chance to say a last word. For another moment he was lowered to the ground, but, displeased at his mumblings, the crowd yelled “string him up!”
So, Santa Claus met his fate at the hands of the citizens of the town of Cisco. Amazingly, only six people were killed – two of them were police officers- considering all the shots that were fired.
A plaque has been erected on the outside wall of the old First National Bank building in Cisco which reads, “Scene of daring Santa Claus Bank Robbery”. So far is known, Santa has never participated in another bank heist.
“THE DAY SANTA CLAUS ROBBED A BANK”
BY: NEAL MURPHY
P.O. BOX 511
107 HEMLOCK STREET
SAN AUGUSTINE, TX 75972
Web Site: www.etexasbook.com