History

The Santa Claus Bank Robbery: This Texas Town’s Bloodiest Crime

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When a career criminal decided to dress up as Santa Claus, he wasn’t in a giving mood—more like taking. Back in 1927, Marshall Ratliff held up the First National Bank in Cisco, Texas, dressed in the saintly red and white suit that anyone would mistake for the outfit of a benevolent gift-giver in December. He proved his audacity knew no bounds and instigated a statewide manhunt.

After he first stepped inside the First National Bank, Ratliff was met with the cashier’s greeting of “Hello, Santa!” Shortly thereafter, his accomplice entered the financial institution and said it was about to be robbed. Ratliff had just been released from jail earlier that month. In Texas in this day and age, approximately four banks per day were being robbed. A $5K bounty was being offered by state authorities to anyone who shot a criminal robbing a bank. Since Ratliff had a familiar face in Cisco, he chose to dress in the most inconspicuous costume of the day… Santa Claus. His cohorts were two criminals he prepared for the heist. He got the costume and set the plan in motion.

Video: YouTube/Dixon Seider

A happy group of children followed Ratliff into the bank. They were excited to see what they thought was the real Santa Claus. Immediately following that, his partners in crime rushed in, ordering that the safe be emptied by the teller. They netted more than $12K which, in today’s dollars, would translate to approximately $173,000. However, a lone witness to the robbery had escaped the bank by a side door and yelled out that it was in progress. The authorities arrived on the scene with a riot gun and opened fire. Ratliff and his crew shot back. In the melee, locals who were hoping for the $5K bounty began shooting at the bank as well. In the end, the crooks escaped, and the bank façade was left with more than 200 bullet holes. The bank robbers took hostages and made their escape in a getaway car. What ensued was the largest manhunt in texas history at that time.

The Santa Claus Bank Robbery: This Texas Town's Bloodiest Crime
Photo: Facebook/Lela Latch Lloyd Museum

Ultimately, six people lost their lives, including three banker robbers and two policemen. One of the policemen was the Chief of Police, who was shot in the chest. Ratliff was later caught and convicted first for armed robbery, then sentenced to execution for murder. Following a failed appeal, Ratliff began acting like a lunatic in the hope of trying for an insanity plea. This enraged citizens of Eastland County, and when Ratliff attempted to escape, they lost all patience for justice. Though he failed to get free, Ratliff mortally wounded a jailer in the escape attempt.

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