Santa Claus A Bank Robber?*
It was December 23, 1927, and all across Texas people were preparing for Christmas as they struggled to find that last minute gift or, even more so, as they struggled to put the finishing touches on the homemade gifts that were still so common in small-town Texas. Thus was it in the little town of Cisco, where our story begins today….Cisco via Wichita Falls, that is.
The roaring 20s had ushered in a new prosperity to the country as money flowed more freely, and people began to have a little more time away from the back-breaking work of past generations. Of course, following this new-found prosperity came the hangers on…those people who always seem to be content to follow the wealth of others and in 1927, bank robberies abounded with three or four Texas banks falling prey every single day.
Hard to believe, I know, but the problem was so severe at this time that the Texas Bankers Association was actually offering a $5,000 reward to anyone who would shoot a bank robber while the actual hold up was happening. Even in the midst of new-found prosperity, $5,000 was a lot of money!
The original plan was for brothers Marshall and Lee Ratliff to rob the First National Bank in Cisco, Texas. The brothers had already been convicted of robbing a bank in Valera, Texas and had served a year of their sentence before being pardoned by Governor Miriam A. Ferguson. Unfortunately for Marshall, Lee was arrested before they could pull off the heist….thus, a new plan was hatched in Wichita Falls, Texas while the people of Cisco had visions of nothing but Christmas in their future.
Marshall Ratliff first brought in two men, Henry Helms and Robert Hill, both ex-cons that he knew from his time in Huntsville. The men also included a safe-cracker who (luckily for him) was in bed with the flu on the day his services were needed in Cisco. His illness caused Helms to offer Louis Davis the job. Davis was a relative of Helms, and I suppose their second-choice.
On the night of December 22, Ratliff, Helms, Hill, and Davis stole a car in Wichita Falls and headed it toward the unsuspecting town of Cisco. The foursome arrived on the morning of the 23rd, and as it neared the noon hour, Ratliff climbed into the Santa suit he had brought with him. “Santa” then turned toward the bank and the others who were waiting in the alley just ahead.
The part of the story that I’ve never understood is whether or not Ratliff understood ahead of time just what a draw he would be for the children of 1927 who quickly joined him on his walk to the bank. My guess is no since he apparently did his best to ignore the audience that he quickly attracted.
As most robberies go, the men worked quickly, Ratliff taking the money from the tellers as well as the safe. The men might actually have made their getaway had it not been that Mrs. B.P. Blassengame allowed her little daughter to talk her into entering the bank to see Santa Claus. Assessing the situation at once, the woman grabbed her daughter and ran out an alley doorway, ignoring the threats of the robbers as she ran.
Upon reaching the alley, Mrs. Blassengame sounded the alarm, alerting the town of Cisco as to what was happening inside the bank. One might say that all Hell broke lose as citizens armed themselves…whether it was to save their bank or to earn $5,000, I’m not really sure, but I do know that bullets began to fly both to and from the bank building.
Not knowing what else to do, the robbers forced everyone in the bank to walk in front of them toward their getaway car. Several escaped, but several others were wounded as the bullets continued to rain their way.
Police Chief Bedford and his deputy, George Carmichael, were killed in the shootout, and two little girls were taken as hostages. From here the story is totally crazy. The thieves reached their stolen car only to realize that a tire had been shot out and that they were nearly out of gas.
Out of gas???!!!
They jumped in the car and made it out of town where they tried to steal a car from the teen who was driving it. The young man had the presence of mind to let them have the car while running away with the keys in his hand….
…Follow links below to read the rest of the story or to order the book…Most of my information came from the book; however, TSHA has great info too.
*If you have not seen Cisco Junior College perform this musical production, you have missed a huge treat! I could not imagine how they were going to pull it off as a Southern Baptist musical, but they did it perfectly.