It was December 23, 1927, when one of the most remarkable bank robberies in U.S. history occurred in Cisco, Texas.
As eyewitness Boyce House wrote, this was “the most spectacular crime in the history of the Southwest … surpassing any in which Billy the Kid or the James boys had ever figured.”
People were busy in Cisco that day, rushing to finish up their Christmas shopping when a cheerful Santa Claus came along Main Street. Children rushed to say hi and spend time with him. The delighted children followed Santa all the way to the First National Bank of Cisco, Texas.
Santa entered the bank and after him, another man entered pointing a pistol at the cashier and snarling out a “Hands up!” Within seconds, two more robbers with guns burst into the bank. It was Santa who ordered the cashier to open the vault and began stuffing money and bonds into a sack.
It all went well for Santa and his friends until a woman managed to get out of the bank and ran straight to the police department. She announced, “The First National is being held up!”
The police and a number of armed townspeople arrived and a general gun battle erupted. Three people were killed – two of them police officers. More than 200 bullet holes were later counted in the walls. The robbers shot their way into their getaway car, taking two little girls from the bank as hostages.
Marshall Ratliff was the man behind Santa’s costume. He was pardoned previously for bank robbery by Governor Miriam A. Ferguson. Henry Helms and Robert Hill were also ex-cons, and the fourth man was Louis Davis, a relative of Helms.
The four of them began their escape with their hostages, but soon realized that one of their tires had been shot out. They stopped a car and transferred their loot and hostages to it, but discovered that the driver had taken the keys when he skedaddled. They climbed back into their getaway car with the two hostages, leaving behind Louis Davis who was wounded and died a few hours later. Soon they realized they had left the money with Davis.
Their getaway car was discovered abandoned a short distance away. They also left the two girls and fled on foot.
They were ambushed in Young County by Sheriff Foster and deputies. Henry Helms and Robert Hill escaped on foot but Marshall Ratliff, who was wounded, was captured. On December 30 Henry Helms and Robert Hill, who were also wounded, were caught in Graham.
Robert Hill was given life in prison, and Helms was executed by electric chair. Marshall “Santa Claus” Ratliff was also sentenced to death. He attempted to escape, mortally wounding one jailer in the attempt. Next night, a vengeful mob killed Ratliff.