1928: Marshall Ratliff lynched for the Santa Claus Bank Robbery

On this date in 1928, the man whose disguise christened one of the most bizarre crimes in Texas’s colorful history was lynched behind a theater … producing “The Noose”.

The Santa Claus Bank Robbery was, in the words of one columnist present for the affair,

the most spectacular crime in the history of the Southwest … surpassing any in which Billy the Kid or the James boys had ever figured.

The story begins on December 23, 1927, in the town of Cisco, where a genial man dressed as Saint Nick strolled down the main drag dandling playful children en route to the First National Bank.

Santa — Marshall Ratliff — and three accomplices then conducted one of the most inept bank robberies in that craft’s ample stock of ineptitude.

A general gun battle erupted during the robbery, owing to the general citizenry being armed, and a standing reward available from the bank association for shooting a bank robber in the act. When the quartet finally fought their way to the getaway car — killing two cops in the process — they realized it was almost out of gas.

After a few days’ dodging a manhunt, everyone was rounded up, one of them in corpse form. Two of the surviving three drew death sentences, and Henry Helms sat in the Lonestar State’s electric chair on September 6, 1929.

But Kris Kringle — er, 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 folk decided they’d had about enough of due process.

Quoth a newspaper report of the day (reproduced in A.C. Greene’s book on the case):

All yesterday afternoon 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 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, 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, 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 mumbling, the crowd yelled, “String him up!”

Part of the Themed Set: The “Ex” Stands For “Extrajudicial”.

18 thoughts on “1928: Marshall Ratliff lynched for the Santa Claus Bank Robbery”

  1. Does anybody know if Marshall Ratliff was from the Ratliff family that was around the New River area of Western Virginia in the 1700’s? My fifth g-grandmother was Lydia Ratliff who married John Elswick. John Elswick died at Draper’s Meadow in 1749 and Lydia then married Israel Lorton. The Ratliffs fought in the Revolutionary War and were around the New River area at that time. Would be interested to know if the Marshall Ratliff family is related to us. Thank you, Cleta Thompson

  2. I feel so bad for the families of Ratliff. Ratliff committed a bank robbery, but so many people today commit horrible murders and are still alive. Why did they have to take away the lives of 4 men? Life is a very precious thing.

  3. I am looking for any and all photos of Marshall and any concerned. Marshal was my great uncle. Anything would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

  4. I just finished reading the book. I had gone to see stage production this summer. I am horrified at the anger; and yes, I cried for the family. I even cried for the men. I wonder what was so wrong in their lifes to make them feel like such outcasts that they found no reason to try harder at living.

  5. I THINK WHAT THEY DID WAS HORRIBLE. THEY COULD NOT PROVE IF MARSHALL KILLED ANYONE OR NOT. BUT TO HANG HIM NAKED FOR ALL TO SEE WAS JUST WRONG
    JUST A NOTE HE WAS MY GREAT UNCLE.IT BROKE MY HEART WHEN I READ THE BOOK AND FOUND OUT HOW HE DIED.

  6. I think what happened on this day way bogus!!! the MOB should have ALL been punished for their crime!!! Every last one. the law would have given him the death sentence regardless of him acting insane. he would have had justice served. they went about it the wrong way.. if they are gone it should be well known what a disgusting thing they did!!! there was NO honor in what they did and they should all be ashamed… and their families!!! you should not sound like you are proud.. this country should frown on what happened that night, and persecuted them all for their wrong doings.. i wonder what they would have done if a mob showed up in their front doors with a rope for their necks???
    I am not saying I am on the Bandits side but PLEASE PEOPLE this was wrong… you all know it too.

  7. i may have actually had family at this necktie party. my grandfather was twenty when this happened and supposedly his brother had the watch bob from ratliff. long lost always wondered how he had come by this little prize

  8. i don’t know why i am laughing so hard at this… the whole rope breaking and then not letting him finish his last words sounds like an snl skit. i’m a horrible person!

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