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 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”.