Inside the botched ‘Santa Claus Bank Robbery’ and terrifying Christmas shootout

Even Santa Claus can end up on the naughty list – especially if he tries to steal Christmas.

And that is exactly what villain Marshall Ratcliff had panned when he, along with three crooked pals, raided a Texas bank, sparking a huge shootout and one of the largest manhunts in the Lone Star State's history.

No one was surprised to see a man dressed as Father Christmas enter the First National Bank of Cisco on December 23, 1927. It was the festive season after all.

But when the cashier said, “Hello, Santa Claus”, the last thing she expected was to be held up at gunpoint.

Despicable Ratcliff, an ex-convict, had enlisted the help of two other former jailbirds, Henry Helms and Robert Hill, along with a third accomplice, who was known as Louis Davis.

The four plotted their scheme in Wichita Falls before making their way to Cisco, roughly two-and-a-half hours south.

Fearing he would be recognised, Ratcliff had the bright idea of putting a festive spin on his crime by disguising himself as St Nick.

The gang entered the busy bank at noon and executed their miserly plan.

With merriment in the air and the season of goodwill in full swing, the armed robbers attempted one of the most infamous heists in American history.

“Stick em up, everybody”, eye witness Boyce House recalled them saying as the bandits got their raid under way.

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The posse were armed with guns and demanded customers stay still as a cashier filled a potato sack with banknotes.

But a fearless bullet-dodging mum and daughter duo foiled their wicked scheme.

The pair made a valiant dash for it, sprinting through a door and across an alley as bullets whizzed past them. Eventually, they made it to a police station across the street.

Meanwhile, Ratcliff had ordered the cashier to open the safe. But It didn’t take long for cops to scramble to the bank and a terrifying gunfight ensued.

As Ratliff loaded up the money, Helms began firing shots up and down at police.

Police Chief G. E. Bedford and officer George Carmichael were outside firing back – along with several armed citizens who had taken it upon themselves to foil the robbery.

More than 200 bullets were reportedly exchanged, tearing up the bank and alley.

Bedford and Carmichael didn’t make it out alive. Another six innocent victims were inured in the crossfire.

Ratcliff and Davies were hit too, but the bandits used hostages – including a little girl they went on to kidnap – as cover and fled to a getaway car.

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The vehicle was hit badly by gunshots and basically unusable. Davis was too injured to come with them, so the other three left him – and their haul – behind.

They escaped in a hijacked car and were now Texas’ most wanted fugitives.

The trio stole several cars and took multiple hostages as cops tailed them across the state, with everybody now talking about the 'Santa Claus Bank Robbery'.

It was not until after Christmas that they were caught near South Bend in Young County.

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Ultimately, the botched heist ended in a car chase that lasted for several miles before the bandits sprung from the vehicle and made a break for it.

Texas ranger Cy Bradford pursued and blasted them each with his shotgun. Three shots, three hits.

Mastermind Ratliff collapsed and was finally arrested.

Helms and Hill both managed to get to the woods, but worn out and feeble, the two were caught and arrested.

A week after Santa Claus stuck up a bank, he was stuck in a cell.

Helms was identified as the one who killed the two officers and was given the electric chair on death row.

Hill served his time, despite three escape attempts, and died in the 90s.

Ratliff was also convicted and sentenced to the chair for his role in the deaths of the two officers. He pleaded insanity to avoid death – but it didn't work.

It was not the chair that got him either, it was an angry mob incensed at his crimes.

The Santa Claus robber was lynched and killed. No one was ever convicted for his murder.

Eyewitness Boyce House later wrote it was “the most spectacular crime in the hostly of the southwest”.

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