Suspect Transported to Jail in a Hearse

There is no doubt that law enforcement has changed over the years, but would you think it odd to read a story about a bad guy being transported to county jail in a hearse? Moreover, if you witnessed a condemned murderer mortally wound a jailer in his attempt to escape, would you try to stop a mob as they hung him from a telephone pole?

These circumstances were part a true story titled, “Santa Claus Bank Robbery.”  This was one of many tales chronicled by Mike Cox in Gunfights & Sites in Texas Ranger History. I got such a kick out of the story I thought I’d share it with our readers:

On December 23, 1927, four gunmen—including one dressed as Santa Claus—robbed the First National Bank of Cisco. Collecting $12,400, they escaped using two little girls for human shields as the town’s police chief and another officer exchanged gunfire with them.

Ranger captain Tom Hickman was sitting in Austin waiting for a train to Fort Worth when someone notified him of the robbery. Reaching Cowtown, Hickman learned that the Cisco police chief, an old friend, had been killed and one of his officers mortally wounded. One of the robbers, Louis Davis, also lay dying. The other three gunmen, including a not-so-jolly Saint Nick, remained at large.

Davis had been driven to the Fort Worth jail in a hearse. Hickman tried to get him to name his accomplices and tell where they might be hiding, but he would not talk.

Arriving in Cisco early on Christmas Eve, Hickman took charge, directing one of the largest manhunts the state had ever seen. His sergeant, Manuel T. “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas, went up in an airplane as a spotter, participating in the first aerial search for criminals in Texas history.

When lawmen jumped the three suspects near the Brazos River several days later, Ranger Cy Bradford wounded one, Marshall Ratliff, in a wild shootout. Bandits Robert Hill and Henry Helms got away but were captured a few days later in Graham.

Hill got ninety-nine years for armed robbery, and Helms eventually died in the electric chair. Ratliff, the man who had played Santa Claus with a pistol, also drew a death sentence. But after Ratliff mortally wounded a jailer in an escape attempt, the people of Eastland County had had enough. The next day, November 19, 1929, a mob removed Ratliff from the county jail in Eastland and lynched him from a telephone pole. [1]

That was then, this is now!


[1] Mike Cox, Gunfights & Sites in Texas Ranger History, The History Press, Charleston, South Carolina, 2015, p. 193

(Photo source: Pixabay)

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