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Robbing a Bank While Dressed as Santa Claus Is a Distressingly Common Crime

Scott Lucas | December 16, 2014 | Story

This year's Santacon was more than just drunk dudes bellowing Christmas tunes before passing out on your front stoop. In fact, the holiday merriment provided the perfect cover for a bank robbery. A little after 1 pm on Saturday, a 5'11'' white man in his 40s wearing a Santa suit robbed a bank of the 400 block of Sutter, making off with an undisclosed amount of cash. Though it’s not clear if the alleged robber then blended in with the similarly dressed crowd, it’s hard to imagine he didn’t.

Turns out it isn’t the first time that a bank robber has pulled off a heist while disguised as Santa Claus. In fact, it’s far more common than you’d think. In 2013, a Florida man robbed a Port Orange bank while wearing a Santa hat, fake beard, and white gloves. After being caught, he was sentenced to eight years in prison. That same year, a Utah man pulled the same trick in Salt Lake County. A man in Nashville, Tennessee pulled the same crime in 2009, explaining to the teller jovially that he needed the money to pay his elves (points for staying in character, we guess?). You might also remember the 2003 holiday classic movie, Bad Santa, in which Billy Bob Thornton robs malls while—well, you get the idea.

But all of that pales in comparison to the case of Marshall Ratliff, who, in the mid-1920s, carried out a $160,000 robbery while dressed as—you guessed it—Old Saint Nick. On December 23, 1927, Ratliff, who had just been released from prison after robbing a bank, dressed up as Santa Claus to rob another in the central Texas town of Cisco. He borrowed a suit from his landlady, and with three accomplices, stuffed cash into a sack. Police were alerted after a six-year old girl and her mother entered the bank to see Santa, only to discover the robbery in progress. After a shootout outside the bank, Santa and the other robbers used two young girls as human shields, and escaped, not before killing the town’s chief of police and a deputy. Their getaway car soon ran out of gas, and they were forced to carjack another. Santa was captured the next day in a nearby town, and after a weeklong manhunt, so were his accomplices.

At his trial, Ratliff was identified by a ten-year-old girl as the man dressed as Santa and sentenced to a 99-year prison term for the robbery, in addition to being given a death sentence for killing the police officers. While awaiting execution, he attempted to escape, stealing a gun and killing one of his jailers. After being subdued, he was dragged from jail by a mob and lynched.

No matter what becomes of the SF SantaCon robber, you can bet his story won't end up as tragic as that. Merry Christmas, everyone!

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