Remember This? Disguised To Be Recognized

By: Brad Dison

On Friday morning, December 23, 1927, a gang comprised of ex-convicts Henry Helms, Marshall Ratliff, Robert Hill, and a fourth man who had no criminal record, Louis Davis, headed to the First National Bank of Cisco, Texas. Davis was a last-minute addition to the gang. While the other robbers dressed in casual everyday attire that would allow them to blend in perfectly with the other customers, Davis wore a flashy suit that stood out like a sore thumb. Davis wanted to disguise his identity. This was his first foray into crime and he wanted everyone’s attention on him while the other three robbed the bank. The gang was unconcerned that the Banker’s Association had recently posted a $5,000 reward which could only be redeemed for dead bank robbers.

The town of Cisco was bustling with activity. With cheerful smiles, the citizens wished each other a “Merry Christmas.” Miss Ella Andress, head of the Spanish department at the Cisco High School, went into the bank in Cisco to cash a check. Once her transaction was completed, Miss Andress walked away from the counter and out the bank’s door. There, she met the man in the flashy suit as he was entering the bank. He brushed up against Ms. Andress and left small bits of cotton on her coat. She glanced at the guy wearing the flashy suit, gave him a smile, and kept walking. She was anxious to get home to start her Christmas holiday. Mrs. B.P. Blasengame and her daughter followed the man in the flashy suit into the bank. She needed to cash a check as well.

The man in the flashy suit did not approach the counter but stood by the door. The other three bank robbers casually entered the bank and pulled their pistols. Thinking quickly, Mrs. Blasengame grabbed her daughter and ran from the bank. As they ran, they yelled to everyone within earshot that the bank was being robbed.

While the three men went nearly unnoticed in the bank, everyone noticed and instantly recognized the man in the flashy suit. They could describe his every feature and could even call him by name.

The four bank robbers walked out of the bank with $12,200 in cash and $150,000 in securities. Had Mrs. Blasengame not escaped, the robbery might have been successful. A hail of gunfire erupted between the heavily-armed bank robbers and police chief G.E. Bedford and officer George Carmichael. Stray bullets flew everywhere. Within seconds, injured people, including innocent bystanders, started falling. Wounded in the gun battle was the man in the flashy suit, gang member Marshall Ratliff, police chief Bedford and officer Carmichael, and innocent bystanders Marion Olson, Brady Boggs, Pete Rutherford, R.L. Day, Oscar Cliett and Alex Spears.

The man in the flashy suit lay on the sidewalk, too injured to make an escape. His three co-conspirators, including the wounded Ratliff, dropped their loot, grabbed two girls whom they used as shields, and fled from the scene in a car. Their plan had failed miserably. Once the bank robbers were at a safe distance, they released the girls. The girls told Young county officers that one of the robbers had been shot and another had blood on his face. The bank robbers drove north trailed by several police officers. Officers surrounded the men who had run on foot into a wooded area near Ivan, Texas, about forty miles northeast of Cisco.

The three remaining bank robbers were eventually captured. Marshall Ratliff was lynched by an angry mob. Henry Helms was executed by the State of Texas. Robert Hill was sentenced to life in prison, but was eventually paroled. The man in the flashy suit, in his first venture into a life of crime, died where he fell. Even today, nearly one hundred years later, the citizenry of Cisco reminisces about the bank robber and call him by name. Only people who have studied the failed bank robbery know the name Louis Davis, the man in the flashy suit. Everyone else just remembers the time the bank was almost robbed by… Santa Claus.

1. El Paso Herald (El Paso, Texas), December 27, 1927, p.1.
2. The Austin American (Austin, Texas), December 28, 1927, p.8.
3. El Paso Herald (El Paso, Texas), December 27, 1927, p.1.
4. Abilene Reporter-News (Abilene, Texas), June 29, 1962, p.2.
5. Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), September 17, 1972, p.81.

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