Sentenced to 99 years for the infamous Santa Claus robbery of the First National Bank of Cisco, Texas the previous year (so named because the outlaw wears a Santa outfit, complete with white whiskers, during the job), and death by electrocution for the related murders of Police Chief George Edward "Bit" Bedford and Officer George Carmichael, Ratliff seems to have a complete physical and mental breakdown when one of his partners in the crime, Henry Helms, is fried in "Old Sparky" at the Huntsville State Prison on September, 6, 1929.
It is an acting job worthy of an Oscar! Pretending insanity and feigning paralysis with epic bouts of babbling and drooling, the Death Row guards and Ratliff's mother are convinced that Ratliff has gone bonkers and a sanity hearing is scheduled to determine whether the killer will still get the hot seat or be send to a loony bin ... a decision that causes Judge Davenport of Eastland County to become irate, so irate that he issues a bench warrant against Ratliff for stealing an Oldsmobile during the Cisco robbery and has him extradited to the local jail. It is a move that Davenport will soon come to regret. At Eastland, Ratliff continues his charade to the extent that jailers Pack Kilbourn and Thomas Alexander "Uncle Tom" Jones are forced to feed, bathe, and place the outlaw on the toilet ... and finally they lower their guards. Going from cell to cell serving the evening meal, the men forget to lock Ratliff's cell and instantly the outlaw becomes mentally and physically fit once more, running downstairs and grabbing a .38 Colt revolver from a desk in the jail's office. Realizing Ratliff is attempting an escape, the jailers chase after him and Jones is the unfortunate one to arrive in the downstairs office first, a race won for which he is rewarded with five bullets that hit him in abdomen, chest, and shoulder ... mortal wounds. Luckier, when Kilbourn arrives the shot Ratliff sends his way misses and the two men then engage in a nasty country brawl that eventually has the outlaw beaten unconscious and returned to his cell.
Now along with the judge really unhappy, the citizens of Eastland are too ... crazy blood lusting unhappy! The next day a crowd of over 2,000 gathers at the jail and when 20 hot-heads finally storm into the jail, Texas has its last mob necktie party. Found naked in his cell, Ratliff has his feet and hands bound, is drug to a vacant lot behind the town's Majestic Theater (ironically presenting a play called "The Noose") and then hoisted 15-feet into the air on a guy-wire between two telephone poles. The mob's first attempt to hang Ratliff is unsuccessful though when a knot in the rope they are using comes untied and the bandit falls to the ground. No reprieve with the band of upset spiders the mob has become, Ratliff has just enough time to say "Forgive me boys," before rope repaired, he is sent air dancing again ... the second time fatally.
The former jail in recent times
Happy to have killed a killer, despite a town full of witnesses, no legal action is ever taken against any participant in the lynching of the Santa Claus bandit.