The Onion Pie Murder
What would a collection of notable murders be without an old timey English arsenic murder involving pie?
On Christmas Eve of 1851, William French of Chiddingly, England (yes, Chiddingly, an actual name of an actual place) was in a good mood.
Sure, his wife Sarah Ann had been having that cute 20 year old neighbor over the house a lot lately. Sure, the arsenic that his wife had bought for the mouse problem didn’t seem to be doing anything to stop the mice.
But! Sarah Ann was making onion pie tonight—his favorite! And Sarah Ann wasn’t feeling hungry, so he got to eat the whole thing by himself. Life was going great!
..and that was about as far as life ever got for William French.
What any true crime aficionado knows is that if your spouse with a wandering eye is suddenly making your favorite dinner, DO NOT CONSUME IT.
And thus, William suddenly and—big air quotes—“mysteriously” fell ill, finally passing away on January 7, 1852.
Sarah Ann had apparently poisoned her husband to get with her own sister’s ex-boyfriend, James Hickman, who was 7 years her junior. And according to court testimony, Sarah Ann’s twisted Mrs. Robinson plan actually worked for a hot second. After many months of professing her love and finally knocking off Mr. French, Sarah Ann and James finally had several ‘improper connections’, as the court called it.
But alas, as soon as the coroner got suspicious, the layers of deceit in Sarah Ann’s onion pie plot were exposed. Eye witnesses had seen Sarah Ann buy the arsenic, everyone already suspected Sarah Ann was hot for James, and even her boytoy testified against her. Sarah Ann was convicted of her husband’s murder and sent to the gallows.
In a weird twist, two years before the murder Sarah Ann had actually been witness to the public hanging of a wife who also poisoned her husband. So maybe Sarah Ann was feeling competitive, like “lol, dummy, I could totally poison my husband and get away with it.”
The Pizza Man Cometh
Mitchell Sims was the kind of guy who literally stubbed cigarettes out on his bare chest and called himself ‘a human ashtray.’ Naturally, he was a manager at a Domino’s Pizza in South Carolina.
But one day in 1985, he got an annual bonus check that was lower than he felt he deserved.
Furious, Sims walked off the job, convinced other staff would follow him. That went about as well for the ‘human ashtray’ as anyone else would’ve guessed.
While there are obvious reasons why someone might shake their fists at a Domino’s pizza logo and scream “I WILL HAVE MY REVENGE”, a lower-than-you-wanted paycheck and failed fast-food coup are pretty unsympathetic ones.
Soon after quitting, Mitchell Sims hooked up with a younger woman named Ruby Padgett. The two soon began planning a cross country odyssey of pizza-centered pandemonium.
In December 1985, Sims signed on as a delivery driver at a different Domino’s. On December 3, Sims entered this Domino’s, robbing the two staff onsite at gunpoint. Then Sims shot them both in the head multiple times. Sims fled, but he hadn’t counted on his victims being magnificently hard to kill. One of his victims had been shot by Sims in the head 4 times, but managed to get to the police station 3 blocks away.
Police immediately went to the trailer park where Sims lived. Sims was concealed in his trailer with a weapon—but that didn’t matter, because the police gave up the search before they even identified his trailer.
Thanks to the West Columbia police department, my new favorite idiom is “They’re so incompetent, they couldn’t find a crazy killer in a trailer park.”
Sims and his girlfriend Padgett skipped town all the way to the other side of the country in Glendale, California. There, the two went all Natural Born Killers on a local Domino’s.
First, Sims and Padgett ordered a pizza to a motel room. A Domino’s delivery driver arrived, whom they robbed and drowned in a bathtub.
Then, the couple drove to the driver’s Domino’s, subduing and robbing the two staff at gun point. One of the staff reportedly warned that their delivery driver would be coming back any minute. Like a scene in a movie, Sims laughed and took off his sweater—revealing that he was wearing the uniform of the delivery driver he’d murdered.
The burglary was interrupted by an off-duty staff member stopping by for a slice. The captives were ordered to pretend like everything was fine. The off-duty staffer, seeing Sims in the delivery driver’s uniform, assumed Sims was a new Domino’s team member.
But the jig was up when the phone rang. Sims answered the phone, apparently reliving his cheesy glory days, saying “Domino’s Pizza. Mitch. Can I help you?”
But the off-duty staffer noticed that that Sims nametag said ‘John.’
The staffer took his pizza, probably less hungry than when he came in, and made a quick exit.
At this point, Sims and Padgett decided that to level-up their sadistic murderous maniac game.
They took the two Domino’s staff into a back freezer, tied them up, and looped a rope around each of their necks. The staff members had to stand on their toes in the slippery freezer or risk choking to death.
The off-duty staffer, apparently suspicious but loyal to company escalation protocol, called the store manager about the potentially dangerous situation. Or, maybe he took his time so he could win Employee By the Month by default. The store manager called the police. Although Sims got away, the Domino’s staffers were saved from a fate usually left to victims of Jigsaw.
Like any pair of white trash idiots looking to celebrate a crime spree, Sims and Padgett took off for Las Vegas. They were caught on December 25, 1985. Sims was sentenced in death in 1987, but since he was sentenced in California, old age will kill him before the Golden State does.
The Family that Won’t Be Home for Christmas
In 1958, the Martin family was having a perfectly quaint 50s-style Christmas.
On December 7, around 1pm, Kenneth Martin, his wife, and their three daughters (Barbie, 14; Virginia, 13; and Susan, 11) left the house.
The night before, Kenneth and Barbara had gone to a Christmas party, where Kenneth had played Santa. On this day, the family piled into the family station wagon (red with cream trim—SO QUAINT) and drove from the Portland area to the countryside along the Columbia River Gorge. Their adorable mission for the day was to gather ‘greenery’ for Christmas wreaths and other decorations.
…they were never seen again.
Two days later after Kenneth didn’t show up for work, the family was reported missing.
The police had a rough timeline of the Martins’ movements. They bought gas at a station along I-84, which runs alongside the Columbia River Gorge and the Mt. Hood National Forest. Now in a movie, the guy working at the gas station in the middle of nowhere is Suspect No. 1, but I guess the Mt. Hood County police hadn’t watching many scary movies.
The family was then tentatively traced to getting lunch at a restaurant down the road. From there, their movements became guesswork from unconfirmed tips.
During what was then a historic manhunt, over 200 tips came in about the Martins. None went anywhere.
In February 1959, a searcher found tire tracks leading off the edge of a cliff along the Columbia River Gorge and along the route the Martins were supposedly taking. At the edge of the cliff, paint chips were found as if something had scraped along the rocks. The tire tracks and paint chips matched the type of car the Martins were driving.
Three months later, the bodies of two of the daughters (Virginia and Susan) were found in the Columbia River.
For many, the Martins were victims of a terrible accident. The tire tracks and paint chips were found adjacent to a makeshift scenic parking lot. Kenneth may have been trying to park with everyone inside, didn’t see the edge, and accidentally backed them over the cliff.
But for others, there were coincidences too coincidental to actually be coincidences (ya dig?). The day after the Martins disappeared, an abandoned Chevrolet and gun were found by the side of the road in the area. The Chevrolet had been stolen by two local ex-cons. Those ex-cons were tentatively spotted in the same restaurant at the same time as the Martins.
The gun was reportedly covered in blood, as if it had been used to club something. But it has never been processed as evidence in the Martin disappearance. The gun wasn’t linked to the ex-cons, but it could be linked to Donald Martin. Who is Donald Martin? He was the only surviving member of the Martin family. Can you hear the ‘48 Hours’ music heighten with suspense?!
Donald was 28, the oldest Martin child. Conveniently, he was stationed with the Navy in New York at the time of the disappearance. Oh yeah, the old “I’m on the other side of the country on military duty” gag!
The gun found in Oregon had the serial number filed off. But Martin had been accused of stealing the same type of gun when he worked at a sporting goods store 2 years earlier.
Was it a terrible accident? Did the car get pushed into the river to hide evidence of a murder? Did the ex-cons try to steal the glorious 9-seat station wagon and kill the Martins in the process? Did Donald wipe out his family because it’s always the conspicuously surviving older son?
Kenneth, Barbara, and Barbie’s remains, along with the car, have never been found.
In other words, a family straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting drove out into the wilderness for some wholesome Christmas arts & crafts and were obliterated off the face of the earth for it.
Was it Bigfoot? It could totally be Bigfoot.
Santa Robs a Bank
On December 23, 1927, children in Cisco, Texas were STOKED. Santa was walking down Main street. Santa was smiling, chatting with happy kids, answering questions about the North Pole, and patting kiddies on the head.
He continued down the street, excited kids and their parents trailing behind. He walked into the First National Bank. Maybe he needed to pick up the elves’ paychecks. A bank cashier called out, “Hello, Santa!”
At that moment, three armed men followed Santa into the bank and ordered, “Hands up!”
Santa was quick to action—not by putting the robbers on his Naughty List, but by grabbing a gun from a bank register and joining in.
Santa was actually Marshall Ratliff—who was wearing a disguise because he’d recently gotten out of prison for robbing another bank in Cisco.
Pulling out a sack to match the outfit, Ratliff forced an assistant bank manager to start emptying the bank vault.
A witness, who had followed Santa into the bank with her young daughter, bolted with her child out of the bank and down to the police station. Soon police arrived on the scene, followed closely by armed citizens of Cisco.
Some townspeople brought their guns from home, some ran to hardware stores to get rifles.
A shootout ensued, with 200 rounds of ammunition fired into the bank. And to be clear, the people of Cisco, Texas weren’t just motivated by a need to protect the town or for a love of the rule of law. At this time in Texas, about 3-4 banks were robbed every day. So the Texas Banker Association had a standing reward: $5,000 to anyone who shoots and kills a bank robber.
Thus, you can imagine the townsfolk of Cisco on this day: “Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m huntin’ wobbers.”
In fact, later so many people were wounded that it wasn’t clear who was shot by robbers or townspeople (I assume be cartoon dollar signs obscured their vision).
The robbers killed two police officers, and managed to drive off with two little girls as hostages. The little girls had to have wondered why they couldn’t have just gotten coal in their stockings.
But the robbers had a problem other than the trigger-happy mob at their tail. In all the excitement over getting to be Santa, the robbers had forgotten to fill up the getaway car. They were low on gas. And now the car had a flat from all the gunfire. And one of the robbers was gravely injured too.
On the outskirts of town, they forced an Oldsmobile off the road. It was being driven by a 14 year old boy, as one does in 1920s Texas. The robbers forced the kid out of the car and threw the loot, the girls, and their injured comrade in. But then they realized that the boy had taken the keys to the Oldsmobile with him.
The robbers jumped back into the original getaway car with the girls, leaving their dying partner behind.
They were already on the road again before they realized that they’d left the loot in the Oldsmobile too.
What a comedy of errors! Too bad it had to be tainted with blood and death.
The mob caught up to the Oldsmobile. With the money returned and one robber caught, the mob momentarily backed off. After all, it was just the lives of 2 little girls at stake.
The robbers, in an attempt to ditch pursuers, drove the car off-road and into the wilderness. But the desert brush got too thick (because duh! Wilderness!). The robbers had to ditch the car and their hostages, running on foot to just get away with their lives.
The robbers stayed on the run for a few days in an epic odyssey of even more shootouts that we don’t have room for in this article. The ensuing posse reportedly searched every workshop, cottage, and reindeer stable in the area.
Meanwhile Christmas was, well, a bit awkward for the kiddies of Cisco that year.
On Christmas Eve, a local church had evening service with a special guest: someone dressed as St. Nick. When the special guest entered, a little boy cried out, “Santa Claus! What did you rob that bank?”
By Dec 30, a week after the robbery, the three surviving bank robbers were all caught. One was sentenced to life and eventually paroled. One got the ‘Texas treatment’ and was sent to the chair.
And then there was Santa, Marshall Ratliff.
Ratliff had been sentenced to death for the murder of the 2 police officers. But his mother filed a lunacy hearing in Huntsville to delay or prevent his execution.
Strangely, Ratliff was ordered back to Cisco to be charged for the armed robbery of the Oldsmobile—you know, the one that they couldn’t even drive away.
In the Cisco jail, Ratliff kept feigning ‘lunacy’. He pretended to be paralyzed, getting the 2 jailers to care for him.
As he was being carried by the jailers for care, Ratliff managed to grab a six-shooter from the jailers’ desk. He murdered one jailer, but the other managed to beat the tar out of Ratliff and return him to his cell.
At this point, the folks of Cisco were in a not-so-jolly mood over Ratliff’s shenanigans. The next night, the surviving jailer was beat up again—this time by 15 members of a massive mob who stormed the jail.
Ratliff was dragged out into the street, and the people of Cisco made sure it was Santa hanging by the chimney with care.
Today, there’s a plaque commemorating the robbery and pursuit of the robbers in Cisco. And while the First National Bank has moved to a new site, it proudly (??) displays a painting depicting the heist, complete with ol’ Kris Kringle.