Sleeping with the Fishers

Jun 01, 2017

As most of you know, I am writing a book about early (1887-1917) ND Football...

I have sent out dozens of mini bios of the 370 players who suited up for ND during that period.  Most of these men lived productive, noteworthy, and exemplary lives.

Walter Andrew Clinnin was noteworthy in his life, but fell short of exemplary.  Here’s what I have so far, with one more source to hear from:

Clinnin+, Walter Andrew (*listed as “Clinnen” in the Notre Dame Football Media Guide)

b. 2/5/1888, Chicago; d. 7/16/1955* (67), Chicago, IL 5’9, 170.  *Missing and presumed deceased.

At ND 1908-1909, 1910-1911.  The 6th of 13 children.  In 1910, Knute Rockne was the starting fullback in the opening game.  He played poorly and was replaced by Clinnin.  Rockne did not see the field again that year, while Clinnin played in three more games, at LH.  Elected as Assistant Captain of the 1911 ND football team, but did not return to school.  Sprinter on track team.  Won his boxing match, over All American Red Miller, during the spring 1911 campus boxing and wrestling matches. Advertising Department, “Chicago Journal”, Oak Park, IL.  Coached DePaul.  On February 24, 1917, the SCHOLASTIC reported that he was the automobile editor of the Chicago Daily Journal.  He and his wife, the former Winifred Monighan, married in 1915 and divorced in 1949.  She lived to be 98 years old.  Their son John, a Naval Ensign, died in a night-fighter training plane crash during WWII.  A second son, Marine Captain Walter Andrew Clinnin, Jr., died 1/17/1952, died when his plane crashed during the Korean War.  He was declared missing in action at that time, but the death was confirmed two years later.  Robert, a third son, also served as a Naval Aviator and later became a prominent attorney in L.A. County.  

The boys may have acquired their interest in flying from their father, who purchased the Heath Airplane Company, in 1931, moving it to Niles, MI, from Chicago.  Walter apparently lost a lot of money he invested in the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and within a year was forced to close the business, which was then named the International Aircraft Corporation.  It’s unfortunate for him, because the company, later-named Heathkit, became legendary as we moved into the computer era.  Steve Jobs credited the Heathkits with inspiring his self-confidence while working with these complex kits.  

Clinnin was apparently doing well financially, in the early 20’s.  He was listed in an April 1, 1922 SCHOLASTIC article as a District Chairman of the Chicago committee raising funds for the Notre Dame Endowment.  A 1924 newspaper accounted indicated that he and his family would be wintering in Miami, beginning in December.  He owned this home, worth $25,000, a princely sum in those days.  When organized crime was corrupting law enforcement in Chicago, during the days of prohibition, Walter first appeared in the news, on September 22, 1925, when the Centralia Evening Sentinel reported that he served only a few days of a six-month Federal sentence, which was supposed to be served in the Kendall County Jail.  Several Sheriffs were implicated in similar schemes, releasing persons convicted of various prohibition crimes.  

According to the National Archives, on May 5, 1925, Walter was sentenced to one year and one day, plus a $1,000 fine, in Chicago, for violating prohibition laws (the Volstead Act).  He entered the Leavenworth Penitentiary on February 10, 1926.  Clinnin’s occupation was listed as “broker”, in Oak Park’s city directory and “investment broker” in the records of Leavenworth Prison.  Two weeks after he arrived, he was made a Gate Trusty.  On March 17, as Inmate #24795, he was transferred to the Federal Prison at Atlanta, after Attorney General John Sargent wrote Warden Biddle that “the present place of confinement is not sufficiently secure to insure the custody of this prisoner”.  Warden Biddle resigned in November, amid some controversy over his competence and integrity.  He had been under pressure from Assistant Attorney General Mabel Willebrandt, a fascinating figure in her own right, who had been investigating the conditions of both the Leavenworth and Atlanta prisons.  She was one of the handful of people that Clinnin corresponded with.  He wrote her on February 23rd.  On Clinnin’s medical record, he had a chest measurement of 42 at “inspiration” and 37 on “expiration”.

In 1938, Clinnin was among 30 “former stars” who were given sideline passes at the ND-Minnesota football game.  On June 3, 1939, he was one of the former teammates of Rockne present at the dedication of the Rockne Memorial and introduced to the crowd by M.C. Gus Dorais.  A few months later, Walter was implicated in a scheme, with fraudster David Pinkussohn, to fleece five priests out of $15,000 in a whiskey warehouse receipt transaction.  Clinnin does not appear in any further items from Notre Dame publications.

Walter made the news again, on July 21, 1955.  According to the Dixon (IL) Evening Telegraph:  “A nationwide alert has been sounded for an automobile belonging to a missing gambling equipment salesman indicted for forging a legal opinion by the State Attorney General.  He’s Walter Clinnin, 57, who has been reported missing since he left his Chicago apartment Saturday morning, driving a 1951 dark green Lincoln automobile.”  Clinnin had an August 8 trial date.  He was indicted along with Joseph Aiuppa and “Screwy” Claude Maddox.  Maddox was the head of the Circus Café Gang, which was aligned with Al Capone’s “outfit”.  

Clinnin was working as a $100 a week salesman for Taylor and Co., a Cicero, IL manufacturer of gambling equipment, when he drew up the fake document to attest to the legality of a piece of slot machine equipment.  Taylor and Co. was described as “hoodlum-controlled”.  Newspaper accounts suggested Clinnin may have been slain to keep him from testifying.  He allegedly said he had “dynamite information” and offered to testify against his fellow defendants, but the State’s Attorney refused to accept his offer.  Clinnin, who was called “the man who knew too much”, allegedly told a friend “I may not live to testify”.  In late July, the Illinois Attorney General stated that Clinnin’s disappearance may have been a hoax.  As of September 13, 1955, the bondsman for Clinnin had been unable to produce him or provide a death certificate.  

In January, 1951, Joseph Aiuppa, owner of Taylor and Co. was called before the Kefauver Commission, which was investigating organized crime.  Aiuppa, who was then the leader of the Chicago mob (Capo Ditutti Capi), from 1971 to 1986, was implicated in the 1975 killing of Sam Giancana, among 13 suspected mob hits.  Perhaps Clinnin was among them.  The February 27, 1960 Chicago Tribune listed Clinnin in a long story about unsolved Chicago homicides.  The final newspaper mention of Clinnin was on May, 13, 1962, in the Surburbanite Economist, in a column titled “Police seeking identity of skeleton found in sewer”, with Walter mentioned as a possibility. 

Another oddity about Clinnin is his year of birth.  On the 1900 Census, 1887 is listed.  On his WWI Draft Registration, he listed 1888.  On his WWII Draft Registration, he listed 1894.  On his records with Leavenworth Prison, the year is 1900.


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