ReCap: He beat out Rockne but couldn’t out-run the law

Below is one of the recaps that Notre Dame historian Cappy Gagnon has written on former Irish football players.

Clinnin, Walter Andrew (listed as “Clinnen” in the Media Guide)

Born 2/5/1888, Chicago; died 7/16/1955* (67), Chicago,  5-9, 170 pounds.  *Missing and presumed deceased.


At Notre Dame 1908-1909, 1910-1911.  The sixth of 13 children.  Knute Rockne started the opening game of the 1910 season at fullback, but performed poorly and was replaced by Clinnin, who then played three additional games at left halt.  Rockne never saw the field again that season.  Walter was Assistant Captain of the 1911 ND football team, but did not return to school.  He played for DePaul, in 1912 and 1913, serving as Captain in 1913.

He was a sprinter on ND track team and won his boxing match over All American Red Miller, in the spring of 1911 campus boxing and wrestling matches.

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 World War II.  A second son, Marine Captain Walter Andrew Clinnin, Jr., died in 1952, 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, Michigan from Chicago.  Walter apparently invested and lost a lot of money 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 quite successful and legendary.  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 1920s.  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 account indicated that he and his family would be wintering in Miami, beginning in December.  He owned this home, worth $25,000, which was a huge sum in those days. 

Walter 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 (Illinois) 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 23. 


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 emcee 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 crime blotter again, on July 21, 1955.  According to the Dixon (Illinois) 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, Illinois 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 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.  The February 27, 1960 Chicago Tribune listed Clinnin in a long story about unsolved Chicago homicides.  On May, 13, 1962, the Suburbanite Economist, in a column titled “Police seeking identity of skeleton found in sewer,” listed Walter 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.


The Clinnin family was one of the founders (1851) of the Village of Huntley, Illinois  Family historian Ted Clinnin successfully lobbied for a Clinnin street in the town.  One of the annual highlights in Huntley is the Turkey Testicle Festival.  It is held the day before Thanksgiving at Parkside Pub, but usually spreads into the streets of downtown Huntley.