Walter Walsh in Okinawa in the Marines in April 1945. (Photo courtesy of the Walsh family.)
WASHINGTON -- Walter R. Walsh, who captured gangsters as an FBI agent in the 1930s and went on to train Marine Corps snipers and become the longest-lived Olympian, has died.
Walsh died Tuesday at his home in Arlington, Virginia, his son Gerald Walsh confirmed Thursday. Walsh, who would have turned 107 on Sunday, had suffered a minor heart attack a few weeks ago and his health deteriorated, Gerald Walsh said.
Walsh, who first honed his shooting skills by picking clothespins off a clothesline with a BB gun as a child, began his FBI career in 1934 and was soon chasing gangsters across the United States. On one day in 1935, he helped capture gangster Arthur "Doc" Barker in Chicago and fatally shot a second gangster, Russell "Rusty" Gibson.
Two years later, Walsh was in Bangor, Maine, on the trail of the Brady Gang. Tipped off that the gang planned to return to a sporting goods store to stock up on weapons, the FBI set up a stakeout. Walsh's role was to pose as a salesman, and when gang member James Dalhover came inside, Walsh arrested him. He then confronted and fatally shot a second gang member, Clarence Lee Shaffer Jr., but not before being hit in the chest and hand. Also killed in the shootout was Alfred Brady, the FBI's "Public Enemy number 1."
Walsh joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 1938 and became active duty in 1942, training snipers in North Carolina. In 1948 he competed in the London Olympics, placing 12th in the men's 50-meter free pistol event at age 41. Though he didn't medal, Walsh went on to hold an Olympic record.
In 2013, at the age of 105 and 321 days, he set a record for longest-lived Olympian, eclipsing a record set by gymnast Rudolph Schrader. He was also the FBI's oldest retired agent.
Walsh was born May 4, 1907, in New Jersey. He got his first rifle, a .22-caliber Mossberg, when he was about 12 according to a profile in the American Rifleman. By the time he graduated from Rutgers University's law school he had won a series of honors. He continued to shoot until recently, his son said.
"Sunday if you could have got somebody to take him to the range he probably would have gone. The last thing he was shooting was shotgun because the pistol was getting a little hard for him to hold as steady as he used to," Gerald Walsh said.
In addition to his son Gerald, Walsh is survived by another son, Walter Walsh Jr., and three daughters: Kathleen Reams, Linda Walsh and Rosemary Haas. His wife, Kathleen Barber, predeceased him.