Frank Wills (security guard)
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Frank Wills (February 4, 1948 – September 27, 2000) was the security guard who alerted the police to a possible break-in at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C.. His actions eventually led to the discovery of the truth about the Watergate Scandal and led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
After dropping out of high school, Wills earned his equivalency degree from the Job Corps. He migrated north and found an assembly-line job working for Chrysler in Detroit, Michigan. When he was laid off, he settled in the nation's capital after being invited by friends to come for a visit in 1971.
In June 1972, Wills, then 24, was working as a private security guard at the Watergate office building, the location of the Democratic National Committee headquarters. On the night of June 17, he noticed a piece of duct tape on one of the door locks when he was making his rounds. The tape was placed over the latch bolt to prevent the door from latching. He removed the tape and continued on his patrol. Unbeknownst to Wills, a group of burglars were in the office protected by the compromised door; one of them noticed that the tape had been removed, and replaced it with another piece. When Wills returned, he saw that the tape had been replaced and called in the police. Five men were found in the DNC offices and arrested; details that emerged during their questioning and trials triggered the Watergate scandal.
After his role in the Watergate incident, Wills quit his job as a security guard. One story reports he did not get a raise for performing this exemplary service; other stories say he did receive a raise of $2.00 or $2.50 above his previous $80 per week; another story states he wanted, but did not receive, a promotion for discovering the burglary. A more likely reason was that he was becoming increasingly angry over his notoriety and pressure from the media.
Wills played himself in the film version of the book All the President's Men, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's account of their reporting work on the Watergate scandal. Wills also appeared briefly on the talk show circuit. However, he never recovered from or was able to capitalize long-term on his moments of fame.
Later life and poverty
Over the next 20 years, Wills struggled to establish and maintain roots and stability, while suffering long bouts of unemployment. He shuttled between Washington and other Southern cities, with a time spent in the Bahamas. He said in an interview that Howard University feared losing their federal funding if they hired him. A security job with Georgetown University did not last long. He had a dispute with another employer about paid vacations. He also worked in a failed stint as a diet food spokesperson for the comedian Dick Gregory.
In the mid-1970s, Wills finally settled in North Augusta, South Carolina, to care for his aging mother, who had suffered a stroke while still working as a domestic. Together, they survived on her $450 per month Social Security checks.
By the time of his mother's death in 1993, Wills was so destitute that he had to donate her body to medical research because he had no money with which to bury her. Wills was living in a shack without electricity or telephone, and his pastor was providing him meals and paying for his living expenses when he made a public plea for financial assistance in Jet magazine. In response, another minister with a civil rights background, the Reverend James Kilby, founded an organization, Treat Every American Right (TEAR), to raise money for Wills, but there were few, if any, contributions or offers of work.
Only when significant anniversaries of the Watergate break-in occurred did the waning spotlight reach out towards him again. Newscaster Tom Brokaw approached Wills in 1997 on the 25th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. That same year, Wills told a Boston Globe reporter, “I put my life on the line. I went out of my way. If it wasn't for me, Woodward and Bernstein would not have known anything about Watergate.”
Otherwise, Wills tended his garden, made the local library his study, and led a quiet life with his cats. When pressed, though, Wills blamed the fact that he was black for his financial troubles; at other times, according to the Los Angeles Times, he said that he was "a victim of fate."
Frank Wills died from a brain tumor on September 27, 2000, at University Hospital in Augusta, Georgia. He was 52 years old. He was buried in the Mount Transfiguration Baptist Church Cemetery in North Augusta, South Carolina.
The Democratic Party gave him a plaque in a short ceremony, but party officials had to take it back because the dates were engraved in error. It is unknown whether the plaque was ever corrected and returned to him.
An article by Workers World magazine in 2005 contrasted Wills's lack of compensation to the $5 million received by journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein for their Watergate notebooks and files.
- Clymer, Adam (September 29, 2000). "Frank Wills, 52; Watchman Foiled Watergate Break-In". New York Times. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
- O'Shea, Margaret N. (30 September 2000). "Watergate guard led quiet life". The Augusta Chronicle.
- "Frank Wills’ Watergate Security Log". Watergate.info.
- "WATERGATE RETROSPECTIVE: THE DECLINE AND FALL", Time, August 19, 1974
- "Frank Wills, the truth will set you free!". African American Registry.
- Frank Wills at the Internet Movie Database
- Millies, Stephen (23 June 2005). "Frank Wills ‘blew the whistle’ on Watergate" 47 (2). Workers World. Retrieved 2013-06-24.
- "Frank Wills (Memorial# 12978)". Find A Grave. 13 October 2000.