North Augusta, South Carolina
[February 4, 1948 – September 27, 2000]
Security Guard ~ Watergate ~ WDC
On the night of June 17, 1972, Frank Wills was making his rounds at the Watergate office building, home of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters, in Washington, D.C, when he noticed a piece of electrical tape placed over the latch of one of the exit doors. At first, he did not think much of it, as patrons often jammed the door with chairs or stones, anything that would allow them to re-enter the building through the same door as expediently as possible. He simply removed the tape and continued his rounds.
However, he became suspicious on his next set of rounds when he noticed someone had replaced the tape.
One of the five burglars — Frank Sturgis, Virgilio González, Eugenio Martínez, Bernard Barker and James W. McCord, Jr. — noticed that the tape had been removed, and replaced it with another piece of tape on the door.
When Wills returned, he saw that the tape had been replaced and called the Washington, D.C. Police. The five men were found in the building and arrested. This triggered the chain of events which exposed the Watergate scandal and eventually led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
While Wills became an instant celebrity he was still unable to negotiate a raise or a few extra vacation days with his employer. So he quit his security job.
Things looked up for Wills for a moment. The Democratic National Convention and the Southern Christian Leadership both bestowed honors on Wills. He played himself in the Academy Award winning movie “All the President’s Men”, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s account of Watergate.
He tried to work in public relations & speaking with the help of comedian-activist Dick Gregory but it didn’t work out.
Wills crash-landed from his meteoric rise to fame to the relative poverty he had lived in most of his life. He found it difficult to hold a steady job.
Richard Nixon’s Vice- President, Spiro Agnew, got 3 years’ probation for evading taxes on bribes from highway contractors. Nixon’s face is on a postage stamp. He and his fellow war criminal Henry Kissinger made millions of dollars off their memoirs.
Wills was sentenced to a year in jail in 1983 for allegedly trying to shoplift a $12 pair of sneakers. Wills wasn’t arrested while leaving the store. He was nabbed for putting the shoes in his bag.
In 1990 he returned home to South Carolina to care for his stroke victim mother, where they both subsisted off of her $450 a month Social Security check and the few dollars he made doing odd jobs.
Wills said he was so destitute that when his mother died in 1993 he donated her body to science because he did not have the money to bury her.
In the 1994 film “Forrest Gump”, Wills is the guard who takes Forrest’s call complaining about men with flashlights across the street disturbing his sleep while he is staying in the Watergate Hotel. The movie was a blockbuster.
Others made millions of dollars in royalties on movies, books, and speaking engagements from the crime Wills uncovered.
Frank Wills didn’t even get a pension.
He laid alone ailing in his mother’s darkened house not able to pay the utility bill.
Wills died of complications from a brain tumor on September 27, 2000, at the age of 52 at University Hospital in Augusta, Georgia.
Woodward and Bernstein got $5 million from the University of Texas in 2003 for their Watergate notebooks and files.
Still, there are some who gave Wills his due. Spike Lee incorporated Wills’ story into his 2004 film, “She Hate Me.” Also, Wills is routinely honored by the security industry ~ and historians and service workers around the world.
Edited by KAG (c) Freedom House Press 2009