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Frank Wills - Security Guard
The Hero of Watergate
A native of Savannah, Georgia, Wills moved to Washington D.C. in 1971. He took an $80. per week job as a security guard with a company called GSS manning the midnight-to-7 a.m. shift at the Watergate office complex.
Wills' claim to fame...
Wills stumbled upon a "third-rate burglary" taking place in an office leased to the Democratic National Committee.
In the early morning of June 17, 1972, while making rounds, he noticed a piece of adhesive tape covering the door latch on a door between the basement stairwell and the parking garage. Wills suspected the cleaning crew (they left earlier) had taped over the door latch to prevent it from locking. He removed the tape and went on with his duties.
Meanwhile… James McCord, the leader of the buglers and a former CIA employee, noticed the tape was missing. Rather than calling off the intrusion, he just re-taped the door.
Wills made his rounds again – at approximately 1:55 am – and saw the tape had been replaced. It was not the cleaning crew! Wills called the police.
If Wills had not performed his security guard duties diligently, there probably would not have been a Watergate scandal.
The result... Eavesdropping alters American history, and a president resigns.
Washington DC police arrested five men wearing surgical gloves and carrying bugging equipment in the sixth-floor offices of the Democratic National Committee.
Wills received recognition for his efforts. He received an awards from the Democratic Party and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (the Martin Luther King Award - its highest honor). He played himself in the movie "All the President's Men" starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman - written by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
For a while, he was sought after by the Washington press corps. Attorney Dorsey Evans was his agent. Reporters were charged as much as $300 for interviews. Some paid. Plans were made for him to lecture, but were abandoned as his 15 minutes of fame waned.
In 1973 - he left GSS due to their unwillingness to provide paid vacations. He had trouble finding full-time employment after that. In the Washington Post he was quoted as saying... "I don't know if they are being told not to hire me or if they are just afraid to hire me." By the late 70's, he had moved in with his ailing mother.
In 1983 Wills was sentenced to a year in prison for shoplifting – a pair of sneakers.
On the 25th anniversary of the break-in (1997) Wills was bitter. In a Boston Globe interview, he said: "I put my life on the line. If it wasn't for me, Woodward and Bernstein would not have known anything about Watergate. This wasn't finding a dollar under a couch somewhere."
Frank Wills died broke on September 27, 2000 at age 52 in a hospital in Augusta, Georgia. Brain tumor.
Bob Woodward said, "He's the only one in Watergate who did his job perfectly."