Frank Wills (February 4, 1948 – September 27, 2000) was the security guard who alerted police to a possible break-in at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., which eventually led to the uncovering of the truth about the Watergate Scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Frank Wills was born in North Augusta, South Carolina.
In June 1972, Wills 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. He removed it, and continued on his patrol. 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 (the tape was placed over the latch bolt to prevent the door from latching). When Mr. Wills returned, he saw that the tape had been replaced and called in the police. The five men were found in the DNC offices and arrested. This triggered the chain of events which exposed the Watergate scandal and eventually led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Read more about Frank Wills, free from the Los Angeles Times.
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, but never recovered from his moments of fame. After his part in history, he quit his job as a security guard because he did not receive a raise for his role in discovering the burglary.
In 1973, the topical song magazine Broadside published the song "The Ballad of Frank Wills", written by Ron Turner. Mr. Turner later recorded the song for Broadside/Folkways album, Broadside Seven.
Wills worked for the comedian/activist Dick Gregory, lived in the Bahamas, and had a Harry Nilsson album dedicated to him. He made some money on the talk show circuit, but was unable to hold down a steady job.
He returned home to South Carolina in the mid 1970s and cared for his stroke victim mother for several years.
He was convicted of shoplifting in 1983.
After her death in 1993, he was so destitute that he was washing his clothes in a bucket until James Kilby founded an organization, Treat Every American Right (TEAR) to raise money for Wills. Frank Wills died nearly penniless from a brain tumor on September 27, 2000, at University Hospital in Augusta, Georgia, having lived in poverty most of his life.
Spike Lee loosely incorporated Frank Wills' story into Lee's 2004 film, She Hate Me. 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 at the Watergate Hotel across the complex from the DNC office.