Unknown Historical Figures – Frank Wills

Frank Wills was born on February 4th, 1948 in Savannah, Georgia. He was raised by his mother, Margie, after his parents separated when he was young. He dropped out of high school but earned his equivalency degree from the Job Corps, a program administered by the United States Department of Labor that offers free-of-charge education and vocational training to youth ages 16-24. Wills moved north into Michigan and found an assembly-line job at Chrysler in Detroit until 1971. 

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Wills got laid off in 1971 and moved to Washington D.C. when invited by his friends to visit. In June 1972, Wills, then 24, was working as a private security guard at the Watergate office building, the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. On June 17th, Wills discovered a piece of duct tape holding the latch of a door in the building open so that it could not lock properly. He removed the tape and moved on. But, on his return from his rounds, the tape was place there once again. Burglars had gotten into the building while Wills was busy and one of them replaced the tape that Wills had removed so that they could get in and out with ease. Wills called the police when he noticed the tape again. Five men were arrested and the details that emerged from their questioning ultimately led to the Watergate Scandal that caused Nixon’s resignation from the presidency.

After the Watergate Scandal, Wills quit his job as a security guard. Many stories surround why Wills quit his job and most of the rumors are associate with the thought that it was because he did not receive a promotion or a raise for performing an exemplary service. He acted as himself in the movie called “All the President’s Men“, an account by two investigative journalists named Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on what their reports said about the Watergate Scandal. Wills was on the talk show circuit for a short time as well but was never able to capitalize on his moments of fame. 

Over the next 20 years, Wills struggled to maintain stability in his life and suffered many unemployed stints during that time. In the mid-1970s, Wills settled in North Augusta, South Carolina, to take care of his aging mother. They both had to survive on the 450 dollar Social Security check that Wills received for unemployment. He briefly returned to the spotlight in 1983 after being arrested for stealing a pair of tennis shoes for one of his four reported children. But by the time of his mother’s death in 1993, Wills was so destitute, he had to sell his mother’s body to the medical center for scientific research. He had to resort to living in a shack without electricity and lived off his pastor’s generosity until he sent out a plea in Jet magazine for financial assistance. Reverend James Kilby founded the organization, Treat Every American Right (TEAR), to raise money for Wills but few contributions came. Only when the 25th anniversary of the Watergate Scandal came about in 1997 was Wills reached out to again for the final time. Newscaster Tom Brokaw interviewed him and Wills bitterly stated that Woodward and Bernstein would have been nothing without him and his life endangering experience with the Watergate incident. 

Frank Wills died on September 7, 2000, from a brain tumor in Augusta, Georgia at age 52. Frank Wills was honored by the NAACP and the Democratic Party with a truck and a plaque, respectively. Musician Harry Nilsson dedicated an album to Wills’ contribution in bringing down Nixon. He was a figure whose spotlight fame was fleeting and his life was filled with unwarranted strife.  

 

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