Tuesday, December 11, 2007

1972: security guard detects
Watergate break-in

On the night of June 17, 1972, security guard Frank Wills was making his rounds at the Watergate office building 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 workers often jammed the door with chairs or stones, or anything else that would allow them to easily re-enter the building.

Wills removed the tape and continued his rounds; but he became suspicious when he noticed someone had replaced the tape. He called the police -- an act that would begin the unraveling of one of the biggest political debacles in American history: the burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters by five men working for the Republican Party, and the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

Wills became an instant celebrity, but was unable to use his newly found status to negotiate a raise or a few extra vacation days. He quit his security job, but failed at attempts to launch a public speaking career and to work in public relations.

The Democratic National Convention and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference bestowed honors on Wills, and he played himself in the movie All the President’s Men, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s account of Watergate.

He found it difficult to hold a steady job, and was convicted of shoplifting in 1983. In 1990 Wills returned home to South Carolina to care for his mother, and they both subsisted on her $450 monthly Social Security check and a little money he made doing odd jobs. 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.

Others have made millions on movies, books, and speaking engagements from the Watergate burglary that Willis detected, but he died penniless, from a brain tumor in 2000, at the age of 52. For most of his life he lived in poverty, and at the end he could not even afford to pay for electricity. (info and photo from Security Magazine)

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