Watergate burglars arrested 50 years ago today after ex-FBI agent James McCord left a key clue tipping off security | The Sun

FIFTY years ago, a watchman was making his rounds at the Watergate Complex in Washington DC when he noticed a piece of tape on a basement door.

This piece of evidence left behind by ex-FBI agent James McCord led to the arrest of five men who had broken into the Democratic National Convention office at the Watergate Complex, and eventually to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

McCord, Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez and Frank Sturgis had all broken into the complex that night to bug the DNC office and take photos of classified election documents.

On the night of the break-in that landed the men in jail, night watchman Frank Willis noticed a piece of tape on the basement door in the parking garage that was keeping the door from locking.

At first, he didn't think anything of it and walked away.

“The tape, at first, didn’t seem to be anything unusual,” Wills said in a 1973 interview with ABC News.

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He removed it and kept walking around the complex on his normal patrol route.

However, when he started his next round, he noticed that the tape was back on the latch even after he had removed it.

“At that time, I became a little suspicious,” he said.

McCord had placed the tape on the latch to keep the door from locking while he and the four other men were inside the building.

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The break-in was an operation that was orchestrated by the Nixon Administration to collect details on Nixon's democratic opponents.

When Willis saw the piece of tape again at 2am, he phoned the police.

Two police officers, John Barrett and Paul Leeper, arrived on the scene wearing plainclothes and in unmarked vehicles.

“I had this old funky golf cap, I think I had just like a T-shirt underneath,” Leeper told ABC News.

“If a uniform car had answered that call, it could have been a whole different ball game,” Barrett added.

When they entered the building, they found what looked to be the scene of a robbery.

“The desk was all ransacked and dishevelled and messed up,” Barrett said. “As it turns out, probably every room in the DNC was like this, and we found out later that they were always messed up.”

The burglars did have a lookout man who was supposed to warn them of police presence, but he was distracted at the time Barrett and Leeper entered.

“He was watching a show called ‘Attack of the Puppet People,’” Barrett said. “He was glued to the TV set … so he looked back out, he saw lights coming on [in] the DNC.”

If the officers had arrived in uniform and in cars with sirens, they believe the watchmen would have noticed them and warned McCord and the others to flee.

Barrett and Leeper eventually stumbled upon five men in suits inside of the office.

“McCord said to me twice, he said, ‘Are you the police?’ And I thought, ‘Why is he asking such a silly question? Of course, we're the police,’” Leeper said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever locked up another burglar that was dressed in a suit and tie and was in middle age.”

“There were bugging devices … tear gas pens, many, many rolls of film … locksmith tools … thousands of dollars in hundred dollar bills consecutively ordered,” Barrett said.

Barker, Sturgis, Gonzalez and Martinez all pleaded guilty to charges involving conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping on January 15, 1973.

Liddy and McCord were convicted on charges of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping on January 30, 1973. 

McCord only spent four months in prison, receiving a commuted sentence for implicating others involved in the Watergate Scandal.

He went on to publish a 1974 book about the scandal, A Piece of Tape—The Watergate Story: Fact and Fiction.

He died in 2017 at the age of 93.

Following the break-in, Nixon denied having any knowledge of the incident or having any role in orchestrating it.

However, two months later, two Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, began publishing information from a confidential source that implicated Nixon for involvement in the break-in.

In January of 1973, the Watergate trial began. As the trial unfolded, Nixon was implicated based on testimonies and more leaked tapes and documents.

In July of1974, the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to hand over recordings he had made of phone calls discussing the Watergate break-in.

The same month, the court began proceedings to impeach Nixon.

However, in August, Nixon resigned.

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