Alfred C. Baldwin III had a ringside seat to the hapless Watergate break-in on June 17, 1972. He was the lookout, watching from a perch across the street with a mission to warn his burglary compadres inside the Watergate complex if law enforcement was approaching.
When he finally did see the police swoop in, he was too late to warn the burglars. He fled from his lookout post but was later picked up by the F.B.I.
In the motley cast of oddballs, miscreants, would-be spies and dirty tricksters involved in the ensuing two-year Watergate drama — which culminated with President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation in 1974 — Mr. Baldwin was a minor character. But he played a crucial early role by becoming a witness for the government and by being among the first to connect the dots publicly between the burglars and Nixon’s re-election efforts.
His account of his involvement, provided to The Los Angeles Times a few months after the break-in, was “perhaps the most important Watergate story so far,” the journalist and author David Halberstam wrote in 1979 in “The Powers That Be,” a book about the media.
“It was so tangible,” he added, “it had an eyewitness, and it brought Watergate to the very door of the White House.”
Mr. Baldwin died more than two years ago, on Jan. 15, 2020, but the news only recently came to light. It was first reported by Shane O’Sullivan, an Irish author and filmmaker, who was updating his book, “The Watergate Burglars” (originally published in 2018 as “Dirty Tricks”). The news became public on May 3 when Mr. O’Sullivan’s book was issued in paperback. He said that Mr. Baldwin, who was 83, died at a care facility in New Paltz, N.Y.
The New York Times confirmed the death with Mr. Baldwin’s lawyer and longtime friend, Robert C. Mirto. The cause was cancer.
Mr. Baldwin, a former F.B.I. agent, had been recruited in May 1972 to work for the Committee to Re-Elect the President, known as CREEP, by James W. McCord Jr., a former security expert at the C.I.A. who masterminded the Watergate burglary. (Coincidentally, Mr. McCord’s death in 2017 was also overlooked for two years and was also first reported by Mr. O’Sullivan.)
Mr. Baldwin first provided a vivid account of his role in a 1972 interview with Jack Nelson, a reporter with The Los Angeles Times. The account was among the first in which the public learned details of the break-in, including that the one in June, in which the burglars were caught, was their second visit to the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate.
During the first break-in, in late May, the burglars installed two listening devices, Mr. Baldwin said in his interview. He was stationed across the street at the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge, from which he eavesdropped on the phone taps. He had logged about 200 calls by the time Mr. McCord realized that the bugging devices weren’t working properly and decided to stage a second incursion on June 17 to adjust them.
It was not clear at what point Mr. Baldwin saw that the police had arrived on the scene. A 2012 account in Washingtonian magazine said that at the time he was “glued to the TV watching a horror movie, ‘Attack of the Puppet People,’ on Channel 20 — oblivious to the situation developing across the street.”
But that account was wrong, Mr. Baldwin said. He said he had turned on the television to cover up the sound of his walkie-talkie, which he was using to communicate with the burglars.
Washingtonian reported that by the time he “noticed that things had gone awry across the street, it was too late” — undercover District of Columbia police had already arrived, thanks to a call from Frank Wills, the Watergate security guard, who noticed tape on the door to the D.N.C. headquarters, which prevented it from being locked.
Mr. Baldwin said he had seen the officers’ cars massing outside the Watergate and got on his walkie-talkie to alert the burglars to “men with guns and flashlights looking behind desks and out on the balcony.”
In short order, uniformed police swarmed the scene, and the jig was up. E. Howard Hunt, one of the conspirators who had slipped out of the Watergate, rushed over to Mr. Baldwin’s motel room, told him to pack up the surveillance equipment, take it to Mr. McCord’s house and then disappear.
“Does that mean I’m out of a job?” Mr. Baldwin said he asked Mr. Hunt. But by then Mr. Hunt was out the door.
Federal investigators quickly tracked down Mr. Baldwin. By the end of the month he was cooperating with the government, the only participant not indicted. He testified before the Senate Watergate Committee in May 1973, fleshing out the narrative he had told Mr. Nelson.
Alfred Carleton Baldwin III was born on June 23, 1936, in New Haven, Conn. His father was a lawyer and a state unemployment compensation commissioner. Alfred’s great-uncle, Raymond E. Baldwin, who died in 1986, had served as Connecticut’s governor, a United States Senator representing the state and its chief justice.
Alfred earned his degree in business administration from Fairfield University in Connecticut in 1957 and joined the Marines. He earned his law degree at the University of Connecticut law school, graduating in 1963, and joined the F.B.I. later that year. He was assigned to various cities in the South, then resigned three years later when he married Georgeann Porto and moved back to Connecticut. The marriage soon ended in divorce.
Information on survivors was not available.
Mr. Baldwin worked as director of security for a trucking company and as an instructor in a college program for law-enforcement officers until he was recruited by Mr. McCord to join CREEP.
Mr. Baldwin’s first assignment was to provide security for Martha Mitchell, whose husband, John N. Mitchell, had stepped down as attorney general to work on Mr. Nixon’s re-election campaign. They were not a good match.
“Al Baldwin is probably the most gauche character I have ever met in my whole life,” Ms. Mitchell later said in a Watergate deposition. For one thing, she said, he had taken off his shoes and socks in her hotel suite.
Mr. Mirto, Mr. Baldwin’s lawyer, said in an interview that Mr. Baldwin was a “fun-loving guy.” He was so drawn to women, Mr. Mirto said, that if he spotted an attractive one driving on the turnpike, he would drive in front of her and pay her toll, then ask her out for a drink. He said this worked about 10 times.
When he spoke to Mr. Nelson at The Los Angeles Times, Mr. Baldwin had one request — that he be described as “a husky ex-Marine” in an attempt to impress a woman he was seeing. Mr. Nelson complied.
After Watergate, Mr. Baldwin struggled to find work. He finally landed a job as a substitute teacher in New Haven. He received a master’s degree in education from Southern Connecticut State College (now University). And though he had received his law degree two decades earlier, he took the bar exam for the first time in 1987 and passed.
He later became a state prosecutor in Hartford, his last job before retiring.