Another sex scandal involving a reality show personality from the TLC network surfaced on September 9 when Toby Willis, the father from the network’s former show, “The Willis Family,” was arrested on child rape charges.
The 48-year-old Willis was being sought on a fugitive from justice warrant by agents from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation after being indicted in that state earlier in the day. The manhunt ended in Greenville, Kentucky, with Willis taken to Muhlenberg County Jail, where he was held without bond as he awaits extradition back to Tennessee’s Cheatham County.
The investigation into Willis’ alleged crime began on August 29. Over the next 11 days, those agents compiled enough evidence to issue the indictment against him for raping an underage girl approximately 12 years ago. He allegedly fled his Ashland City, Tennessee home when he became aware of the investigation.
No information was available about whether or not the victim was a member of the Willis family. The wide range of ages for his 12 children, all of whom have a first name beginning with the letter J, span from 24 for the oldest to five for the youngest.
The sordid aspects of the charges mirror two other cases involving individuals from TLC shows. In the case of Josh Duggar, one of the children on the reality series, “19 Kids and Counting,” he was later found to have admitted sexually molesting five underage girls, including two of his sisters. However, because the statute of limitations had passed by the 2015 announcement, he wasn’t charged with the crimes.
In the other case the year before, the reality series, “Honey Boo Boo,” was cancelled after news came out that June Shannon, the mother of the show’s namesake, was dating a convicted sex offender. The felon in question had previously molested one of Shannon’s own children.
Another parallel between the shows was that, like “19 Kids and Counting,” the show emphasized the family’s conservative Christian beliefs to the viewing audience. The announcement of Willis’ arrest led to immediate criticism about the hypocrisy of the family presenting a false narrative in order to enrich themselves.
Willis and his family first came to prominence as contestants during the ninth season of the NBC talent competition program, “America’s Got Talent.” Playing country music, Willis and his wife, Brenda, were joined onstage by their 12 children and performed as The Willis Clan.
Though the family was eliminated during the quarterfinals of that competition, their unique story caught the attention of the TLC Network. That led to the development of a reality show about their lives, which premiered on May 15, 2015. Presenting seven episodes during that first season, the show was brought back this past March, with the last of six episodes being shown on April 19.
In response to the charges, TLC indicated that they had informed the Willis family in May that the show had been cancelled. However, it was only after the arrest had been made public that TLC chose to remove the show’s web page from the channel’s site and take down the social media accounts related to the program.
The family’s own Facebook page is still viable, though they have not posted anything since the arrest. However, numerous individuals have offered their opinions on the topic, with some offering prayers and support and others attacking them for supporting the accused child molester.