Toby Willis, ‘Willis Clan’ Father Arrested: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Toby willis, toby willis mugshot

Toby Willis. (Tennessee Bureau of Investigation)

The father of the large, homespun Nashville family and singing group featured in the TLC reality show The Willis Clan is accused of child rape.

Willis is being held in a Greenville, Kentucky, jail without bail, according to a a September 9 news release from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

The news release says the TBI began investigating Willis, 46, at the request of 23rd District Attorney General Ray Crouch on August 29. Crouch is a prosecutor in Tennessee.

“During the course of the investigation, agents developed information Willis had a sexual encounter approximately 12 years ago with an underage female,” the release said. “The investigation into Willis remains active and ongoing.”

The release did not name the girl or give any additional details about how Willis knew her.

The TLC reality show, The Willis Clan, followed Toby and Brenda Willis and their 12 musical children – who play different instruments – around the country. The Chicago Tribune says the Willis Clan is a modern-day Partridge Family; Billboard says they are a modern-day Von Trapp family. The family has highlighted its Christian faith, The Washington Times says.

The show will not be returning for a third season, TLC told CNN. The family also appeared as a contestant on NBC’s America’s Got Talent.

Here’s what you need to know:


1. Willis Went to Another State to Duck Authorities, Police Say

toby willis, willis clan

This photo on the Willis Clan Facebook page was captioned, “Making memories with Daddy in good ole Dollywood today! Worked hard yesterday, played hard today!” (Facebook/The Willis Clan)

The clan’s patriarchtraveled to Kentucky to avoid authorities, WKRN reports.

Willis is from Ashland City, Tennessee, according to WSMV-TV. Willis is being held in jail without bond on a fugitive from justice warrant, said WSMV.

The news release from TBI says, “Today, TBI Agents arrested the 46-year-old in Greenville, Kentucky, where he traveled in an effort to avoid law enforcement, and charged him with one count of Rape of a Child.”

The TBI says Willis “will ultimately face extradition to Cheatham County, where once booked, he will be held in the Cheatham County Jail without bond.”

The Willis Clan’s website, Twitter page and Instagram site have now been deleted. The website’s bio page had said previously that Toby was “the father of the twelve Willis Clan children, helping them strive for excellence in all they do.”


2. Toby Willis Lost Six Siblings in a High Profile Tragedy

willis clan, toby willis, brenda willis

The Willis Clan in Ireland. (Facebook/The Willis Clan)

The story of the Willis Clan has always been marked by tragedy.

Toby’s parents, Pastor Duane “Scott” and Janet Willis, lost their six youngest children in a high-profile 1994 traffic fire in Wisconsin, the Chicago Tribune reported. The Tribune reports the “minivan erupted in flames after striking a piece of debris that fell from a truck whose driver had paid a bribe to obtain his license from one of George Ryan’s secretary of state offices.”

Toby and two other siblings were not in the vehicle, and the parents moved to Tennessee after receiving a $100 million settlement, according to the Tribune report. Toby Willis was the second oldest sibling, and the family had lived on the south side of Chicago, WGN reports.

Toby was already married to his wife, Brenda, when the tragedy happened, and she was pregnant with their third child, Jenny, according to WGN-TV.

“Life goes on, you have to just clean up, you have to go on, you have to smile, you have to go on, and I wanted to make sure people knew that we weren’t just going to be sad for rest of life. We are sad, but there’s joy,” Toby Willis told Chicago 5 about the family’s tragic past.


3. The Reality Show Promised Viewers a Behind the Scenes Look at the Family’s Lives

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Members of The Willis Clan perform during Sam’s Place – Music For The Spirit at The Ryman Auditorium on November 8, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Getty)

The clan’s Facebook page said in 2015 that TLC had signed on for a second season of the reality show featuring the family, saying the first season had averaged 1.4 million viewers.

However, according to TMZ, “the family was informed in May by TLC it wouldn’t be picked up for a third season” and the show hasn’t aired since April. TMZ also reported that “the network did extensive background checks on Toby and his family but nothing raised any red flags.”

TLC previously cancelled 19 Kids and Counting, a show about another large family, after one of its members, Josh Duggar, was accused of sexual abuse.

The program “showcased Brenda and Toby Willis and their twelve children as they shared their talents around the country,” read the post. “From singing and dancing to acting and painting and everything in between, the family believes in inspiring others through their art.”

The new season premiered in early 2016. The Facebook post continued, “In the new season, viewers will get a deeper look into the family’s life off the tour bus. From birthday celebrations and kids learning to drive, life at home in Nashville is a welcome change of pace from the rigors of being on the road.”

The post said, “Being at home, though, isn’t without its hardships. After months of being away, they come home to a shocking surprise, and with homeschooling, scheduling, and extracurricular activities, things around the house are busy to say the least.”

The family recently released an album called Heaven. Just hours before Toby’s arrest was announced, the clan’s Facebook page posted photos of one of its youngest members playing Mary Had a Little Lamb on a flute. The family also recently posted photos from appearances in Arkansas.


4. The Family Members Have Stressed Their Christian Faith

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Members of the Willis Clan. (Facebook/Willis Clan)

A “quiet Christian faith is their core,” The Washington Times says of the family. Toby Willis told the newspaper the family “meets with others for a ‘home church,’ eschewing denominationalism.”

According to People Magazine, “The Christian family’s conservative beliefs played a role in their TLC series.”

The Willis children are Jessica, Jeremiah, Jennifer, Jeanette, Jackson, Jedi, Jasmine, Juliette, Jamie, Joy Anna, Jaeger, and Jada, according to Yahoo News .

USA Today said in 2013 that Toby and Brenda Willis “are parents to 12 children ranging in age from 2 to 21. The eight girls and four boys have been, are or will be home-schooled.”

The family was originally from Chicago but moved to Nashville to pursue their musical careers, according to Yahoo.

The Grand Ole Opry says of the family, “Parents Brenda and Toby and their 12 home-schooled children are a family of musicians, dancers, athletes, artists and writers living in Nashville, Tennessee.”

Brenda Willis told WKRN, “I like to tell people there is something for everybody. We have 12 children and we sing, dance, we play multi genres of music. We do Irish music, we do Bluegrass and Country music, which we play on the Grand Ole Opry quite frequently, and you may have heard us on the Opry. We also do some pop and rock. We really mix it up.”


5. Toby Willis Is a Former Wrestler Who Met His Wife in High School

toby willis, brenda willis

A throwback photo posted on Facebook. (Facebook/The Willis Clan)

USA Today reports Toby Willis went to Northwestern University on a wrestling scholarship and “once dreamed of being an Olympic wrestler,” but injuries ended his career. He met his wife, Brenda, in high school, according to the newspaper. The clan’s now deleted website had said “Toby is a state champion wrestler from Chicago.”

Toby was able to retire at age 30 due to his family’s financial settlement in the traffic fire, according to USA Today.

“People may not like how we do things, but just look at the fruit of the tree,” Toby Willis told the newspaper. “We’re not perfect, but it can’t be all bad.”

According to Great American Country, Toby “worked in the computer field for 10 years as a programmer, analyst, database and system administrator. He now does music and video production. Toby is still involved in wrestling and coaches the boys. He occasionally plays keyboard in the band.”

One of the clan’s breaks came on America’s Got Talent when they “wowed the judges,” said Chicago 5. They reached the quarterfinals of the competition’s ninth season in 2014. They then signed on for the first season of their TLC show the next year.


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