The Dark and Mysterious True Story of ‘The Watcher’

A new month; a new hyped Ryan Murphy Netflix production to get our teeth into, and man, does this look like a high-camp horror show of the very best kind.

With a cast that boasts Naomi Watts, Bobby Cannavale, Mia Farrow and woman of the moment Jennifer Coolidge, the story opens with the Brannock family moving into a perfect-looking home. Everything’s the white-picket-fenced dream, until they start being sent letters from someone who’s obsessed with the house, the dark history behind it, and, by default, the Brannocks themselves now. All manner of terrors and terrorizing begins.

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But, like all the creepiest of made-for-screen urban myths, this story has been inspired by a real life case.

In 2014, the Broaddus family bought a $1.35 million, six-bedroom house in Westfield, New Jersey, and they began to settle into suburban life. But, according to a 2018 feature in The Cut – which The Watcher is based on – Derek Broaddus then received a letter. In it, it read: “How did you end up here?” Did 657 Boulevard call to you with its force within? The home has been the subject of my family for decades now and as it approaches its 110th birthday, I have been put in charge of watching and waiting for its second coming. My grandfather watched the house in the 1920s and my father watched in the 1960s. It is now my time. Do you know the history of the house? Do you know what lies within the walls of 657 Boulevard? Why are you here? I will find out.”


Despite containing more questions than an inquisitive toddler, the correspondence then became more threatening, referencing intimate details of the family, such as the three Broaddus children’s nicknames, and chastising them for construction work on the house. Another missive said: “Do you need to fill the house with the young blood I requested?” Better for me. Was your old house too small for the growing family? Or was it greedy to bring me your children? Once I know their names I will call them and draw them too [sic] me.”

The Broaddus family went to the police and the search for the perpetrator began, focusing on the neighbors, who may have had a vantage point. One such neighbor was Michael Langford, who denied any involvement, and after his death in 2020, his family still disputes any suggestion that he played any part in the harassment. Speaking with The Independent, a sibling said: “It f*****g never ends. I’m his brother; I own the g*****n house. We got accused of doing something that we didn’t do. Did we ever get an af*****g apology from the police?” No, he added, they didn’t.

The Broadduses employed the help of a private investigator who did a deep dive on the neighbors and suggested it could be a former employee of the house, or someone in the neighborhood who wanted to put an offer on the house, but wasn’t wealthy enough . All the investigations stalled, as The Cut noted: “The letters could be read closely for possible clues, or dismissed as the nonsensical ramblings of a sociopath.” A priest was even called in to bless the house.

After six months of being terrorized the family decided to sell up, however rumors had already started flying around the area, and unsurprisingly, people weren’t keen on moving into what some people saw as a cursed house. The Broadduses were haemorrhaging money, as they moved into another rental. The letters continued, and so did the suspicions of everyone around them, but even DNA testing of the letters could not identify the culprit.

the watcher l to r richard kind as mitch, margo martindale as momaureen in episode 101 of the watcher cr eric liebowitznetflix © 2022


The family hit upon an idea: if no one was willing to buy the house because of its reputation, why not knock it down and build two new houses on the lot? However, when it was put to a neighborhood planning committee meeting, it was voted down. Some people had begun to turn against the Broadduses for bringing unwanted attention onto the area, while others alleged that perhaps they were sending the letters themselves as they had buyer’s remorse on the house. In the end, the family was only ever able to rent out the property, which did not cover the mortgage.

While it seems incredible, no one was ever able to identify the person known as The Watcher. There were several more false leads, and a Reddit group even got stuck into the theories when the story went viral. A jilted mistress, an annoyed estate agent, guerilla marketing for a horror movie, or just “mall goths” stirring up trouble for laughs were all suggested. And now even more people will be pouring over the story and potential suspects with the Netflix adaptation of the events. As Derek Broaddus told a reporter from The Cut, the troubling situation had sunk deep into his bones and the family just had to live with it: “It’s like cancer. We think about it everyday.

The Watcher streams on Netflix from October 13.

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