The real story behind ‘The Watcher’ Netflix series, yet another creepy NJ tale

The envelope arrived at 657 Boulevard in Westfield, addressed in wobbly handwriting.

The new homeowner emptied the mailbox and opened the letter eight years ago. He was unprepared for what awaited him.

Thus began the mysterious and frustrating saga of “The Watcher,” a still-unknown shadow who sent the Broaddus family letters so sufficiently creepy and specific — showing someone was indeed watching them — that they never moved into the $1.3 million home.

The family sued the previous homeowners in 2015, alleging they should have disclosed a previous letter from The Watcher, and the story went viral. Since then, the mystery has fascinated people around the world, even as many in Westfield — including the Broadduses — wish it would just go away.

Instead, the story is now getting the Hollywood treatment. On Thursday, Netflix premieres “The Watcher,” a series starring Naomi Watts and Union City’s Bobby Cannavale as a wife and husband who move their family into a lovely new home only to be terrorized by an anonymous letter writer.

Based on the trailer, the creators are taking some artistic license with the adaptation. Some words from the actual letters do appear in the series — including the infamous “young blood” lines.

But the teaser shows the family actually living in the home (a house in Westchester County, New York) as a mysterious figure stalks through its rooms at night, suggesting a horror story far beyond the mailing of threatening letters (perhaps a sly nod to infamous Westfield killer John List?).

Here’s the real story of The Watcher.

Maria Broaddus, a Westfield native, and husband Derek Broaddus thought they had finally found their dream home in June 2014 when they bought the six-bedroom Dutch colonial built on a wide, picturesque boulevard.

But several days after the sale went through, before it was even made public, Derek Broaddus found the first anonymous, typed letter in his new home’s mailbox, according to the lawsuit.

It started with a welcoming tone, but quickly revealed itself to be a disturbing, sinister missive.

“Do you need to fill the house with the young blood I requested? Once I know their names I will call them and draw them to me. I asked the [prior owners] to bring me young blood,” the letter said, according to the lawsuit.

It said the writer’s family had watched the house for generations and expressed displeasure at any alteration of the house, noting contractors had come to start renovations.

“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,” it read.

The second and third letters, dated June 18 and July 18 of 2014, were even more worrying.

“Who has the bedrooms facing the street?” the writer asked. “I’ll know as soon as you move. It will help me to know who is in which bedroom (sic) then I can plan better.”

These letters were addressed to the Broadduses, although the name was misspelled. It listed the children’s nicknames, suggesting the writer was close enough to hear them, according to Reeves Wiedeman, a features writer at New York Magazine whose 2018 article about the saga is the basis for the Netflix series.

Derek Broaddus, who politely declined to comment for this article, and his wife immediately went to the authorities about the letters. They suspected the writer might be one of their closest neighbors, said Wiedeman, who interviewed the couple.

“This wasn’t someone across town or elsewhere who knew about the house for some reason and was sending a letter. This was someone who was there,” Wiedeman said. “And so that either means that there’s someone who lives very nearby, or was spending a lot of time hanging around.”

One of the most obvious signs was that the letter writer mentioned one of their children using an easel in an enclosed porch that was not visible from the street, he said.

Police questioned one neighbor they suspected, a man in his 60s who reportedly had mental health issues (and has since died), but did not come up with any supporting evidence, Wiedeman reported. Later, they found that DNA on one of the envelopes belonged to a female.

After the Broaduses’ lawsuit against the previous owners made the news in 2015, Westfield police detective Barron Chambliss took a fresh look at the case.

Chambliss suspected a female sibling of the previously interviewed neighbor may have been the person who licked the envelope. But a DNA sample, surreptitiously grabbed from her water bottle at work, was not a match, the now-retired detective said Tuesday in an interview.

Chambliss also pursued a lead involving a couple spotted parked outside the house one night. A female occupant said the male, her boyfriend, played “dark” video games, including one that involved a “watcher.” But Chambliss said the man wouldn’t come in for an interview and subsequently moved out of state.

His examination was hampered by a haphazard initial investigation, he said.

“Cases can often become tainted, because when you kind of get too many hands involved in it, nobody kind of knows who’s talking to who or what’s being said. And that’s kind of what happened here,” Chambliss said.

The “Watcher” house in Westfield, where owners have received cryptic, threatening letters regarding the home.NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Meanwhile, the Broadduses had given up on moving into the house. They bought another home and were trying to sell 657 Boulevard — something that proved difficult because they felt they ethically had to reveal the existence of the letters to potential buyers, Wiedeman said.

They tried to demolish the house and divide it into two lots — which seemed to draw stronger feelings from Westfield residents than the letters ever had. The town’s planning board rejected the plan.

In 2017, a few weeks after The Star-Ledger ran a story about renters moving into the home, a fourth letter arrived. As Wiedeman reported in New York Magazine, it was more wrathful and threatening than any of the previous mailings, suggesting harm would come to them in the form of an accident, a fire, a mysterious illness or maybe the death of a pet.

In 2018, a judge dismissed the Broaduses’ lawsuit and the countersuit, alleging defamation, from the previous owners. A year later, the couple was finally able to sell their one-time dream home to a family from town that didn’t seem to mind the house’s history — or perhaps couldn’t miss out on such a deal.

The new owners paid $959,000. It was a loss of nearly $400,000 for the Broadduses, not to mention the years of mortgage payments and taxes they had spent on a house they never lived in.

The house’s occupants did not return requests for comment, but Wiedeman reported in his most recent update on the case that they have not received any letters.

The Watcher

Luke David Blumm as Carter Brannock, Isabel Marie Gravitt as Ellie Brannock, Bobby Cannavale as Dean Brannock and Naomi Watts as Nora Brannock in episode 101 of “The Watcher” on Netflix. Eric Liebowitz | Netflix

The Broadduses still live in Westfield and have had to deal not only with the national spotlight, but also their fellow residents speculating that they may have created the hoax themselves. It doesn’t make sense given the huge financial cost to the family, Wiedeman said. (He wrote that selling the rights to Netflix did not even cover their losses, but did give the family a modicum of control, as opposed to a previous adaptation by Lifetime.)

The story has become, like that of John List, a dark mark on a community better known for its vibrant downtown and exquisite homes. For one family, even as life goes on, it was a real-life nightmare.

“They’re hard-working people. I think they made a lot of sacrifices to buy what they considered to be their dream home,” Chambliss reflected. “Somebody came in and kind of screwed it up for them.”

Perhaps the only unmasking of The Watcher that Westfield will ever get will be a fictional version — on TV.

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Rebecca Everett may be reached at reverett@njadvancemedia.com. Tell us your coronavirus story or send a tip here.

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