Whether it be a high-tech security system, a slew of CCTV cameras, a string of locks adorning the front door, or all of the above, taking such precautions is often necessary to feel safe in your home. Despite layers of protection, however, a looming sense of unease may persist if a relentless figure is stalking your humble abode. This terrifying reality plagues the Brannock family in Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan's new Netflix thriller series The Watcher.
"After the Brannock family moves into what was supposed to be their suburban dream home, it quickly becomes a living hell. Ominous letters from someone calling themself 'The Watcher' are just the beginning as the neighborhood’s sinister secrets come spilling out," the series' synopsis reads.
Starring Naomi Watts (The Ring), Bobby Cannavale (Blonde), and Jennifer Coolidge (The White Lotus), among others, it's hard to believe that The Watcher was inspired by true events. Said events plagued the real-life Broaddus family members after they purchased their $1.3 million home at 657 Boulevard in Westfield, N.J., back in 2014. The increasingly intimate and threatening letters from the self-named Watcher tormented the Broadduses so deeply that they never actually moved into the house. Due to paranoia and trauma, Derek and Maria Broaddus were driven away from their dream home.
Let's delve into the bone-chilling true story of The Watcher.
The Watcher sent a total of four hostile letters to the Broaddus family.
Just three days after closing on the six-bedroom house, Derek and Maria started working on renovations, clearly excited to start a new chapter. It was then that they found the first letter in their new mailbox. It began just as any warm welcome letter would, but became more ominous as it went on.
"657 Boulevard 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," the first letter read as detailed by The Cut's famous 2018 article.
Though the initial letter is easily the least threatening of the bunch, it was enough to cause Derek and Maria to reach out to previous homeowners John and Andrea Woods, who relayed that they also received a Watcher letter just before moving out of 657 Boulevard. Otherwise, over the course of the 23 years that they lived in the house, The Watcher never bothered John and Andrea.
The Broadduses didn't receive another letter until two weeks later, and it's clear that The Watcher did some research. Not only did this letter address the family members by name (incorrectly spelling their last name as "Braddus"), but it included personal information about the three children.
“I am pleased to know your names now and the name of the young blood you have brought to me,” the letter read. That's right, The Watcher referred to the children as "young blood."
“You certainly say their names often.” We have one word: Nope.
Having seen one child painting inside an enclosed porch, The Watcher even asked if she was "the artist in the family."
"I pass by many times a day. 657 Boulevard is my job, my life, my obsession. And now you are too Braddus family. Welcome to the product of your greed! Greed is what brought the past three families to 657 Boulevard and now it has brought you to me," the letter continued.
According to People, the Broadduses at one point suspected that The Watcher could be their neighbor Michael Langford. This was simply because he'd lived in the neighborhood since the 1960s, which was when The Watcher's father allegedly stalked the house. But alas, there was no evidence connecting him to the letters.
The theory that The Watcher could be a bitter stranger who was outbid on the house has also come up, and there's even a theory that the Broadduses themselves invented The Watcher as a scam. Why? Buyer's remorse.
In the end, the police, a private investigator, and a former FBI agent all struggled to identify The Watcher. To this day, the anonymous stalker has not been caught.
Due to swirling rumors about 657 Boulevard, the Broadduses spent years trying to sell the home.
Even after selling their old house and completing renovations, the Broadduses just couldn't bear to live in the shadow of a sadistic stalker. The ordeal caused Derek to become "a depressed wreck," as he detailed to The Cut, and a therapist told Maria she was suffering from post-traumatic stress. The traumatized family members moved in with Maria's parents, paying the mortgage and property taxes on 657 Boulevard until they were able to sell it.
In June 2015, Derek and Maria attempted to sue the Woodses for not disclosing information about The Watcher letter they received. Unfortunately for them, a judge dismissed the legal complaint.
Arriving two and a half years after the first letter, the most repulsive of the bunch was addressed to "the vile and spiteful Derek and his wench of a wife, Maria." Casually mentioning a car accident, a fire, a mysterious illness, and the death of loved ones, this note was wrathful and full of hate. It was likely in response to the Broaddus family's failed attempt at selling the home to a developer, who planned to tear down the house and build two new properties. The Westfield Planning Board axed this idea, however.
Derek and Maria eventually sold the cursed house in 2019 for $400,000 less than what they bought it for. Ouch.
Though this tale is full of wild conspiracy theories, many of which point fingers at the Broadduses, the outspoken Derek stood by his truth.
"There’s a natural tendency to say, ‘I’ve lived here for 35 years; nothing’s happened to me.’” Derek began. “What happened to my family is an affront to their contention that they’re safe, that there’s no such thing as mental illness in their community. People don’t want to believe this could happen in Westfield.” Ah, the optimism bias. How nice it must be for them.
The Watcher's final letter was admittedly quite cocky, but needless to say still unnerving. “You are despised by the house,” it coldly stated. “And The Watcher won.”
The Watcher premieres on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, on Netflix.