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‘The Watcher’: What we know about the menacing true story that inspired Netflix

It’s a house so terrifying that it now has its own Netflix series.

If you’ve spent any time online lately, chances are you’ve seen the hype for the streaming giant’s new limited series The Watcher.

What you may not know, however, is that the seven-episode foray into creepiness is loosely based on a true story that left a New Jersey family paralyzed with fear.

How it all began

In 2014, Westfield, N.J. residents Derek and Maria Broaddus bought a stunning six-bedroom Dutch colonial home for US$1.3 million. Their intention was to renovate it and then move in with their children.

This photo shows the home Derek and Maria Broaddus were scared away from because of creepy letters from a stalker, Thursday, June 25, 2015, in Westfield, N.J.

AP Photo/Julio Cortez

However, once they finalized the purchase of their dream home, unnerving, anonymous letters started appearing in the mailbox.

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The first letter, addressed to “The New Owner,” was cordial in its opening address, welcoming the Broaddus family to the neighbourhood. But the correspondence quickly took a creepy turn.

“My grandfather watched the house in the 1920s and my father watched in the 1960s,” the letter read. “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.”

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That letter acknowledged the contract workers that had moved onto the property, hired by the Broadduses to renovate the home prior to their move-in date.

“I see already that you have flooded 657 Boulevard with contractors so that you can destroy the house as it was supposed to be. Tsk, tsk, tsk … bad move. You don’t want to make 657 Boulevard unhappy,” the typed letter read.

The letter went on to mention the couple’s three young children, calling them “young blood,” and asking if there were more on the way.

“Do you need to fill the house with the young blood I requested? Better for me,” it read, before signing off with “The Watcher,” typed out in cursive font.

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Just the beginning

The first letter left the Broaddus family feeling understandably creeped out, and Derek contacted police the next morning. Unfortunately, there was nothing the cops could do for him, short of testing the letter for DNA. New York Magazine published a lengthy piece, on which the Netflix series was inspired, reporting that police searched the home’s walls and found nothing.

Derek and Maria also contacted the home’s previous owners, John and Andrea Woods, who said they’d only received one letter from The Watcher, just days before they moved out.

In this June 25, 2015, file photo, a newspaper rests on the driveway of the home of Derek and Maria Broaddus in Westfield, N.J.

AP Photo/Julio Cortez

The Woodses said they’d lived in the house for 23 years and had never heard from The Watcher before, so they assumed it was a prank and promptly threw the letter away.

The police, however, told the Broadduses that all their new neighbours were now suspects and advised them not to tell anyone else about the letter.

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Two weeks passed before they received another letter.

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“The workers have been busy and I have been watching you unload carfuls of your personal belongings,” The Watcher wrote, according to The Cut, who has reported at length on the sinister letters. “The dumpster is a nice touch. Have they found what is in the walls yet? In time they will.” The letter also referred to the couple by name and Derek and Maria began to feel like they were being watched very closely, and often.

The Watcher noted that the family had yet to move into the house and asked if the parents would allow their children – the “young blood” – to play in the home’s basement.

“Or are they too afraid to go down there alone? I would (be) very afraid if I were them. It is far away from the rest of the house. If you were upstairs you would never hear them scream,” they wrote.

The Watcher said in that note that they “pass by many times a day. 657 Boulevard is my job, my life, my obsession. And now you are too Broaddus family.”

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According to The Cut, Derek and Maria stopped bringing their kids to the house after the second letter, which had identified the children by their nicknames and birth order. The letter also referenced one child in particular, whom The Watcher said they saw using an easel inside the home’s enclosed porch.

Their absence from the home prompted a third letter: “Where have you gone to?” The Watcher asked. “657 Boulevard is missing you.”

The investigations

As the family continued to receive letters, the police were working to narrow down a suspect.

Due to the letter writer’s familiarity with the family and their clear sightlines into the house, police interest turned to nearby residents – perhaps someone was hostile to the idea of newcomers to the area or didn’t like that there were renovations happening to the historic home.

Attention was turned to their next-door neighbours – an odd-duck family named the Langfords who had lived on the street for years and had several adult children in their 60s living with their 90-year-old mother.

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Michael Langford, one of the sons, was brought in for police questioning but denied his family had anything to do with the letters. Again, short of an admission, the police told Derek and Maria there wasn’t much they could do.

Frustrated and increasingly scared, the Broadduses began their own investigation. They hired private detectives to stake out the neighbourhood and do deep dives into their neighbours’ backgrounds.

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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.

Six months into owning the home, paralyzed by fear and wanting out of their terrifying situation, the Broadduses decided to sell. However, the small-town rumour mill was in full drive by that time and few people were keen to move into what was now known as a cursed house.

657 Boulevard, as captured on Google Maps in 2022.

Screengrab / Google Maps

Bleeding money, the family moved into a rental, but that didn’t stop the letters from coming.

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A turn for the worse

The Broadduses were desperate to get the property off their hands and came up with an idea: what if they knocked the house down and put up two brand new homes in its place?

However, when the idea was presented to the neighbourhood planning committee, it was voted down. Not only was that dream dashed, but some members of the community had begun to turn on the Broadduses for bringing drama and fear to the area. Others speculated that perhaps Derek and Maria were the ones sending the letters to themselves, an act of desperation in the wake of buyer’s remorse.

Click to play video: 'New Jersey family stalked by ‘The Watcher’ sues town to demolish home after creepy letters'

New Jersey family stalked by ‘The Watcher’ sues town to demolish home after creepy letters

The Cut reports that the Westfield Leader even published an article in that time, where anonymous neighbours called into question the Broadduses motivations – why did they keep renovating a home they weren’t moving into? Why did Maria keep a Facebook page with pictures of her children public? The paper noted, however, that a police DNA test was not a match to Maria.

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Questions remain unanswered

To this day, The Watcher has never been identified. Derek’s private investigation dried up, as did the police’s, despite asking neighbours to voluntarily submit DNA samples for evidence. Not wanting to paint themselves as a suspect, most of the neighbours submitted samples, but none were a match.

In 2019, the Broaddus family sold the home for $400,000 less than they originally paid for it, after deciding to disclose the creepy letters to prospective buyers.

The Cut, in a new piece published this week, reports that the Broadduses sent a letter to the home’s new owners, a young family, when the deal closed.

“We wish you nothing but the peace and quiet that we once dreamed of in this house,” they wrote, attaching a picture of The Watcher’s handwriting in case the new family received the same threatening mail.

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The Cut also addresses other theories that have emerged since their initial piece on 657 Boulevard was published; several other suspects, including a local teacher, were eventually ruled out. The U.S. Postal Inspectors looked into the case – possibly a disgruntled letter carrier? – but came up empty-handed. Cameras were installed in Westfield’s library and post office, trying to identify the letter writer, but they revealed nothing.

The Broadduses decided to say in Westfield, but still face judgement from some of the town’s population. Both Maria and Derek said they’re still struggling with the emotional toll and stress of their harrowing ordeal. With the exception of giving Netflix the rights to adapt their story, they’ve largely turned down network television appearances and have declined help from documentary teams. They told The Cut they have no plan to watch the Netflix series.

To this day, no one knows if The Watcher is still out there, keeping tabs on 657 Boulevard.


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