It was June of 2014, and Derek Broaddus and his family purchased a beautiful six-bedroom house in Westfield, New Jersey. Three days after they closed, Derek went out to check the mail after an evening of renovations. He found the expected handful of bills, along with an unusual card-shaped envelope addressed simply to "The New Owner."
While it was hand-addressed, the note inside was typed. "Allow me to welcome you to the neighborhood," it began warmly enough. But it quickly took an eerie turn. "How did you end up here? Did 657 Boulevard call to you with its force within?”
The letter writer wove a story of watching. Recognizing the home's then nearly 110 years standing, the writer claimed his family had watched it for decades, waiting for the home's "second coming." The writer's grandfather watched the house in the 1920s. Their father in the 60s. Now it was their turn.
"Do you know the history of the house?" the writer asked. "Do you know what lies within the walls of 657 Boulevard? Why are you here? I will find out."
Back in 2018, New York Magazine published an article detailing the stalking of the Broaddus family. This chronicle was so affecting, it serves as the inspiration behind Ryan Murphy's chilling new Netflix limited series The Watcher. As we all wait with bated breath for the show to premiere on streaming later this year, here's a complete look at the real-life terrors the Broaddus family faced.
Strange letters from "The Watcher"
This first strange letter that Derek held in his hands let him know that this Watcher had already been doing their job. The letter identified the minivan the Broadduses drove. It criticized them for bringing contractors in to "destroy the house as it was supposed to be.” And it spoke ominously of the three Broaddus children, then five, eight, and ten.
"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 greed to bring me your children? Once I know their names I will call to them and draw them too [sic] me."
There was, of course, no return address on the envelope. But the letter writer took glee in feeding into the family's speculation. "There are hundreds and hundreds of cars that drive by 657 Boulevard each day. Maybe I am in one. Look at all the windows you can see from 657 Boulevard. Maybe I am in one. Look out any of the many windows in 657 Boulevard at all the people who stroll by each day. Maybe I am one.”
And the letter writer promised that this correspondence would not be the last. "Let the party begin,” they said, signing off with a cursive-typed signature calling themselves “The Watcher.”
The house's previous owners, John and Andrea Woods
At 10pm that night, Derek rushed to call the Westfield Police Department. When an officer responded to the call, he inquired after any enemies the family might have. At the officer's recommendation, Derek moved some construction equipment inside, lest The Watcher decide to throw it through a window.
Derek hurried back to the old house his wife, Maria, and their kids were still staying in. That night, the couple hastily wrote an email to the home's previous owners, John and Andrea Woods. The Broadduses asked if they had an idea of who The Watcher was, and why they would have written, “I asked the Woods to bring me young blood and it looks like they listened.”
It wasn't until the morning that Andrea replied. She said that she and her husband had also received a strange letter a few days before they moved out—one that detailed a similar odd history of a family watching their home. But having lived there for 23 years, they had never had any trouble before.
The Woodses and Maria went to the police station together, where Detective Leonard Lugo urged Maria to keep the letters a secret, even from her neighbors. Everyone on the block was a suspect.
The Watcher sends more ominous letters
The next two weeks were tense as the Broadduses awaited word from the police or The Watcher. And then the next letter arrived. Maria had swung by the house to look at paint samples, and spying the recognizable envelope and lettering, she phoned the police.
"The workers have been busy and I have been watching you unload carfuls of your personal belongings," The Watcher taunted. "Have they found what is in the walls yet? In time they will."
This letter took care to directly address Derek and Maria, however the writer misspelled their names as "Mr. and Mrs. Braddus." The letter went on to list the children by their birth order, calling them each by their nicknames.
The shocking letter continued on in a more threatening tone:
657 Boulevard is anxious for you to move in. It has been years and years since the young blood ruled the hallways of the house. Have you found all of the secrets it holds yet? Will the young blood play in the 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.
Will they sleep in the attic? Or will you all sleep on the second floor? Who has the bedrooms facing the street? I’ll know as soon as you move in. It will help me to know who is in which bedroom. Then I can plan better.
All of the windows and doors in 657 Boulevard allow me to watch you and track you as you move through the house. Who am I? I am the Watcher and have been in control of 657 Boulevard for the better part of two decades now. The Woods family turned it over to you. It was their time to move on and kindly sold it when I asked them to.
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.
Have a happy moving in day. You know I will be watching.
"657 Boulevard is missing you"
After that, Derek and Maria stopped taking their kids to the new house. They began to doubt when—if they even would—move in. As they spiraled in indecision, a third letter came a few weeks later. "657 Boulevard is missing you."
For all that Westfield was a quiet, idyllic locale—it ranked as America's 30th safest town in 2014—buying a home there was widely regarded as a treacherous ordeal. There was harsh competition for homes in the area, and a lot of ego went into the acquisition of these expensive lots. The Watcher themself decreed, "The Boulevard used to be THE street to live on … You made it if you lived on the Boulevard."
As 657 Boulevard could easily be considered the grandest home in the neighborhood, the Broadduses began to wonder if their stalker was someone who was bitter over losing the bidding war. The Woodses countered this theory, saying of their other interested buyers, one backed out for medical reasons and another found a different house. Andrea posed instead that it could be someone living in the neighborhood.
Was "The Watcher" a neighborhood spy?
It was a good theory to go on. The letters had been processed in Kearny, the distribution center of northern New Jersey. The first letter had been postmarked before the sale of the house was made public, and just one day following the arrival of contractors. Most of the renovations were interior, and a large sampling of neighbors said there was no excessive noises from the work. Details cited in the letter implied the author could only notice them if they were observing from behind the house or right next door.
The sense of looming danger had Derek and Maria searching for their own answers. At a neighborhood barbecue, a man who lived two doors down—John Schmidt—told Derek about the Langford family. He spoke about 90-something Peggy, who lived with several of her children, all of whom were in their 60s. He described the family as strange, yet harmless. But he went on to mention Michael Langford, who as a bearded, unemployed, "Boo Radley character."
It seemed to Derek like the case was solved. The Langford house had the viewpoint needed for the details embedded in the letters, and they were close enough to hear Maria calling the children's names. The Langfords had lived there since the 60s, which is when The Watcher claimed their father began his watch. And Michael's father, Richard Langford, had died 12 years prior.
Unfortunately, when the Broadduses brought their information to Detective Lugo, he said he was aware of the Langfords. He had already interviewed Michael Langford, who, while denying any involvement in the letters, told a narrative which matched the one typed in The Watcher's letters. But while Lugo admitted it was likely Michael was the culprit, a lack of evidence meant that, barring a confession, there was nothing they could do.
Derek warned the cops that, if the letters continued and no arrest was made, they would have a very different crime to take care of.
The Broadduses become anxious for answers
As the Broadduses desperately searched for any scrap of evidence, Derek sunk into obsession. He set up webcams around the house and waited, crouched in the dark, to try and catch someone peering in. Derek and Maria reached out to experts outside of the police, including a private investigator who found nothing after staking out the neighborhood and running background checks on the Langfords. Two former FBI agents were brought onto the case, including one who served as the inspiration for Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs.
The other ex-agent, Robert Lenehan, discerned that the letter writer displayed techniques used by older individuals, including an "M/M Braddus" address and double-spacing. Lenehan suggested the writer was probably a "voracious reader" due to the stylization, and "less macho" in regards to the lack of profanity amidst the words.
While Lenehan didn’t believe The Watcher would follow through on any of their threats, he did note that a few typos and errors implied an amount of erraticism. Additionally, Lenehan described a "seething anger" towards the wealthy. He suggested turning an eye toward any former housekeepers of 657 Boulevard, as they or their kin might be bitter they couldn't afford the home.
The police and the Broadduses continued to focus on the Langfords, however. Teaming up with the authorities, Derek and Maria sent a letter to the Langfords about a plan to tear down 657 Boulevard. They hoped to provoke a response, but got nothing. A second interview with Michael also went nowhere. When the Broadduses hired lawyer Lee Levitt, they met with the Langford family and their attorney to show them the letters and the "proof" they had collected. The Langfords asserted Michael's innocence.
Of course, there were fair reasons to suspect someone else might be The Watcher. For one, it would have been reckless for Michael to keep sending letters after he was pulled in for an interview. Besides that, the private investigator uncovered to child sex offenders within the neighborhood. Most unusually, the Broadduses’ housepainter said that the couple living behind 657 Boulevard had a pair of lawn chairs unusually close to the property. He claims he saw an older man sitting in one, facing the Broaddus house rather than his own.
Unfortunately, the trail was cold by the end of 2014. There was no hard evidence, and no one knew if the letters contained vital clues, or were merely the nonsense of a crazy person. With no other options, Derek had his priest bless the house.
657 Boulevard had been renovated to include a new alarm system. Derek looked into trained German Shepards and searched for military veterans to work in the yard every day. But was this the kind of life they wanted to lead?
The Watcher's words only got more unhinged:
657 Boulevard is turning on me. It is coming after me. I don’t understand why. What spell did you cast on it? It used to be my friend and now it is my enemy. I am in charge of 657 Boulevard. It is not in charge of me. I will fend off its bad things and wait for it to become good again. It will not punish me. I will rise again. I will be patient and wait for this to pass and for you to bring the young blood back to me. 657 Boulevard needs young blood. It needs you. Come back. Let the young blood play again like I once did. Let the young blood sleep in 657 Boulevard. Stop changing it and let it alone.
Just six months after receiving their first letter from The Watcher, the Broadduses decided to sell 657 Boulevard. Since they had renovated so much, they listed it for more than they originally paid. But the beautiful home was stained by a flood of rumors as to why it had been left empty. A partial disclosure was sent out to interested buyers, and bids started to come in well below asking price. Even when the Broadduses lowered the asking price, no potential buyers stuck around for long.
Though the Woodes claim they considered the letter they received to be more unusual than threatening, the Broadduses filed a legal complaint against them in 2015 for failing to disclose it. More than anything, the Broadduses were hoping to come to a quiet settlement. None of their kids knew about The Watcher, and they wanted to keep it that way.
Unfortunately, the Today Show picked up this creepy story a few weeks later. Their tale of terror had gone viral, and now news trucks were camped outside of 657 Boulevard. Hundreds of media requests reached the Broadduses, but they turned down every single one. They fled to a friend's beach house and sat down with their kids to explain the situation. For all the questions their children came back with, Derek and Maria had very few answers.
As the internet exploded with theories and suggestions, fear gripped Westfield. Mayor Andy Skibitksy had to assure the public at a town council meeting that The Watcher had been dormant for a year. He promised that, while the police hadn't made an arrest, their search had been "exhaustive." The neighbors, most of which had never been talked to by the police in regards to this matter, begged to differ.
With new pressure on the Westfield Police Department, veteran detective Barron Chambliss took another look at the case. While he uncovered that Michael Langford had been diagnosed as schizophrenic in his younger years, all of his neighbors assured Chambliss that it presented itself merely as strange acts of kindness. Chambliss's real shocking discovery was that investigators had actually conducted a DNA analysis on one of the envelopes. The results showed that the DNA belonged to a woman.
Chambliss turned his attention to Michael's sister, real-estate agent Abby Langford. Testing off a plastic water bottle showed that she wasn't a DNA match. Shortly after, with no explanation, the prosecutor’s office told Derek and Maria that they had ruled out the Langfords as suspects.
657 Boulevard is tainted with dark rumors
With their investigation reduced to nothing, the Broadduses dove back into their own search. They asked around the block if anyone recognized the handwriting on the envelope. They asked a security firm to look into handwriting matches. Forensic linguist Robert Leonard was brought on to find similarities in any online forums. Nothing turned up any leads.
The Westfield police weren't faring any better. They asked for a DNA sample from Andrea woods and interviewed her 21-year-old son as a suspect. It was difficult to find any leads from canvassing a year after the letters were sent, but the original investigation had missed one vital clue: another family on the Boulevard got a note from The Watcher at the same time as the Broadduses.
As the owners of the house had been there for years, they dismissed the letter just as the Woodses had. But the existence of this additional correspondence only complicated the case.
Chambliss and a partner were parked in a van one night, watching Boulevard through a pair of binoculars when they spotted some suspicious activity. A car paused for an unusual amount of time in front of the Broaddus house. The car belonged to a young woman whose boyfriend lived on the block. This woman told Chambliss that her boyfriend like to play “some really dark video games,” including one where he played as a character called The Watcher.
Chambliss thought the DNA might have belonged to the girlfriend or another helper. The boyfriend agreed to an interview on two separate occasions, but never showed up for either. Since Chambliss didn’t have enough evidence to drag him in, he was forced to drop the case.
As the tale became a bit of an urban legend in Westfield, the neighbors began to suspect the Broadduses had sent the letters to themselves after a bout of buyer's remorse. If they weren't scheming to get out of a sale they realized they couldn't afford, the neighbors imagined Derek was working on an insurance fraud plot. While people rushed to question how they upgraded to an expensive home or how much Maria really valued her children's safety if she was posting pictures of them on social media, the police confirmed that Maria's DNA did not match the sample they retrieved.
As the community turned against a family who had long-planted roots there, the neighbors' biggest concern remained for their property value. Sudden outcasts, Derek wanted to take his family and leave Westfield altogether, but Maria disagreed, refusing to lose even more at the hands of The Watcher. Borrowing money from family, the Broadduses bought a second home in Westfield. But they were stuck with the problem of 657 Boulevard.
The house was put back on the market in 2016, hoping a sale would be more favorable since so many people dismissed their tale of terror. But when potential buyers met with the Broadduses’ lawyers to read The Watcher's letters, they always backed out.
The Broadduses’ real-estate lawyer came up with the idea to sell the house to a developer who would tear down the house and split the lot into two new sellable homes. When the proposal was made public, social media blew up with both sympathy and displeasure. The neighbors banded together to fight the proposal, and on January 2017 the proposal was unanimously rejected by the planning board.
The Broadduses were financially hemorrhaging at this point, which only further fueled rumors of a con. Maria, who had grown up in Westfield, was disgusted by the town's response. "This is my town," she said of Westfield. “I grew up here. I came back, I chose to raise my kids here. You know what we’ve been through. You had the ability, two and a half years into a nightmare, to make it a little better. And you have decided that this house is more important than we are.”
Luckily, the Broadduses got one spot of good news following the rejection of their development proposal. A family with grown children had agreed to rent 657 Boulevard. While the renter said he wasn't concerned about the letters, he did have a clause in the lease that let him out should he receive one.
When Derek when to 657 Boulevard two weeks later to evict a family of squirrels from the roof, the renter passed him an envelope that read "To the vile and spiteful Derek and his wench of a wife Maria."
This letter was filled with more rage than any of the others. “You wonder who The Watcher is? Turn around idiots. Maybe you even spoke to me, one of the so called neighbors who has no idea who The Watcher could be. Or maybe you do know and are too scared to tell anyone. Good move.”
The Watcher cited the media coverage that they found offensive, and mocked Derek's efforts to find the truth. The author seethed as they wrote, "657 Boulevard survived your attempted assault and stood strong with its army of supporters barricading its gates.”
Although the renter was unsettled, he agreed he would stay so long as the Broadduses installed cameras around the house. But the Broadduses themselves couldn't rest quite so easy. This last letter promised revenge.
Maybe a car accident. Maybe a fire. Maybe something as simple as a mild illness that never seems to go away but makes you fell sick day after day after day after day after day. Maybe the mysterious death of a pet. Loved ones suddenly die. Planes and cars and bicycles crash. Bones break.
Who was The Watcher?
Derek took the letter to the police, who said it must have come from within a 300 yard circle. Derek believed it could have only been from one of about ten houses. Still, with so little to go on, there wasn't much they could do.
Today, the Broadduses have climb out from under that constant fear. However, they still face the effects left behind by The Watcher. They continue to rent 657, but the rent doesn't cover the mortgage. Their kids are bullied in school. And their reputation continues to be maligned by rumors.
While most Westfield residents put all thoughts of The Watcher out of mind, it seems that new anonymous letter writers began sending out missives in Westfield. Last Christmas Eve, several families found a strange letter in the mail. Hand-delivered to those who were most vocal in criticizing the Broadduses, the letters accused these families of wrongful speculation. The letters went on to detail recent tales of domestic terrorism and mental illness. The author(s) signed off with “Friends of the Broaddus Family.”
Derek later admitted he was behind these particular letters. But while The Watcher may have gotten what they wanted on a surface level, they tore Westfield apart in the process.
For a first look at the Netflix limited series aiming to capture this reign of terror, check out the trailer for The Watcher below.
Trailer for The Watcher on Netflix
Featured image: Laura Chouette/Unsplash