The gruesome true story behind Netflix hit The Watcher

‘The Watcher’ has dominated Netflix’s top ten since the series was released just over a week ago. But what not all viewers know is that the thriller, starring Naomi Watts (54) and Jennifer Coolidge (61) in the lead roles, is inspired by a true story.

Note: This article contains spoilers about The Watcher.

the watcher, Created by noted director Ryan Murphy, it centers on the Brannock family and their newly acquired dream home in a New Jersey suburb called Westfield. Dean and Nora put all their savings into the house only to find out shortly afterwards that the neighborhoods are anything but hospitable. For example, the eccentric Pearl and her brother Jasper, who sneak into the Brannocks’ house shortly after the move to hide in the food elevator.

Then there’s Karen, the real estate agent and an old acquaintance of Nora’s, who makes them feel like they don’t really belong. Finally, we have the curious neighbors Mitch and Mo. The icy welcome that Dean and Nora receive quickly turns into a veritable hell when ominous letters arrive from someone calling themselves The Watcher. It terrorizes the Brannocks to their breaking point, as the neighborhood’s sinister secrets come out step by step.

But how does the story from the series match the real Watcher house in New Jersey? Because yes, that exists.

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What’s really on The Watcher?

The story is based on Derek and Maria Broaddus. Three days after buying their home in Westfield in June 2014, they receive the first letter from someone identifying themselves as The Watcher. The letter reads, “Dearest new neighbor at 657 Boulevard, allow me to welcome you to the neighborhood.”

But that friendly tone soon changed. The anonymous writer says the house “has been the subject of the family for decades and as it approaches its 110th birthday, he or she has been put in charge to look.” So similar to the story in the series.

The Watcher also asks in the letter whether the new family is aware of the history of the house. “Do you know what lies within the walls of 657 Boulevard? Why are you here? I’ll find out.’

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The letters

The Broaddus family is scolded in the letters for renovating the house and the anonymous writer threatens to kidnap the three children. Shortly afterwards, they learn that the selling party, John and Andrea Woods, also received a strange letter from someone who calls himself The Watcher. The couple thinks it’s a joke: in the 23 years they’ve lived in the house in Westfield, they’ve never experienced anything like it.

Contrary to the storyline in the series, the police do take the Broaddus family seriously. According to Time Magazine searched the house and found nothing in the walls – the writer suggests in the second letter that there is something in the walls. The police also advise the family not to say anything to their new neighbors about the letter, because they are suspects.

During the renovation work, the family does not yet live in the house. With the arrival of the second letter, they become increasingly concerned: how could this anonymous person know so much information about their family? The anonymous author even knows in which order the children were born. At that moment, The Watcher wants nothing more than to see the family move and wonders if the kids are going to play in the basement.

‘Or are they too scared to go down alone? I would be very scared if I were them. It is far away from the rest of the house. If you were upstairs you’d never hear them screaming.’ The Watcher also writes to visit several times a day, because 657 Boulevard is an ‘obsession’. The couple then decides not to take their children to the house anymore.

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Are they moving to their home?

The family decides not to move into the new house. Six months after purchasing the $1.4 million home, they’re putting it back on the market, but finding a buyer is hard: Derek tells every potential buyer about the scary letters they receive. He does that because he can’t live with the thought of not telling. Derek says he doesn’t want to do the same to others, he tells New York Magazine.

In 2016 they make another attempt to sell the house, but it fails. Buyers find the letters a no go. The family’s real estate agent’s proposal to tear down and rebuild the house is rejected. The neighborhood fears that their homes will lose value as a result and that the aesthetics will ruin the neighborhood.

Months later, the family rents out their home, and it isn’t long before The Watcher sends another letter. ‘You wonder who The Watcher is? Turn around, idiots. You may have even spoken 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 tone of the letter is more aggressive than before. The writer is not happy with the media attention for the neighborhood and threatens Derek and Maria. “Maybe a car accident. Maybe a fire. Maybe something as simple as a mild illness that never seems to go away, but makes you sick day after day after day after day after day.”

Surprisingly, the tenant decides not to leave the house. Instead, the Broaddus family has additional security cameras installed. In 2019, they sell the house they never lived in for $959,000, making a $400,000 loss. The new owner has not yet received a letter from The Watcher.

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Derek also sends letters himself

As in the series, Derek sends ‘Dean’ in the watcher, even anonymous letters with ‘Friends of the Broaddus Family’ as the sender. However, he sends it to neighbors who make fun of him on Facebook, another difference with the series. Moreover, that is almost three years after the writer contacted the family. He hopes the letters will help clear his family’s name, but Derek ends up feeling worse.

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Who is The Watcher?

To this day it is still not clear who is behind the rest of the terrifying letters. The police have suspected from the start that it is someone from the area. At first they think of neighbor Michael Langford, but there is no evidence and he is never arrested.

When DNA tests later reveal that it is a woman, the police suspect his sister Abby Langford, a real estate agent, and the previous owner Andrea Woods. There appears to be no match. They even take a closer look at Maria’s DNA, but she too is acquitted. A gamer who likes and plays dark games under the name The Watcher – in the Netflix series that is 19-year-old Dakota – is also a suspect for a while.

The neighborhood thinks that the Broaddus family is behind the letters themselves, because they can’t actually afford the house and are trying to get out of the sale, according to the neighborhoods. There are even rumors that the family hopes to land a movie deal this way – something that doesn’t seem right at first, as the family turns down several deals. But years later, they still sell the rights to their story. So to Netflix.

In addition, they have specific requirements to guarantee their safety: the protagonists may not resemble them and their real names may not be used. In reality, the Broaddusjes also have three children, who are also younger than the two Brannock kids in the series.

The couple has announced that they will not watch the series and they say they will not get rich either. They wouldn’t even be able to compensate for the loss of their home.

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