“The Watcher”: The real-life stalking case behind Netflix’s seriocomic mystery thriller

As great as Jennifer Coolidge is, the real 2014 case about the letter-writer who stalked a family wasn't campy fun

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published October 18, 2022 4:43PM (EDT)

"The Watcher" (Eric Liebowitz/Netflix )
"The Watcher" (Eric Liebowitz/Netflix )

An ominous letter writer who stalks a wealthy family in their suburban New Jersey home is the latest true crime case to receive the Netflix treatment in Ryan Murphy's limited series "The Watcher."

For the couple, buying this New Jersey home had "fulfilled a dream."

Despite being based on true events, "The Watcher" shouldn't be considered true crime. Instead, it's a highly stylized and fictionalized seriocomic mystery thriller that employs a slew of heavy hitters, including Jennifer Coolidge, Mia Farrow, Margo Martindale and Richard Kind. Let's just say Ryan Murphy took storytelling license, going far beyond the experiences of real-life couple Maria and Derek Broaddus, whose fictionalized counterparts Nora and Dean Brannock are portrayed by Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale.

In real life, upon purchasing their new 657 Boulevard residence in Westfield, New Jersey, the Broadduses and their children received a slew of tormenting letters written and signed by an anonymous stalker named The Watcher. The bone-chilling case was first made famous in a November 2018 piece published by New York Magazine. But despite the publicity, the case remains unsolved and The Watcher's identity remaining a mystery.

Here's everything you need to know about The Watcher case that inspired the series:

The first letter

Naomi Watts as Nora Brannock, Bobby Cannavale as Dean Brannock in "The Watcher" (Netflix)In 2014, the Broadduses bought their 657 Boulevard residence, which was priced at a whopping $1.3 million and had six bedrooms. For the couple, buying this New Jersey home had "fulfilled a dream." Maria, who was raised in Westfield, now lived just a few blocks from her childhood home while Derek, who worked his way up at an insurance company to become a senior vice-president, now had enough money to make the purchase. The house was bought just after Derek celebrated his 40th birthday, and together, the family planned on renovating it before settling in.

The Broadduses received their first letter from The Watcher in June 2014, during the renovations on their house. The letter, addressed simply to "The New Owner," was inviting at first before it grew threatening. 

It read:

Dearest new neighbor at 657 Boulevard,

Allow me to welcome you to the neighborhood…

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 Watcher also identified the Broadduses' Honda minivan and the workers renovating their home. They continued, "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 stalker also noted that the Broadduses had three children, who were 5, 8 and 10 years of age at the time. They wrote:

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.

The letter didn't stop there and only became more unsettling. The Watcher wrote, "Who am I? 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.

"Welcome my friends, welcome. Let the party begin," The Watcher concluded, adding their signature in a typed cursive font. The envelope that the letter had arrived in also had no return address. 

"The letters could be read closely for possible clues, or dismissed as the nonsensical ramblings of a sociopath."

Following the incident, the Broadduses contacted the previous homeowners, John and Andrea Woods, to ask if they knew who The Watcher was and why they had written. The Woodses said they had received a similar "odd" note from The Watcher, but they had thrown it out without much thought.

The letters get more personal

Mia Farrow as Pearl Winslow, Terry Kinney as Jasper Winslow, Jeffery Brooks as Officer, Duke Lafoon as Neighbor, Naomi Watts as Nora Brannock, Bobby Cannavale as Dean Brannock in "The Watcher" (Eric Liebowitz/Netflix)In the same vein as the Woodses, the Broadduses thought nothing of the letter until they received four more letters from The Watcher.

These new letters included more intimate details about the family, including the couple's personal names (albeit misspelled), their children's ages (organized by birth order) and their children's nicknames. "I am pleased to know your names now and the name of the young blood you have brought to me," The Watcher wrote. "You certainly say their names often." 

The letter continued:

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.

A separate letter from The Watcher read:

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.

The Broadduses eventually notified law enforcement, who found that the letters had been processed in Kearny, the U.S. Postal Service's distribution center in northern New Jersey. Despite the investigation along with a separate investigation led by the Broadduses and some possible leads, the case had stalled by the end of 2014. Per the article, The Watcher "had left no digital trail, no fingerprints, and no way to place someone at the scene of a crime that could have been hatched from pretty much any mailbox in northern New Jersey. The letters could be read closely for possible clues, or dismissed as the nonsensical ramblings of a sociopath." 

Scott Kraus, who helped investigate the case for the Union County Prosecutor's Office, said the entire investigation was "like trying to find a needle in a haystack." Following the closure of the case, Derek showed the letters to his priest, who agreed to bless the house the Broadduses never moved into. 

The Watcher's identity still remains a mystery today.

The aftermath

The Broadduses never moved into the 657 Boulevard residence. Instead, they moved in with Maria's parents while continuing to pay the mortgage and property taxes on their would-have-been home. 

Six months after receiving the threatening letters, the Broadduses decided to sell their 657 Boulevard house but they weren't successful until 2019, when they finally sold the house for $400,000. 

Despite the fabricated nature of "The Watcher" series, it did have the blessing of the Broadduses, but with a few caveats. According to Mashable, the family requested two big changes to the Netflix production. The first was not to use the family's real names, and the second was that the show's family would not look like the real Broaddus family. In the show, the Brannocks have two older children rather than three children in elementary school.

On a more surprising note, the real Broadduses also suggested that they wouldn't mind if the show's version of their house was burnt to ashes . . . for storytelling effect of course.

It's not hard to see why that specific suggestion was made in the first place.

Netflix's "The Watcher" is currently available for streaming. Watch a trailer below, via YouTube:

By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon, covering Culture and Food. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.


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