Ryan Murphy’s newest Netflix series might take its creative license as gospel and pierce its story full of plot holes, but that doesn’t make the real-estate thriller The Watcher any less absorbing a binge. Tack on the little nugget that it’s based (loosely) on a true story, and well? You’ve got yourself a crowd of true-crime junkies eager to know more. Viewers of The Watcher will undoubtedly have one pressing question after the credits play: If that creepy old house was real, what the heck happened to it?
The limited series is based on a feature reported in The Cut, telling the true story of a family moving into a beautiful home in Westfield, New Jersey, in 2014, only to be harassed by an anonymous letter-writer called The Watcher. The so-called Watcher claimed to be in charge of watching the house and welcoming its “young blood,” a task that apparently has preceded The Watcher for generations. The series inserts broad fictionalizations into the nightmare the real-life Broaddus family experienced, but the house itself is real. (Take a look on Google Maps!) Here’s what to know about the truth behind the tale.
Where is the Watcher House located?
The now infamous Watcher House is indeed positioned at 657 Boulevard in Westfield, a neighborhood in New Jersey of around 31,082 people and a median household income of $158,323, according to the latest census data.
Why is the Watcher House scary?
Once they purchased 657 Boulevard, Derek and Maria Broaddus almost immediately began renovations on the old house. Luckily, they hadn’t yet moved into their new home in Westfield. Shortly after the papers were signed, Derek received the first of several letters from an anonymous admirer of 657 Boulevard, known only as “The Watcher.” The first letter read, in part:
“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.”
Later, the letters grew increasing ominous in their warnings:
“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.”
As more letters rolled in, the Broadduses were driven nearly mad by police investigations, accusations of forgery, and attempts at finding a buyer for the house. (In an act of transparency, they insisted potential buyers read The Watcher’s letters, which sunk most sales.)
Unlike the Brannock family in The Watcher series, the Broaddus family never ultimately moved into 657 Boulevard, so fearful were they of harm to their children. No one was ever hurt, but The Watcher was never caught.
How much did the Watcher House cost?
The colonial-style house cost $1,355,657 for 3,920 square feet in 2014.
Why didn’t the Watcher House sell right away?
As police investigations began on the couple’s Westfield neighbors, it got harder for the Broadduses to keep the story to themselves, and the house developed a spooky reputation. Media coverage of the Watcher letters didn’t help, and some locals even accused the Broaddus family of cooking up The Watcher in order to get out of a mortgage they could no longer afford. (That theory has been broadly debunked.) Once the family decided to sell, they were forced to lower their price, and even to rent the space out for a time. While some potential buyers thought they’d stumbled on the deal of a lifetime, most backed away from purchasing the house after learning of The Watcher’s letters. Here’s a taste:
“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.”
Yikes! The couple then tried to get permission to pull down the house and break the property in two building lots. They could not get the move approved by the local council.
Who bought the Watcher House?
Finally, in 2019, the Watcher House was sold to an anonymous buyer for $959,000. The Broaddus family took a loss of $400,000. (But they also no longer have to deal with The Watcher, which is truly priceless.) No blood cults—or John Graffs—were discovered in the process.
Aimée Lutkin is the weekend editor at ELLE.com. Her writing has appeared in Jezebel, Glamour, Marie Claire and more. Her first book, The Lonely Hunter, will be released by Dial Press in February 2022.
Lauren Puckett-Pope is an associate editor at ELLE, where she covers film, TV, books and fashion.