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The Terrifying True Story Behind Ryan Murphy's The Watcher On Netflix

The Netflix limited series "The Watcher," starring Naomi Watts, will air on Oct. 13, but it has been in the works for a long time. 

This project has been percolating for several years, as Netflix won a six-way bidding war back in late 2018 to adapt this story for television. The story was co-created by Ryan Murphy ("American Horror Story") and features Watts alongside Ian Brennan as Maria and Derek Brannock. The couple moves into their dream home, but they start receiving ominous letters. 

"This house is my obsession — and now you are too," a disguised voice says in the trailer, which somehow turns Olivia Newton John's sweet ballad about love and longing from "Grease," "Hopelessly Devoted to You," into something extremely creepy. Indeed, the plot of "The Watcher" comes by its horrific appeal honestly. 

Even creepier? As the trailer says, it's based on a shocking true story. When Netflix bought the rights, the package included an article about the situation by Reeves Wiedeman in The Cut detailing actual events, plus the rights of the original homeowners. And it's a truly terrifying tale.

The Watcher scared a family so much they never moved into their dream home

The events in question took place at 657 Boulevard in Westfield, New Jersey. Derek and Maria Broaddus and their three children started renovations on their new suburban dream home in June 2014, as Wiedeman chronicled. Three days after closing, they started receiving missives in the mail that indicated a "Watcher" that had kept an eye on the house for generations was also watching their family. 

The first letter outlined details of their move and guessed that they had three children, exulting in the idea of the house having "young blood." The Broaduses called the police immediately and also asked John and Andrea Woods, the original owners, if they knew anything about the Watcher. The Woods had received one message just before moving out, but that was it — and they'd lived in the home for 23 years. All their neighbors became suspects.

The harassment continued. A sign in the backyard was ripped out overnight, and the Watcher appeared to continue his (or her) surveillance while hinting that something was in the walls. The letters referred to the children by name, decried changes to the home, and turned the Broadduses into nervous wrecks as they eyed neighbors like the Langfords and wondered if the Watcher planned to actually hurt them. But by the end of the year, police had no clues. Yet the Watcher continued sending more and more unhinged messages. The Broadduses decided not to move in, and they tried to sell the home instead.

The story upended a community and has reached urban-legend status

The Broadduses also filed a legal complaint against the Woods for not disclosing the single letter they received (via Today). And eventually the story got out and went viral, with people around the internet theorizing what really happened while people in the neighborhood started feeling on edge. The Cut reports that news trucks camped out at the house and the Broadduses received more than 300 media requests.

The family continued its personal investigation, and police continued to look into other people based on DNA evidence in the letters and other developments. However, attention turned to the family, with some wondering if the Broadduses themselves could be the instigators and putting the family under further scrutiny. When the Broadduses tried to unload the home (several times), it became a community issue. 

"The Watcher had expressed a desire to protect the Boulevard from change, but instead it had been torn apart," The Cut story concluded.

A renter was found around 2017, and the letters began again after a two-and-a-half-year absence, revitalizing the investigation with no good solution. In 2019, five years after the ordeal began for the Broaddus family, they were able to sell the 1905 Dutch Colonial home to Andrew and Alison Carr — at a $400,000 loss (via Patch). Today, the story survives as New Jersey's creepiest urban legend, and next month, you'll be able to experience it for yourself, Ryan-Murphy-style.