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Everything The Watcher Doesn't Tell You About The True Story

"The Watcher," a miniseries on Netflix, is rooted in reality. Those familiar with spooky stories may already know the tale of 657 Boulevard in Westfield, New Jersey. Maria and Derek Broaddus purchased a new home for their three children in 2014. What started as a dream come true turned into a nightmare when strange letters, written by an individual claiming to be watching the house and family, started appearing in their mail. 

The story has been adapted into a series by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, the minds behind "American Horror Story" and "Glee." Nora (Naomi Watts) and Dean Brannock (Bobby Cannavale) have found the perfect home in the suburbs for them and their children, Ellie (Isabel Gravitt) and Carter (Luke David Blumm). When a creepy letter shows up, things quickly unravel and nothing is as it seems. 

In 2018, New York Magazine's Reeves Wiedeman spoke with the Broaddus family patriarch, Derek. Originally titled "The Haunting of a Dream House," the article goes through every detail of what happened to the family in 657 Boulevard, as explained by Derek and Maria. While it was the inspiration for the fictionalized Netflix series, it contains a wealth of information that didn't make it into the show. As the only news source the family spoke to about the ordeal, it contains all the information that the Broadduses never shared. 

Let's take a walk through New Jersey as we detail what the Netflix series left out about the Broaddus' story.

The previous owners received a letter just before they moved

"The Watcher" develops a story that shows several previous owners of the home receiving similar letters to the Brannock family. Andrew (Seth Gabel), a talent agent for A-list celebrities, lives in the home with his wife and young son Caleb. While things start off alright, the letters soon send their lives downhill, ultimately ending in tragedy. John Graff, another previous owner, moves to the home with his family and mother to feel safer, only to have that turned on its head when frightening letters start to appear.

However, it seems like those letters have been made up — but it isn't far off from the truth. Before the Broaddus family bought the home, the Woodses had lived there for 23 years. Andrea and John Woods never received any letters of this nature until they were moving out. After Derek and Maria reached out to them, the couple informed them that they had received an "odd" letter in the days before they moved but didn't think much of it and threw it out (via The Cut). That was the only time before the Broaddus family owned the home that someone living there received a letter like that. 

Several people put in offers over the asking price

When the Brannocks are trying to buy the house in the series, they are told there are two other offers. As a result they increase their bid, cashing in anything they can to afford the house. After a letter appears in Episode 1, Nora asks the realtor Karen (Jennifer Coolidge) if she can look at who the other offers were from — thinking maybe someone they outbid is the one writing the letters. 

In Episode 2, Karen tells Nora that there was actually only one other offer. It was below asking and was from an LLC. She suggests it was probably a flipper, but because it was an LLC, she has no way of knowing who it was. The Brannocks are now back at square one, and the plot makes it seem like there was no interest in the house from buyers. However, this doesn't accurately represent how the home was sold to the Broadduses. 

When the Woodses put the house on the market in 2014, there were actually several offers above the asking price, meaning the Broaddus family did outbid someone to win the house of their dreams. While The Cut does not detail who these other bidders were, what their offers were, or if they were ever investigated by police as the hand behind the letters.

The police department did investigate their next door neighbor

The show portrays the police department as fairly apathetic, with the Brannocks having to push for them to run DNA tests on the letters. They suggest that maybe their neighbors could be to blame, but Detective Chamberland (Christopher McDonald) never pursues it. The only person that's ever investigated is Dakota (Henry Hunter Hall), the 19-year-old that runs the security company that installed the cameras at the house. He willingly provides a DNA sample, only to be cleared. 

When the Broaddus family went to the police initially, they took it more seriously. Within a week, Detective Lugo had brought one of their neighbors, Michael Langford, in for questioning. He is parallel to the show's Jasper Winslow (Terry Kinney). There was no direct evidence linking Langford to the incident, with much of the argument riding on the location of their house and the ability to see an easel at 657 Boulevard. The easel was mentioned in a letter, but could not be seen from the main street.

After the DNA analysis determined that the genetic material on the letter is from a biological female, Detective Lugo brought in Michael's sister Abby. She was a real estate agent and there was speculation that she was "upset about missing a commission right next door" (via The Cut). Her DNA was not a match, leaving detectives without a suspect. Investigators even asked Andrea Woods for a DNA sample, but she was not a match.

They hired a former FBI agent in addition to a private investigator

Nora and Dean hire a private investigator to look into the history of the house and their neighbors. Theodora Birch (Noma Dumezweni) is affordable and able to dig up quite a bit of dirt about the house — even if some of it turned out to be fabricated by her. 

The Broadduses did hire a private investigator, who ran background checks and looked into other neighbors. However, all they found was that there were two people on a crime registry within a few blocks. Derek approached a former FBI agent that he knew from a high-school board of trustees they were both on. The family even hired a different former agent to investigate the threats made against them in the letters.

The former agent, Robert Lenehan, noticed several aspects of the letters that were "old-fashioned," from how the letter was addressed to the use of double spaces at the end of each sentence (via The Cut). These findings, combined with the contents of the letters, caused Lenehan to suggest looking into previous housekeepers and their descendants. Ultimately, the former FBI agent didn't think the individual behind the letters would ever act on their statements.  

The family tried to prompt a response from a suspect with their own letter

When police got nowhere interviewing the Langfords, the Broaddus family decided to take matters into their own hands. They hired a private investigator and a former FBI agent to further investigate those around them while a lawyer pursued civil charges against their neighbors.

To try and force a reaction from them, the family sent a letter to the Langfords, informing them they were going to tear the house at 657 Boulevard down (via The Cut). They thought this would anger them and prompt another letter to appear, but it didn't, leaving them with no leads. Michael was also brought in for a second interview by police, but again, they found nothing linking him to the letters.

The Broaddus family lawyer met with the Langfords and their representation to explain the issue regarding the easel and showed them different photographs and the Watcher letters. The meeting didn't go well. The family has continued to maintain Michael's innocence in the matter. 

The family moved in with Maria's parents instead of their new house when renovations were complete

"The Watcher" depicts the family as moving into their new house right away, even though renovations in the kitchen and basement are still in progress. While they end up spending several nights at a motel out of fear for their safety, 657 Boulevard was their main residence. 

The Broaddus family never lived in the home. They maintained a separate residence while the renovations occurred and then opted to live elsewhere due to the letters. They moved in with Maria's parents, who lived in the same area because they had to vacate their old house and didn't feel comfortable moving into their new one. "We weren't going to put our kids in harm's way," Maria shared with The Cut. Though they weren't living in their new home, they still had to pay the mortgage and keep up with maintenance while trying to decide what to do. In an updated article, the author notes that Derek had sent him a mortgage statement, which showed the family had been paying nearly $6,000 per month.

Since so few people knew about the letters at that point, rumors spread as to why the Broadduses didn't move in. People thought Maria and Derek were getting a divorce or that there was legal trouble. After a local news station reported on the letters, they were forced to move to a friend's beach house outside of Westfield because of the attention. 

They tried to keep their children in the dark about the Watcher

The series shows the oldest child, Ellie, reading the first letter from the Watcher to the rest of the family. As such, the children immediately know from the start that there is someone making weird threats and asking strange questions, even if they don't know how the investigation is going. The parents don't share the additional letters with their kids, but Nora and Dean don't hide that they seem to have a stalker — or at least someone obsessed with their house — from their children.

However, Maria and Derek opted to keep their three children in the dark until absolutely necessary. When their story began circulating in the local news, they decided it was time to tell their children why they still hadn't moved into the new house. Their kids were young, as all three were under 11 years old. Of course, they had questions, but their parents couldn't offer complete answers. They wanted to know who was watching them and why they were angry with them, but Maria and Derek weren't able to say anything because they didn't know themselves. 

The family used an LLC to buy a second house two years later

After living with their parents and in a friend's beach house, the Broaddus family was ready to finally have a home of their own again. However, the media circus that ensued after their story went public, which included news vans in front of 657 Boulevard and someone that even set up a lawn chair to watch the house on their own, made them want to keep the location private. 

"The Watcher" shows that the realtor Karen and her boss would use an LLC to buy up homes and flip them. The Broadduses used an LLC to buy their next home, which allowed their identity as the owners to remain a secret. They purchased the home two years after buying 657 Boulevard. Maria and Derek had to borrow money from their family to buy a second home because they hadn't sold their first. 

Though the news outlets didn't know where their new house was, they still lived in Westfield, which came with stress and anxiety. Staying in the town was Maria's idea — Derek wanted to leave. After already uprooting the kids to move to Westfield, she didn't want them to go through that again. "This person took so much from us," Mariah told The Cut. "I wouldn't let them take more."

It took years to sell the house

The Broaddus family first put the house on the market about six months after they received the first letter. While they listed it for higher than they paid because of the renovations, there weren't any bites. The couple did disclose the letters, offering to show them in their entirety to the accepted offer. Unfortunately, the rumors surrounding the home impacted their ability to sell, with the only offers coming in at that time significantly below the asking price (via The Cut). 

The Zillow page for the property shows the troubled history of trying to sell the home. The price dropped several times in 2015 before the house was removed from the market, only to be put up for sale again in 2017. The Cut's article states they put the home back on the market in 2016 as well. 

Individuals that were interested in purchasing the home usually backed out after reading the letters. After several separate attempts to sell the home — always listed at a lower price — a family purchased it in 2019 for $959,000. This is a significant loss for the Broadduses, considering they purchased the home for $1.3 million and then poured money into renovations. The updated article notes that the family sent along a photo of the Watcher's handwriting, just in case the new owners needed it. "So far, they haven't," Wiedeman writes. 

They tried to use open house sign-in sheets to find the Watcher

When Maria and Derek put the house up for sale again in 2016, they held open houses. The article says they were well attended, but the family had ulterior motives in welcoming strangers into their home. They would compare the handwriting on the sign-in sheets to the Watcher letters, hoping they could find a match. They never did. 

This wasn't the only time they tried to find a match for the handwriting. At one point, the couple took a picture of one of the envelopes around the block, hoping one of their neighbors would recognize the handwriting. This also yielded no results. 

In further attempts to identify the handwriting, they hired the security firm Kroll to try and make a match, but they also never found one. The family even hired forensic linguist Robert Leonard, who compared the text of the letters to local online forums to try and find a user with similar phrasing or word choice. Ultimately, all of their efforts were in vain because none of these attempts gave them any new information or led them to a suspect.

They tried to have the property broken into two plots

When they couldn't sell the house initially, the Broadduses looked into other ways to offboard it. Their real-estate lawyer suggested getting permission to split the property into two lots and sell to a developer. It was estimated they could get one million dollars between the two plots. However, there was a minimum size for them. Splitting the property in two would give a 67.4 foot plot and a 67.6 foot plot (via The Cut). The minimum was 70 feet. This meant the family had to go to the Westfield Planning Board and request an exemption.

When members of the community heard about their proposal, there was a significant discussion online. It was a mixed bag, with many saying the family knew what they were getting into with buying a house, while others did feel some sympathy for their plights. A friend that tried to defend the Broadduses online was accused of being the Watcher. 

Their request caused a four-hour-long hearing as residents expressed their distaste for the proposal. They were worried that new front-facing garages would ruin the neighborhood's aesthetic or that the trees would be removed. After the discourse between the residents and the Broadduses' lawyers, the proposal was rejected. The couple tried to appeal the decision, but a judge denied it. However, in 2018, the same board approved the split of another property close to 657 Boulevard. Their plots were even smaller than what the Broaddus family proposed.

They began to rent out the home when it wouldn't sell

With several failed attempts at selling the home and the planning board refusing their plot proposal, the Broadduses decided to rent it out. A family was interested in renting, even after they knew what had happened. There was a stipulation in their lease that would let them move out if another letter turned up. The rent they charged did not cover the cost of the mortgage. 

A new letter did turn up. When Derek went to the home to handle a squirrel infestation in the roof, the new renter showed them a new message that had appeared (via The Cut). However, the new letter was different from what the family had seen before. This time, the Watcher was angry and spiteful. The writer was upset at their proposal to tear down the house and split the land and mentioned walking by the news vans that had been outside.

The new tenant wasn't scared off but did ask for additional security precautions, such as cameras. Maria and Derek took the new letter to investigators, but nothing came of it — putting them right back where they started when the first letter arrived. 

The father made a confession

657 Boulevard wasn't the only house to receive a letter. On Christmas Eve in 2017, several houses on the street received an eerily familiar letter. It hadn't been postmarked, meaning they were hand-delivered to each house. The new letters accused the recipients of spreading inaccurate stories and rumors about the Broaddus family and were signed "Friends of the Broaddus Family." Coincidentally (or maybe not), the families that received the letters were those that had been particularly critical of the family online.

The author of The Cut's article thought the text of the letter sounded family. When interviewing Derek for the 2018 article, he asked the patriarch if he had written those letters. He admitted to it, acknowledging that no one, not even his wife, knew he had done it. He claimed they were the only ones he had written and that he was not proud of his decision. "The Watcher" alludes to this when Nora begins to suspect her husband is the one writing the letters, trying to get them out of a home they couldn't really afford without cashing in every last penny.