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“The Watcher”: The real-life follow-up case behind Netflix's serious and mysterious thriller

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A sinister letter writer who follows a wealthy family in their New Jersey suburb is the latest true crime case to receive the Netflix treatment in Ryan Murphy’s limited series “The Watcher.”

It was “a dream come true” for the couple to buy this New Jersey home.

Although based on true events, “The Watch” should not be considered a true crime. Instead, it’s a highly stylized and fictionalized serious-comic mystery thriller that uses a host of heavy hitters including Jennifer Coolidge, Mia Farrow, Margo Martindale, and Richard Kind. Let’s say Ryan Murphy gets a storytelling license, going far beyond the experiences of the real-life couple Maria and Derek Broaddus, whose fictional counterparts Nora and Dean Brannock are played by Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale.

In real life, the Broadduses and their children, who bought their new residence at 657 Avenue in Westfield, New Jersey, received a series of torture letters written and signed by an anonymous follower named The Watcher. The bone-chilling case first became famous in a November 2018 article published by New York Magazine. Despite being made public, however, the case was not resolved and the Watcher’s identity remained a mystery.

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

first letter

Naomi Watts as Nora Brannock, Bobby Cannavale as Dean Brannock in “The Watcher” (Netflix)In 2014, the Broadduses purchased 657 Boulevard residences, the six-bedroom residence that cost $1.3 million. It was “a dream come true” for the couple to buy this New Jersey home. Growing up in Westfield, Maria now lived just a few blocks from her childhood home, while Derek, who had worked for an insurance company to become a senior vice president, now had enough money to buy it. The house was purchased just after Derek celebrated his 40th birthday, and together the family planned to renovate the house before settling down.

The Broadduses received their first letters from The Watcher in June 2014 during their home renovation. Written simply to the “New Owner,” the letter was inviting at first before it became threatening.

Reader:

Dear new neighbor at 657 Avenue,

Let me invite you to the neighborhood…

657 Avenue has been the subject of my family for decades, and as he approaches his 110th birthday, I have been tasked with watching and waiting for his second coming. My grandfather watched the house in the 1920s and my father watched in the 1960s. Now is my time. Do you know the history of the house? Do you know what lies within the walls of 657 Avenue? Why are you here? I will learn.

The spotter also spotted the Broadduses’ Honda minivan and the workers renovating their homes. They continued. recorded. They wrote:

Need to fill the house with the young blood I want? Better for me. Was your old home too small for the growing family? Or was it greed to bring your children to me? Once I know their names, I’ll call them and draw them too. [sic] I.

The letter did not stop there, and it became even more disturbing. The Lookout said, “Who am I? There are hundreds and hundreds of cars passing through 657 Avenue every day. Maybe I’m in one. Look at all the windows you can see from 657 Avenue. Maybe I’m in one. Notice. Any of the many people who pass through the many windows on 657 Avenue every day. .Maybe I’m one of them.

“Welcome, my friends, welcome. Let the party begin,” the Watcher finished, adding their cursive signatures. The envelope in which the letter came did not have a return address.

“Letters can be read up close for possible clues or dismissed as the bullshit bullshit of a sociopath.”

After the incident, Broaddus contacted previous hosts John and Andrea Woods to ask if they knew who The Watcher was and why they were writing it. Woodses said they got a similar “weird” note from The Watcher, but discarded it without much thought.

Letters become 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)Like the Woodses, the Broaddus thought nothing of the letter until they received four more letters from The Watcher.

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

The letter continued:

657 Boulevard is looking forward to your move. It’s been years since young blood reigned in the hallways of the house. Haven’t found all the secrets it holds yet? Will young blood play in the basement? Or are they too afraid to go there alone? I would like [be] I’d be terrified if it were me. Too far from the rest of the house. If you were upstairs, you would never have heard their screams.

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 come in. It’ll help me know who’s in which bedroom. Then I can plan better.

All the windows and doors on 657 Avenue allow me to watch and follow you as you move through the house. Who am I? I am the Lookout, and for the past twenty years I have controlled 657 Avenue. The Woods family handed it over to you. It was time to move on and they kindly sold it when I asked them.

I pass by it many times a day. 657 Boulevard is my job, my life, my obsession. And now you are the Braddus family. Welcome to the product of your greed! Greed is what brought the past three families to 657 Avenue, and now it has brought you to me.

I wish you happy moves throughout the day. You know I will watch.

A separate letter from The Watcher read:

657 Avenue turns its back on me. Coming after me. I don’t understand why. What spell did you cast on it? Used to be my friend, now my enemy. I’m in charge of 657 Avenue. Not responsible for me. I will fend off his bad things and wait for him to be good again. He will not punish me. I will rise again. I will be patient and wait for this to pass and you to bring the young blood back to me. 657 Boulevard needs young blood. He needs you. Come back. Let the young blood play again as I once did. Let young blood sleep on 657 Avenue. Stop changing and leave it alone.

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 a separate investigation by the Broadduses and an investigation with some possible clues, the case was stalled at the end of 2014. According to the article, The Watcher “left no digital traces, left no fingerprints, and there was no way to locate someone else. A crime scene that could have come out of just about any mailbox in northern New Jersey. The letters can be read up close for possible clues or a sociopath’s can be dismissed as nonsense bullshit.”

Scott Kraus, who helped investigate the case for the Union County Attorney’s Office, said the entire investigation was “like trying to find a needle in a haystack.” After the case was closed, Derek showed the letters to his priest, who agreed to bless the house the Broadduses never entered.

The Watcher’s identity remains a mystery today.

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The Broadduses never moved into the 657 Boulevard residence. Instead, they moved in with Maria’s parents and continued to pay their home mortgage and property taxes.

Six months after receiving the threatening letters, the Broadduses decided to sell their 657 Avenue home, but they didn’t succeed until 2019, when they finally sold the home for $400,000.

Despite the made-up nature of the series “The Watcher”, it had the Broadduses blessing, but with a few caveats. According to Mashable, the family has requested two major changes to the Netflix production. The first was not to use the real names of the family, and the second was that the family of the series did not resemble the real Broaddus family. In the show, Brannocks has two older kids in elementary school instead of three.

On a more surprising note, the actual Broaddus also suggested that they wouldn’t mind if their home burned down on the show’s version. . . for the storytelling effect of course.

It’s not hard to see why this specific recommendation was made in the first place.

Netflix’s “The Watcher” is currently available for streaming. Watch a trailer below on YouTube:

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