Listen to Tel Me More on:
- The Cut – The Watcher A family bought their dream house. But according to the creepy letters they started to get, they weren’t the only ones interested in it.
- The Cut – Taking Another Look at The Watcher What we know about the case four years later.
- Vulture – Netflix Will Adapt New York’s New Jersey Dream House Stalker Story
- Not Another True Crime Podcast – Is the Westfield Watcher Really Watching?
- The Watcher on Netflix
- A true crime story (that’s not really even a crime?!?)
- Recently turned into a Netflix limited series
- We’re going to compare the show to real life and sort of sort out what is fact and fiction
Before we jump in… here’s a spoiler warning… we’re going to discuss the Westfield Watcher case and in doing so, we’ll likely spoil the ending of the show. Spoiler alert – both the real life case and in the show are unsolved.
How did the story begin to get attention?
Well, as most things do these days… true crime podcasts… and then an article in The Cut.
In November 2018, New York Magazine published “The Watcher,” which chronicled a New Jersey family being stalked by a mysterious, threatening letter writer. The article, by Reeves Wiedeman, is the basis of a new Netflix limited series created by Ryan Murphy.
The show is out now… released on October 13, 2022.
What is the Westfield Watcher Story?
Not long after Derek and Maria Braodus settled on a 6-bedroom house at 657 Boulevard in Westfield, NJ, they began receiving strange letters…
The first letter read:
Dearest new neighbor at 657 Boulevard,
Allow me to welcome you to the neighborhood. How did you end up here? Did it call you with its force within?
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.
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.
You have children. I have seen them. So far I think there are three that I have counted. Are there more on the way?
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 me.
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.
So, what would you do if you received a letter like that???
Derek called the police immediately. They also contacted the previous owners, John and Andrea Woods to see if they had experienced anything similar.
Do you think they had?
They shared that they had received one similar letter just before moving out but they assumed it was a prank and so they threw it away. They had lived in the house for 23 years prior to the Broaduses purchasing it.
Two weeks later, they receive another letter, and this time The Watcher address them by name…
Mr. and Mrs. Braddus, Welcome again to your new home at 657 Boulevard. The workers have been busy and I have been watching you unload carfuls of your personal belongings. The dumpster is a nice touch. Have they found what is in the walls yet? In time they will.
I am pleased to know your names now and the name of the young blood you have brought to me. You certainly say their names often. I saw one using an easel. Is she the artist in the family?
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.
Quick note… the easel was almost entirely blocked by bushes. It would be hard to see unless someone was behind the house or next door.
After this second letter, they stopped bringing the kids to the house and started reconsidering moving in at all.
Several weeks later, they receive a third letter…
Where have you gone to? 657 Boulevard is missing you.
Are you one of those Hoboken transplants who are ruining Westfield?
The house is crying from all of the pain it is going through. You have changed it and made it so fancy. You are stealing it’s history. It cries for the past and what used to be in the time when I roamed it’s halls. The 1960s were a good time for 657 Boulevard when I ran from room to room imagining the life with the rich occupants there. The house was full of life and young blood. Then it got old and so did my father. But he kept watching until the day he died. And now I watch and wait for the day when the young blood will be mine again.
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.
Six months after the letters began arriving, they decided to sell the house. They were unable to sell it at a price they could financially handle so they began renting it and as of November 12, 2018, when The Cut article came out, it was still a rental property…
Update: the house was sold in 2019 for $959,000 — a loss of roughly $400,000 even before factoring in the agents’ cut (the same agent who sold the house to the Broadduses in 2014 worked with the couple who bought it from them) as well as the $100,000 in property taxes the Broadduses had paid and the bills for utilities, home insurance, the contractors who had begun making renovations to the home, and the lawyers and private investigators they had hired to find a solution to the mystery.
We’re going to run down some of the things that happened in the show and look at if they really happened or not…
- How much do you think they bought the house for?
- Show – 3.3 million present day
- Real life – 1.3 million in 2014
- Did they really spend more than they could afford?
- Show – yes, they liquidated assets and retirement-y stuff in order to pay for the house.
- Real life – It doesn’t seem like it.
- Were there shady suspicious neighbors?
- Show – In the show, we meet the strange Winslow siblings who live across the street from the Brannocks as well as Maureen and Mitch who live next door and face their lounge chairs towards the Brannocks’ house.
- Real life – So, the lounge chair thing was oddly true. Also, the Winslows seem to be modeled after the Langfords. Instead of siblings, though, it was a 90-year-old woman and her adult children in their 60s. One of the children seemed to have similar behaviors to Jasper Winslow and he was the prime suspect for a while.
- Had any previous owners experienced any suspicious activity?
- In the show – They met with the previous owner who told a wild story about how bad the stalking got, possible satanic cult activity, and all of it leading to his wife’s suicide… however we later found out he was an actor and possibly also crazy.
- In real life – The previous owners said they received one similar letter just before moving out and assumed it was a prank.
- Was there really an undisclosed murder in the house?
- Show – In the show, there was a murder in the house in the 1990s that was undisclosed. The father killed his wife and teenage son and daughter then disappeared.
- Real life – No. The John List family murder did take place in Westfield but not in this house. That happened in the 1970s, not the 1990s.
- Was the “Ode to a House” school project a real thing?
- Show – In the show, there is an HS creative writing teacher who has students write letters to old houses in town and leaves them in the mailboxes. There’s a Facebook group where people post the letters they got.
- Real life – For 33 years, Robert Kaplow taught English at Summit High School, two towns over from Westfield. Over the years, Kaplow had told a story to his students that now struck many of them as curious. The story was about a particular house in Westfield and Kaplow’s obsession with it. “He had this idea to start writing letters to the house — not the occupants but to the house,” a former student told me. Another student recalled Kaplow saying that he had sent more than 50 letters to the house in question. There were other odd connections. Kaplow retired in 2014 and finished his final semester of teaching that June — the same month The Watcher started sending letters to the Broadduses. And while Robert had moved out of Westfield, his brother, Richard, was still there: He lived half a block from 657 Boulevard and worked as an attorney in town
- Were there really tunnels under the house?
- Show – In the show, there was a maze of tunnels under the house that connected it to some neighboring homes. There appeared to be someone living in the tunnels. The tunnel gave access to the basement.
- Real Life – I’ve found nothing to indicate that there are any tunnels under the real house, though hidden passageways in the basements of homes in the northeast are not terribly uncommon from the Underground Railroad times.
What are some of the major theories?
- It’s all a hoax by the owners to get out of a house they couldn’t afford (or possibly for insurance money?)
- This seems to be what a lot of locals think
- But the Broaduses spent a lot of money on security, and experts so it doesn’t really seem likely. Ultimately it lowered the value of the house so it seems counterintuitive.
- Also, their DNA was tested and it did not match what was on the envelope (but some still speculate that they had one of their daughters seal the envelopes and as a minor, her DNA can’t be taken.
- Also, this seems odd because they lived in the town prior (only a few blocks away) and Maria had grown up there. They also continued to live in the town and the next house they bought was in the town.
- the money from Netflix didn’t even cover their losses on the house.
- It was the realtor trying to buy the house at a lower than it sold for, get a commission, and continue the cycle.
- It was the creepy neighbors, upset that the Boardus were renovating the house.
- This one seems the most likely to me still – Michael Langford. Lived there since the 60s, dad died 12 years earlier, would have been able to see the easel and hear the kids’ names.
- However, the police tested the DNA on the envelope and it came back as female and it did not match Michael’s mother or sister…
- It was the family member of someone who used to be on staff at the house, again, upset about the renovations.
- This seems like it could be a possibility because of the mention of being in the house in the 60s but not being as rich as the owners… however, how would they be able to see inside and know the kids’ names.
- It was a couple who was outbid on the house hoping for it to be relisted and sold for less
Would I recommend the show?
Absolutely. 99% of the show was great. Loved the cast, especially Tony Canivale, Mia Farrow, and Jennifer Coolidge.
There was a choice made at the end that I hated but I’m choosing not to let that affect my overall opinion of the entire show.