Warning: Contains SPOILERS for The Watcher.
This article contains discussion surrounding real-life crimes that include stalking and murder.
Netflix’s The Watcher tells the true story of a stalker who threatens a family after they move to a new home – here’s what actually happened at the 657 Boulevard house. The foundation of The Watcher‘s storyline is in tandem with the mysterious real-life events that unfolded around the Broaddus family — changed to the Brannock family in the show — when they purchased a suburban home at 657 Boulevard. However, to add more heft to the true story’s intrigue, the Ryan Murphy show stretches the reality of things in a way that is better suited to its episodic miniseries format. As a result, it is hard not to wonder how much of The Watcher is based on reality and how much of it is purely fictional.
When it comes to The Watcher‘s portrayal of the titular perpetrator, the show is pretty spot on about their shocking letters and their negative impact on the central family. However, The Watcher dips its feet into a fictional realm when it starts drawing parallels between the Watcher’s identity with a forgotten crime that haunted 657 Boulevard’s neighborhood. Its storyline becomes even less believable — although arguably more interesting — when it reveals a labyrinth of empty tunnels existing below 657 Boulevard. With that said, there are also a few elements in the Netflix true-crime show‘s storyline that hard to believe, but are based on the real experiences of the Broaddus family. Here’s the true story behind Netflix’s The Watcher fully explained.
The Real Location Of The Watcher House Explained
As portrayed in Netflix’s The Watcher, the location of the actual house is 657 Boulevard in Westfield, New Jersey. However, instead of using the original location’s zip code (07090), the series changes it to 11537. Netflix’s The Watcher accurately shows that Derek and Maria Broaddus, whose names are changed to Dean and Nora Brannock in the show, bought the house for $1.36 million but were never informed about the Watcher’s letters by the previous owners. Through John Graff’s story arc, the Netflix true-crime series draws references to a real family murder, which shook the otherwise idyllic community of the location. The vicious crime happened in November 1971, when Westfield resident John List killed his wife, mother, and three children before going into hiding (via ABC News).
The Watcher takes some creative liberties with its depiction of the actual home’s layout. To add layers of mystery and drama to an otherwise simple true story, the series shows an underground passageway beneath the property, which did not actually exist in the real home. In addition, the house depicted in the Netflix series is also relatively bigger than the original home and located in Rye, New York, instead of Westfield, New Jersey.
The Real Watcher’s Letters Explained
The real-life Watcher initially wrote three letters to Maria and Derek Broaddus (played by horror-regular Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale in The Watcher). The first one reached them soon after they bought the property in June 2014 and was addressed to “The New Owner.” Although the letter started on a warm note by welcoming the family to their new neighborhood, it drifted into a threatening tone when it progressed as follows (via The Cut): “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.”
As Ryan Murphy’s TV series accurately depicts, the Watcher also warned them that renovating the house and destroying its heritage will make “657 Boulevard unhappy” and claimed that they would lure the Broadduses’ three children to them. The second letter reached the family a few weeks after the first and was followed by the third one a month later. There was also a fourth letter, which arrived three years after the third one. However, it was presumably a copycat’s work because of its angrier tone and relatively different writing style.
Why Did The Broadduses Sue The Previous Owners Of The Watcher House
John and Andrea Woods, the previous owners of the Netflix true-crime show‘s central house, had also received a threatening letter from the Watcher. However, they did not disclose this to the Broadduses before selling them the home. Consequently, one year after the Broadduses bought the house, they decided to take legal action against the Woods’ by filing a complaint. While at it, they tried their best to avoid the media’s involvement in the case, but one reporter found out about the house and triggered the chain reaction that made its story go viral.
Why The Broadduses Did Not Initially Tell Their Children About The Letters
Isabel Gravitt and Luke David Blumm’s The Watcher characters, Carter and Ellie, learn about the Watcher’s letters from the beginning of the Netflix adaptation. However, the real parents, Derek and Maria, kept their children in the dark for a long time before telling them about the house and the letters. Only when their dire situation garnered the media’s attention, they decided to tell their three children about the Watcher and their strange letters.
Did The Broadduses Actually Suspect Their Neighbors
As seen in The Watcher, the family’s quirky neighbors were among the many primary suspects. There were also a few altercations between the Broadduses and the old couple that lived across from their home. However, none of these conflicts were as aggressive as the ones depicted in the Netflix true-crime drama. The first letter also addressed the Broadduses as “Dearest new neighbor at 657 Boulevard,” which suggests that the Watcher was either intentionally leading them on to believe they are their neighbor or subtly implying that they actually live in the neighborhood.
The Watcher also seemed to know many intricate details about the family, including their kids’ names and order of birth. In one letter, the Watcher also asked if the Broadduses’ daughter was “the artist of the family” after she was likely seen using an easel on the home’s porch. While all these pieces of evidence suggested that the Watcher resided near the Broadduses, no neighbor was ever proven to be the culprit.
Did The Broadduses Report The Watcher To The Police
Like the Brannocks in Ryan Murphy’s Netflix show, the real-life Watcher couple reported the letters to the police. During the investigation, Detective Leonard Lugo interviewed their neighbors but found no evidence to prosecute them for the letters. In addition, the family also took help from a private investigator and contacted two FBI agents to find the identity of the Watcher. To their disappointment, even after meticulous investigation, the Watcher’s real identity remained a mystery.
What Did The DNA Of The Real Watcher Reveal
The Watcher’s case was later appointed to the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, which led to some intriguing developments in the case. A DNA test revealed that a woman had licked the envelope on the Watcher’s letters. Taking this as a cue, the prosecutor’s office collected DNA samples from the neighborhood but found no matches. Maria (played by The Ring‘s Naomi Watts) and Derek even tried convincing the investigators to compare the DNA with DNA uploaded on ancestry databases, but the prosecutor’s office refused to comply with their requests. In 2020, the Broadduses even tried taking the case into their own hands by asking the prosecutor’s office to shut the case and handing them the DNA. Unfortunately, the prosecutor’s office declined their offer, and the mystery surrounding the Watcher’s case remained unsolved (via The Cut).
The Broadduses Never Really Moved To The Watcher House
One of the biggest differences between the Broaddus family’s real experiences with the stalker and the Netflix true-crime drama’s storyline is that the Broadduses never actually lived in the house. Realizing that moving to the home could potentially put their lives in danger, they lived with Maria Broaddus’ parents while their home remained empty. Six months after receiving the Watcher’s first letter, they tried selling the home for $1.5 million, but failed to do so after potential buyers learned about the threatening letters. In July 2019, the Broadduses were finally able to sell the house for $959,000 (via CNN), which proved to be a hefty financial loss for the family. Luckily for them, selling story rights to Netflix for The Watcher series helped them garner some returns while allowing them to keep their identity and past under wraps.