The real-life story behind Netflix’s The Watcher

The hit new series is based on disturbing events straight ‘from every homebody’s nightmares’

Bobby Cannavale in new Netflix series The Watcher
Bobby Cannavale in the new Netflix series The Watcher
(Image credit: Album/Alamy Stock Photo)

Netflix’s new mystery crime thriller The Watcher has been a hit with audiences across the globe, but the creepy seven-part series is based on a terrifying true story.

The premise comes “straight from every homebody’s nightmares”, said Marie Claire. It tells the story of fictional couple Nora and Dean Brannock (played by Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale) as they move into their dream home in New Jersey with their two children – only to be sent a series of disturbing letters by a mysterious stalker known as the Watcher.

So far, so creepy. But the series is based on a true story first told to New York magazine in 2018 by the real-life Brannocks, Maria and Derek Broaddus, who received a series of mysterious letters as they prepared to move into their home at 657 Boulevard in June 2014.

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What is the true story behind The Watcher?

Derek and Maria Broaddus bought their idyllic new home in the New Jersey suburb of Westfield in 2014, fulfilling a dream of the couple to move into the neighbourhood where Maria grew up, with the new house just a few blocks from her childhood home.

As the New York magazine article details, renovations on their new $1.3m home prevented them from moving in straight away, but on checking the mail just days after completing the purchase of the house, the couple found a letter addressed to “The New Owner”. The letter sender would eventually identify themselves as the Watcher, and claimed to be looking over the house ahead of its “second coming”.

The first letter the couple received read: “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.”

The couple would continue receiving disturbing letters, which detailed watching their two children (not three as in the Netflix series) and referring to them as “young blood”.

“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?” one letter read. “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.”

The couple refused to move into the house, and told the police about the letters they were receiving. The police told the Broadduses not to tell the neighbours about the contents of the letters they were receiving, suspecting a neighbour may be sending the letters – although a neighbour identified as a particular suspect was cleared.

The couple also discovered that the previous owners of the house had received an anonymous letter before they moved out – but thinking it was a prank, they simply threw the letter out.

Multiple theories have emerged over the years over the source of the letters, “with sites such as Reddit claiming the Watcher must live within the house’s walls”, said Radio Times, while others speculated that the Broadduses had sent the letters themselves “in an attempt to recoup financial losses after experiencing buyer’s remorse”.

Indeed, many of the neighbours thought that the Broadduses were behind the letters, and Derek himself admitted to New York magazine that he had sent anonymous letters to neighbours who had questioned his story on Facebook in 2017.

Did they ever find the real Watcher?

Investigations by police and former FBI agents hired by the Broadduses failed to find who was sending the letters, and to this day the person calling themselves the Watcher has never been found.

The Broadduses eventually managed to sell their home in 2019 – at a loss of more than $400,000 – and “left a photograph of The Watcher’s handwriting in case any new letters showed up”, said Marie Claire. But as of October 2022, the house has received no further creepy correspondence.

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