This article discusses whether Netflix’s The Watcher is based on a true story and may contain spoilers for the show.
The mark of any good true-crime story is if it’s too weird to be believed, and that very much describes the true story behind The Watcher, the latest Netflix limited series that Ryan Murphy has adapted from a tale of real-life misery and despair. First appearing in a 2018 article in New York Magazine, the story of bizarre stalking, letters, harassment, and possibly blood rituals in a small New Jersey town has taken the true-crime world by storm, and Murphy’s version hews (relatively) close to the facts. But what are those facts? How did this creepy story play out? How much of it really happened? Well, we’re here to tell you.
Is The Watcher based on a true story?
To be clear: Yes, The Watcher is based on the true story of Derek and Maria Broaddus moving into 657 Boulevard in Westfield, New Jersey, and finding themselves harassed by the increasingly unhinged missives of a mysterious stalker referring only to themselves as “The Watcher”.
The first letter went thusly:
“Dearest new neighbor at 657 Boulevard,
Allow me to welcome you to the neighborhood. 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.”
It continued, referring to the Broaddus children as “young blood”, and implying they were at risk of being drawn to “The Watcher”. This, it turns out, was the same – or at least a similar – letter to the one the previous owners received, which prompted them to sell the property in the first place. The police were uninterested. The neighborhood itself seemed more concerned about the renovation taking place than any potential threats against the family who were making them.
The second letter, addressed to Derek and Maria specifically, read:
“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.”
“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.”
Whoever “The Watcher” was, they really were watching. They were intimately familiar with the house’s layout and warned that children screaming in the basement wouldn’t be heard from upstairs. They knew the names and ages of the Broaddus children. They knew the work that was being carried out and, when Derek and Maria installed home security equipment to try and ensnare their harasser, the Watcher knew about that too:
“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.”
Naturally, the Broadduses weren’t having any of this, and eventually, they listed the house. Of course, it wouldn’t sell. As the letters became more and more overtly violent and threatening, the rumors swirling around the property and the up-front attitude of Derek and Maria when it came to prospective buyers kept the house on the market. This was in 2016. They rented it out until 2019 when they were finally able to sell it for $500,000 less than they paid for it in the first place.
And they never found out who the Watcher was, though it wasn’t for a lack of effort. They looked up those who had also bid on the house when they did. They sent letters around the neighborhood threatening to tear the house down, trying to bait the stalker into revealing themselves. Two former FBI agents analyzed the letters, and DNA evidence suggested the culprit was a woman, but investigations by the local police into a woman who lived nearby yielded nothing of value. Another woman who was traced by police after pulling up outside of 657 Boulevard was subsequently revealed to have a boyfriend who played video games as a character called “The Watcher”, but again, nothing ever came of this, either.
Murphy’s adaptation, given how much mystery still surrounds the case, has the possibility of using some artistic license to create an ending of its own – or at least imply one. But the likelier outcome is that the internet’s coterie of true-crime aficionados, on the strength of Murphy’s research and the prominence that the story will inevitably achieve on the back of a global Netflix release, might start watching The Watcher themselves.
You can stream The Watcher exclusively on Netflix. Do you have any thoughts on who the real Watcher might be? Let us know in the comments.