The six-bedroom Dutch colonial looks like the quintessential American dream home.
Nestled on a quiet street in a salubrious suburb, 657 Boulevard in Westfield, New Jersey boasts four bathrooms and more than 3,800 square feet on almost a half-acre of land. It’s in a great school district less than 28 miles from Manhattan – the perfect family home for both commuting and raising children.
At least that’s what the Broaddus family thought when they bought it nearly a decade ago.
Instead, they claimed they received a series of terrifying letters warning that their new home and young children were under constant surveillance by a creepy stranger who knew intimate details of their lives.
He called himself “The Watcher”.
Insurance executive Derek Broaddus and his wife, Maria, were so scared by the letters that they never moved in. Multiple investigations – undertaken by Broaddus hirees and authorities – attempted to unmask the letter writer. The case sparked countless theories, both locally and internationally; everyone from neighbours to sex offenders to the Broaddus family themselves came under suspicion.
It took the family years to sell the home – at a massive loss. And to this day, there are still no clues about who The Watcher might be – and what that threatening person truly wanted. Many in Westfield try to downplay the mystery or avoid discussing it altogether; others have altered their jogging routes to avoid passing a house that still gives them a “weird” feeling.
The Dutch Colonial at 657 Boulevard in upscale Westfield, NJ was built in 1905 and bought by the Broaddus family in 2014; it’s pictured during the time it was occupied by the Bakes family, who had no issues while living there
(Margaret Bakes Davis)
It all began in 2014 when Derek and Maria Broaddus, who had three young children, decided to buy their dream home for $1.35million in her hometown. They moved in their furniture and carried out extensive renovations – but before they could take up residence themselves, their idyllic family adventure took a strange and eerie turn.
Just days after closing, Mr Broaddus says he discovered a white envelope, addressed to “The New Owner,” in the family mailbox.
“How did you end up here?” the letter read. “Did 657 Boulevard call to you with its force within?”
It added that the home had “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.”
In a total of three letters, the Broadduses say the writer mentioned specifics that presumably could have only been witnessed and heard in close proximity to the home.
“I see already that you have flooded 657 Boulevard with contractors so that you can destroy the house as it was supposed to be,” the person wrote. “Tsk, tsk, tsk … bad move. You don’t want to make 657 Boulevard unhappy.”
The writer added: “You have children. I have seen them. So far I think there are three that I have counted”, then the threatening: “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 [sic] me.”
The writer eventually did refer to the children “by birth order and by their nicknames,” even one child in particular, reported New York Magazine’s The Cut.
Mr Broaddus told the publication that he was “a depressed wreck” as he and his wife attempted to figure out what to do; she said their main goal was to avoid putting the children “in harm’s way.”
That was certainly a difficult decision, given the malevolent tone of the correspondence.
“It has been years and years since the young blood ruled the hallways of the house,” The Watcher wrote. “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 Broaddus 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.”
The stately home, which has six bedrooms, is nestled on a quite street about 28 miles from Manhattan; its high-ceilinged dining room is pictured in this Christmas photo taken by a previous owner
(Margaret Bakes Davis)
The Broaddus family asked the previous owners whether they’d been plagued by such letters; the Woodses said they’d received only one in 23 years of occupying the home – and that had come in the mail just before they moved out.
The occupants who preceded the Woods family also said there’d been no issues during their 28 years at the address. Margaret Bakes Davis, who grew up in the house, tells The Independent the whole brouhaha was “a little odd, I think, especially because it was such a wonderful time for me, for our family … There were no issues.
“It was like Mayberry R.F.D. It was a beautiful place to grow up. I had a wonderful childhood. There was nothing when we lived there. Absolutely nothing.”
All of that had changed years later, however, during the Broadduses’ ownership. The parents-of-three contacted police, and suspicion initially centred on neighbour Michael Langford, whose eccentric family had a unique vantage point that would explain one detail in the letters.
The Langfords vehemently denied involvement and were ultimately cleared; Michael died in 2020 and his family remain livid to this day.
“It f*****g never ends,” an irate sibling tells The Independent. “I’m his brother; I own the g*****n house. We got accused of doing something that we didn’t do. Did we ever get a f*****g apology from the police?”
No, he says, complaining not only about the family’s treatment but also the “lawyer fees.”
The Westfield police department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Independent. Neither did the mayor, the Broaddus’ lawyer or most local businesses.
In 2014, however, even when the Langford home came under suspicion, the Broaddus family kept up with the probe.
“They employed a private investigator, who staked out the neighborhood and ran background checks on the Langfords but didn’t find anything noteworthy,” The Cut reported, in addition to enlisting the services of two former FBI agents.
One “recognized several old-fashioned tics in the letters that pointed to an older writer,” the magazine wrote. “The envelope was addressed to “M/M Broaddus,” the salutations included the day’s weather — “Warm and humid,” “Sunny and cool for a summer day” — and the sentences had double spaces between them. The letters had a certain literary panache, which suggested a “voracious reader,” and a surprising lack of profanity … [the investigator] didn’t think The Watcher was likely to act on the threats, but the letters had enough typos and errors to imply a certain erraticism.”
The Broaddus family also hired a forensic linguist who “didn’t find any noteworthy overlap when he scoured local online forums for similarities to The Watcher’s writing, although he did think the author might watch Game of Thrones. (Jon Snow is one of the ‘Watchers on the Wall.’)”
The Broadduses, still unwilling to move into the house, rented it out – and say another letter arrived at the address in 2017, listing various tragedies that could befall them such as a car accident, fire or sudden death of a pet or loved one.
The family’s fear and seemingly dogged investigation, however, would soon turn into a legal battle, too. The Broadduses filed suit against the Woods family and two companies involved in the sale, alleging information about The Watcher had intentionally been withheld; the Woodses filed a counter claim, alleging the new owners were trying to smear their reputation by working with the media.
All claims had been thrown out of court by 2019.
As word spread through New Jersey and further afield over the years about the story, however, theories also spread like wildfire.
Forget just neighbours; some theorised a jealous buyer who’d lost out while bidding on the stately house could be sending the letters. Or a realtor. Or a prankster.
Or, perhaps most creepily but least plausibly, someone who’d been living behind the walls or in a space within the home for years.
Attention centered on the Broadduses, as well. Many suspected the letters could have constituted some type of inside job; locals theorised buyers’ remorse could have prompted a wild plan to recoup expenses.
The Watcher home had eerie similarities to the infamy of another Dutch colonial just 60 miles east – the Amityville Horror House on Long Island, which also sparked international interest for its creepy story
The hoax theories called to mind perhaps one of the most interesting haunted cases in modern history – creepily enough, in another Dutch Colonial just 60 miles east, centred on a crime that happened exactly 40 years earlier. The Amityville Horror House rose to international attention when Ronald DeFeo Jr killed his entire family on Long Island; subsequent occupants alleged paranomal activity and hauntings that spurred countless documentaries and films – along with rumours it had all been made up for profit and movie rights.
The Broaddus family has faced similar scrutiny, particularly in Westfield with an upcoming Netflix show fittingly dubbed The Watcher, which premiered on 13 October with a cast including Mia Farrow, Naomi Watts, Bobby Cannavale and Jennifer Coolidge.
Mr Broaddus has fastidiously denied any accusations and hit back on social media about any theories involving his family. He did not respond to a request for comment from The Independent.
The Broadduses eventually sold 657 Boulevard in 2019; the transaction made national headlines – and they made about $400,000 loss. The buyers wished to remain anonymous but, according to local reports, are also a young family.
Derek Broaddus continued to comment on the case as recently as last February, when he tweeted: “Mental illness is real, and so is the person who was so angry that we bought 657 they thought it’s be a good idea to threaten a 5 yo baby.
“They live in that hood close enough to see/hear. Solvable crime.”
Others, however, are not so sure. The spectre of The Watcher, whoever it may be, remains a silent presence in New Jersey and the minds of internet sleuths both in the neighbourhood and across the world.
“I was at an event just last weekend with a bunch of friends, none of whom were from Westfield, but one of them, from across the room, said, ‘Was that your house?’ It’s still out there,” Ms Davis tells The Independent.
“It’s still a thing. Whenever I say I’m from Westfield, they say, ‘Have you ever heard of The Watcher house?’”
She answers: “Yes. I lived there for 28 years.”
She doesn’t share any theories about the home, but she does have only fond memories of 657 Boulevard – and when Derek and Maria Broaddus put it back on the market, she says her family “almost bought the house back.”
“None of us were worried about it,” she tells The Independent.
She’s also looking forward to seeing the upcoming Naomi Watts project – featuring a home she knows intimately well, a house still close to her heart.
“I’m wondering how Netflix is approaching it,” she says. “How are they characterising the whole thing?
“I’m interested to see how they portray it.”
This story was originally published in February 2022 and was updated on 26 September to include new details about the Netflix series The Watcher.