All Research

The Watcher: History vs. Hollywood


Bobby Cannavale
Born: May 3, 1970
Union City, New Jersey, USA

Derek Broaddus
Born: April 28, 1974
Birthplace: Maine, USA
Renamed Dean Brannock in the Netflix Miniseries

Naomi Watts
Born: September 28, 1968
Shoreham, Kent, England, UK

Maria Broaddus
Born: October 1, 1974
Birthplace: New Jersey, USA
Renamed Nora Brannock in the Netflix Miniseries

Historical Accuracy (Q&A):

Where is "The Watcher House" located?

The real Watcher House is located at 657 Boulevard in Westfield, New Jersey. While researching The Watcher true story, we learned that the Netflix miniseries uses this address but changes the zip code from 07090 (Westfield, New Jersey) to 11537 (Hempstead, New York). The exterior of the real house is pictured below underneath an image of the exterior of the house in the Netflix miniseries.

The series fictionally states that the Watcher home was built in 1921 and has four bedrooms, five baths, a semi-finished attic, a semi-finished basement, and an inground pool. The asking price is $3.2 million. Sitting on 1.25 acres, the fictional home is significantly grander than the real-life home, which was purchased by the Broadduses for $1.36 million. The real house, which sits on almost half an acre, is even older than the one in the series, having been built in 1905. It has six bedrooms, four bathrooms, and multiple fireplaces, but no pool.

Top: The home used in the Netflix miniseries is significantly larger and located in Rye, New York. Photo: Sotheby's Bottom: The real home's location is 657 Boulevard in Westfield, New Jersey. Photo: Westfield Realty

In reality, the actual home that was used for the filming of the Netflix series is located in Rye, New York. As the above photos show, it is much larger at 10,000 square feet and looks more like a small resort than the Dutch Colonial in Westfield, New Jersey where the real-life events took place. Unlike what's stated in the series, it was built in 2016 and has six bedrooms and six bathrooms.

When did The Watcher's letters start to arrive?

The Watcher fact-check reveals that the real-life events began in June 2014 when Derek Broaddus (portrayed by Bobby Cannavale in the Netflix miniseries) and his wife, Maria (played by Naomi Watts), were performing some renovations on their newly purchased six-bedroom dream home before they moved in. After finishing painting for the evening, Derek went outside to check the mailbox and discovered a white, card-shaped envelope along with a few bills. On the outside of the envelope, he noticed that it was addressed to "The New Owner," written in thick, sloppy handwriting. The envelope had been mailed via USPS, and they would later discover that it had been processed at the U.S. Postal Service's distribution center in Kearny, New Jersey, indicating it had been mailed from a location not far away, a helpful piece of information in determining The Watcher's identity. -New York Magazine

How much did "The Watcher House" cost?

As stated above, Derek and Maria Broaddus, whose names are changed to Dean and Nora Brannock in the miniseries, purchased the home for $1.36 million in 2014. To be able to afford such a home, Derek, who had just turned 40, had worked his way up the ladder to become a senior vice president at an insurance company in Manhattan.

How many children did Derek and Maria Broaddus have?

In the miniseries, the couple has two children, a boy who looks to be about 11 and a teenage girl. In real life, Derek and Maria had three younger children (two girls and a boy) who were 5, 8, and 10 years old at the time the family was preparing to move into their new Westfield home in June 2014.

The two children in the miniseries (pictured above) are somewhat older than the three real-life children.

What was in The Watcher's first letter?

The Watcher's letter, which was addressed to "The New Owner," began by kindly welcoming the family to the neighborhood. However, as Derek Broaddus continued to read, the writer's warm tone quickly turned threatening.

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 author then mentioned the Broadduses' Honda minivan and the workers who had been at the home performing renovations.

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.

The writer also mentioned observing the couple's three children and asked if there were "more on the way," warning that he or she would lure the children to them.

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 author closed the letter by stating that more messages would follow. "Let the party begin," it concluded. The letter was signed "The Watcher" in typed cursive font. -New York Magazine

Top: Pictured is the home's kitchen in the Netflix miniseries. Bottom: The real home's kitchen is shown. Photo: Westfield Realty

Is Westfield, New Jersey the idyllic town it's portrayed to be in the miniseries?

Yes. As noted in the New York Magazine article that inspired the Netflix miniseries, the residents of Westfield, New Jersey have compared their town to Mayberry, the family-friendly setting for The Andy Griffith Show. Westfield, located 45 minutes from New York City, is filled mainly with well-off families (singles opt to live closer to NYC), and it was ranked the 30th-safest town in America in 2014 by NeighborhoodScout.

That's not to say the community has never been rocked by a crime. Several years before Derek Broaddus' wife Maria grew up in the town, Westfield resident John List murdered his mother, wife, and three children in their home. It shattered any false sense of security the residents had and put the community on edge for some time.

The Netflix miniseries appears to reference the List Family murders, which shook the community decades prior.

Is it likely that The Watcher was a neighbor?

Yes. The mysterious author of The Watcher letters began the first letter with the salutation:

Dearest new neighbor at 657 Boulevard,
Allow me to welcome you to the neighborhood.

This greeting seems to indicate that the author is a neighbor since he or she greets the Broadduses as such and is welcoming them to the neighborhood. Later in the letter, the writer asks, "Who am I?" and states that they might be in a car that drives by, in a window that looks at the house, or one of the many people that walk by 657 Boulevard each day. By the second letter two weeks later, the author knew their last name, only it was misspelled "Braddus," which could mean they overheard one of the contractors using it or heard it from someone else.

The Watcher's second letter also referred to the Broaddus children by their nicknames and by birth order. This almost certainly meant that the individual either lived close by or was lurking near the house when Maria had been yelling the children's names as they were playing in the backyard. The writer also indicated that they had seen the Broadduses' daughter inside an enclosed back porch using an easel. "Is she the artist in the family?" the author asked. As noted in the New York Magazine article, the porch was hidden from the street by "vegetation" and was hard to see unless someone was in the backyard or right next door.

Did the Broadduses begin to suspect certain neighbors?

Yes. In researching how accurate is The Watcher, we learned that Derek initially became suspicious of a couple on the block who he brought inside for a tour of the renovation. The wife commented, "It'll be nice to have some young blood in the neighborhood." Derek froze, recalling that the letter writer had referred to the Broaddus children as "young blood."

At a barbecue across the street that was being held for the new arrivals to the neighborhood, including the Broadduses and another family, John Schmidt, who lived two doors down from the Broadduses, told Derek about the family who lived in between them, the Langfords. Several of the adult children lived there with the matriarch of the family, Peggy Langford, who was in her 90s.

Derek became especially suspicious of Michael Langford, the adult son who John Schmidt described as being a "kind of Boo Radley character." He learned that the Langfords were one of the only families in the neighborhood to have lived in their home since the 1960s, when The Watcher said his (or her) father had begun observing the Broadduses' home. The patriarch, Richard Langford, had died 12 years earlier, which is in line with when The Watcher stated he (or she) took over the role of observing 657 Boulevard. The Langfords' home also had a clear view of the easel in the Broadduses' enclosed back porch, which The Watcher had commented on in a letter. However, Michael Langford's brother, Sandy, said that Michael had been diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young man. Others who knew him said they didn't think he was capable of writing the letters. -New York Magazine

Bill Woodward, the man hired to paint the Broadduses' house, noticed somewhat odd behavior from the neighbors directly behind the home. He saw that they kept two lawn chairs in very close proximity to the Broadduses' property. Even stranger was that one day Woodward noticed an older guy sitting in one of the chairs. "He wasn't facing his house — he was facing the Broadduses'," Woodward told New York Magazine. Unlike the series, we found no evidence that the man was ever holding binoculars. The Broadduses later learned that they were an elderly couple who had lived there for 47 years. Making things more bizarre was the fact that one of their children grew up and married a man who was raised in 657 Boulevard.

It's true that the Broadduses' backyard neighbors sat in lawn chairs close to the Broadduses' property and faced their house.

Did The Watcher vandalize the Broadduses' home?

The general contractor arrived one morning to discover the heavy sign he'd pounded into the yard had been ripped out during the night. The family suspected The Watcher was responsible since he or she had indicated in the letters that they were upset the home was being renovated. In real life, this is the only vandalism that was noted to have taken place.

The real-life home at 657 Boulevard.

Did Derek and Maria Broaddus go to the police?

Yes. The Watcher true story confirms that they went to the police after receiving the first letter. The previous owners, John and Andrea Woods, went with them to tell the police about the letter they had received from The Watcher when they were still living in the house at 657 Boulevard. Detective Leonard Lugo investigated, focusing on next-door neighbor Michael Langford. Lugo interviewed Langford twice but got nowhere and had nothing to hold him on. At a local town-council meeting a year after the last letter arrived, the mayor, Andy Skibitksy, assured the public that the police had conducted an "exhaustive" investigation. Still, they weren't any closer to figuring out The Watcher's identity and most of the neighbors in proximity to the home said they hadn't been contacted by the police.

The Broadduses also hired a private investigator who looked into the Langfords but found nothing alarming. The investigator staked out the neighborhood but didn't observe anything suspicious. The family also reached out to two FBI agents, one of whom was the inspiration for Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs. Derek had served on a high school board of trustees with her. They hired the other FBI agent, Robert Lenehan, to perform a threat assessment. Due to several old-fashioned writing nuances, he concluded that the letters were written by someone who is older. While he didn't think The Watcher would act on his or her threats, Lenehan believed that the typos and errors in the letters indicated that the individual could be erratic. He also noted The Watcher's "seething anger" toward the wealthy, given that he accused the Broadduses of having been lured to 657 Boulevard by greed. -New York Magazine

Left: The real Derek and Maria Broaddus with their children. Right: Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale as the couple in The Watcher Netflix miniseries.

How many letters did the Broaddus family receive?

After the initial Watcher letter, a second letter arrived two weeks later, followed by a third several weeks after that. Then there was nothing for more than two years. When they made the decision to sell and weren't able to find a buyer, they put the home up for rent. The fourth letter arrived in February 2017 after their renter (a family with grown children) had moved in. It was two-and-a-half years after the Broadduses received the first letter. In the letter, The Watcher threatened revenge for the Broadduses' plan to tear down the home and sell the land to a developer as two lots (the plan wasn't approved by the township).

Maybe a car accident. Maybe a fire. Maybe something as simple as a mild illness that never seems to go away but makes you fell sick day after day after day after day after day. Maybe the mysterious death of a pet. Loved ones suddenly die. Planes and cars and bicycles crash. Bones break.

When did Derek and Maria tell their 3 children about the letters?

Unlike what's seen in the Netflix miniseries, in real life, it was some time before Derek and Maria told their children the truth about why they hadn't moved into their new home. After temporarily staying in Maria's parents' home in Westfield, they went to stay in a friend's beach house when the media descended upon the town and wouldn't leave them alone. Somewhat strangely, the friend they were staying with experienced a grad-mal seizure while they were there. Maria's grandfather also had a heart attack. They figured it was time to tell their children the truth, wanting it to come from them and not the media, who had started to brand their home "The Watcher House".

Did DNA analysis reveal The Watcher to be a woman?

Yes. In answering the question, "Is The Watcher accurate?" we learned that investigators analyzed the DNA on one of the envelopes and discovered that it belonged to a woman. They first looked at Abby Langford, the sister of next-door neighbor Michael Langford. Abby worked as a real estate agent and they figured she might have been upset she didn't get the sale. However, when they ran her DNA from a water bottle she used at Lord & Taylor, her second job, it wasn't a match. Despite possibly narrowing down the gender, The Watcher's identity remained unknown.

Was there an underground tunnel on the property?

No. The underground passageway in the miniseries is fictional. There was no secret tunnel in which they saw The Watcher. Also, while the author of the letters states that he or she had been in the house when they were younger, there is no evidence that The Watcher was ever inside the house as an adult. That is pure dramatic license to add to the threat the family is facing in the miniseries.

Did the real Broaddus Family ever move into the home at 657 Boulevard?

No. This is one of the major differences from what's seen in the Netflix miniseries. Instead of moving into their new home, the real family decided to move in with Maria Broaddus' parents. "We weren't going to put our kids in harm's way," Maria told New York Magazine. Their new home sat empty as they paid the mortgage and property taxes. They only told a limited number of friends the truth. When others asked why they weren't moving in, they responded by saying there were legal issues, leading people to assume they were getting divorced. Just six months after the first letter arrived, the Broadduses decided to sell the house. They listed it in February 2015 for $1.5 million (they paid $1.36 million). They tried listing it for more than they paid, given the renovations, but potential buyers shied away due to the rumors swirling around the house.

This is an image of the interior of the real house as it looked when it was sold in 2019. Photo: Long & Foster Real Estate

For the next three months, they dropped the price each month, with the final listing posted on May 14 at $1.25 million. On June 18, they removed the listing and posted the home for rent. They found a renter, a family, but it didn't cover their mortgage. In October 2017, they again listed it for sale, this time lowering the price to $1.13 million. The listing was removed the following year in April 2018. It was again listed for sale in March 2019 for $999,000. After negotiating, the home was sold for $959,000 in July 2019, a major loss for the Broadduses given the purchase price and renovations. -Trulia

With the help of money borrowed from family, in 2016, the Broadduses purchased another home in Westfield at an undisclosed location, using an LLC to keep it private. Maria Broaddus wanted to stay in Westfield, the town where she grew up, despite her husband Derek wanting to leave. Maria also didn't want to uproot the kids.

Unlike what's seen in the Netflix miniseries, the Broaddus Family never ended up moving into their new home.

Did any other families in the neighborhood receive The Watcher's letters?

Yes. The Watcher true story reveals that a year after receiving the first series of letters, the Broadduses learned that another family on the street had received a letter from The Watcher. The family had lived in their house for years, and one of their grown children posted about the letter on Facebook after news broke about the Broadduses' letters. The post was deleted but not before investigators learned of it. The family said that the letter had been similar in context to the Broadduses'. -New York Magazine

Did the Broadduses sue the former owners for not disclosing that they had gotten a letter from The Watcher?

Yes. The former owners, John and Andrea Woods, both of whom were retired scientists, had received a letter from The Watcher. They described the letter as being "odd," stating that the author's family had been watching the house for years. Prior to closing on the sale of their house, the Woodses hadn't disclosed to the Broadduses that they too had received a letter. They only revealed the fact after Derek and Maria Broaddus emailed them and asked if they knew about The Watcher. The Woodses did accompany Maria to the police station where they met with Detective Leonard Lugo, who began looking into the letters.

The previous owner, John Woods (pictured inset), also received a letter from The Watcher. Photo: Facebook

A year after buying the home but never moving in, the Broadduses filed a legal complaint against John and Andrea Woods for failing to disclose their letter. The Broadduses argued that if the Woodses were forthcoming enough to disclose that water sometimes gets into the basement, it made little sense that they wouldn't mention the letter. The Broadduses claim they weren't looking to draw attention to their story and hoped for a quiet settlement. However, a local reporter discovered the complaint, which had quotes from The Watcher's letters, and the story blew up. They received over 300 media requests and a local reporter even sat in a lawn chair to try and observe The Watcher in action. -New York Magazine

Could the Broadduses have sent the letters themselves?

It is possible and it's what some of the neighbors concluded when the police couldn't turn up any likely suspects. However, The Watcher fact-check confirms that the police tested Maria Broaddus' DNA and it didn't match the DNA from the envelope that was tested. Those who suspected that the Broadduses may have been trying to carry out a scam pointed out that none of the letters started appearing until around the time the Broadduses were planning to move into the home. -The Westfield Leader

Did Derek Broaddus admit that he wrote anonymous letters to some of the neighbors who had been critical of his family?

Yes. He confessed to New York Magazine that he was responsible for delivering the letters that several families received on Christmas Eve. One of the families he delivered a letter to lived a few blocks down. They had posted on Facebook, "I wish we could go back to the days of tar and feathers. I have just the couple in mind." According to Derek, he had become fed up with the false accusations against his family and explained to the families that they were speculating inaccurately. He signed the typed letters, "Friends of the Broaddus Family." He said that he wasn't proud of what he did, nor did he tell his wife at the time.

Is the Netflix miniseries The Watcher based on a book?

The Watcher Netflix miniseries is based on Reeves Wiedeman's 2018 New York Magazine article "The Watcher," which tells the true story of how the Broaddus family was stalked by a mysterious letter writer after purchasing their dream home in Westfield, New Jersey.

Did the Broadduses make money selling the movie rights to their story?

Yes, and according to Deadline, in late 2018, six studios entered into a bidding war for the rights to the story, including the rights to Reeves Wiedeman's New York Magazine article and the rights of the homeowners. The seven-figure deal was one of the largest material deals of the year.