Warning: This post contains spoilers for “The Watcher.”
“The Watcher” series on Netflix has already begun giving people the chills, but it’s even scarier to think that the story is based on real-life events.
An account published in New York Magazine by Reeves Wiedeman tells the tale of a family who purchased their dream home in Westfield, N.J. in 2014, only to realize they weren’t the only ones with their eyes on 657 Boulevard.
In the seven-episode series, co-created and co-written by Ryan Murphy, the Brannock family — baed on the real Broaddus family —moves into the home and is constantly haunted by an anonymous letter-writer.
The storyline follows Dean Brannock, his wife Nora Brannock, played by Naomi Watts, and their kids Ellie and Carter Brannock, portrayed by Isabel Gravitt and Luke David Blumm, respectively, as they try to solve the mystery while living as the new residents of 657 Boulevard.
Here’s what to know about the fact and fiction behind “The Watcher.”
The real Broaddus family began receiving a series of letters
In the original story, Derek Broaddus, who inspired the show’s character Dean Brannock and is played by Bobby Cannavale, said he found a note in his mailbox prior to his family moving into their new house. The envelope is addressed to “The New Owner,” with a letter inside saying a person has been watching the home for years.
“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,” a portion of the first letter read.
The typed letter, which is one of four over the course of a year-and-a-half span, was signed “The Watcher.” Over time, the Broadduses said the letters get increasingly more alarming, with specific details that indicated that the family was being closely monitored.
“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 next letter, received months later, read.
More about the true story that inspired ‘The Watcher’
But the Broaddus family never moved into the real house on 657 Boulevard
“The Watcher” takes place within the home on 657 Boulevard. But in reality, the Broaddus family never moved into the $1.4 million home, which they eventually rented out and sold in 2019 for $959,000.
After the first letter, the family chose to stay in their old home in Westfield until it sold, which marks when the four moved into Maria Broaddus’ parents’ house until other plans could be arranged.
Here’s what the cast thinks of the true story that inspired the show
Bobby Cannavale, Naomi Watts and Noma Dumezweni, who plays private investigator Theodora Birch, all told TODAY that they hadn’t heard of the true story prior to receiving their respective roles.
“I remember thinking ‘Jeez, these people have actually gone through this. This actually exists in the world,’” Dumezweni said of her initial reaction to the story.
Watts noted that she found the tale to be relatable.
“I really imagined myself in their shoes and I felt like everybody else could as well. To have that dream in your clutches, finally, and then having it blown apart,” she said. “I felt for these people.”
“To have that dream in your clutches, finally, and then having it blown apart … I felt for these people.”
Naomi Watts on the true storyt that inspired ‘The Watcher’
Mia Farrow, who plays one of the Brannock’s slightly ominous neighbors Pearl Winslow, said she had no idea they were portraying a real story until filming had already begun.
“People forgot to tell me that it was a true story,” Farrow said. “I was just sitting around on set around Episode Two and was told, ‘You know this actually happened.’”
Despite not being made aware of the original events, Farrow said she was told she would be part of a “Ryan Murphy project” and that she would be taken “nowhere she’d ever been before.”
As they continued to search for the possible stalker, the Broaddus family started to garner media attention, which gave national eyes on the investigation. Jennifer Coolidge, who portrays Nora Brannock’s old friend and brassy real estate agent Karen Calhoun, recalled seeing the story unfold in the news.
“I remember the story when it happened. I remember when it was in the news. I lived on the East Coast at the time and it was a big, scary, creepy story that I think a lot of us won’t forget,” Coolidge said.
‘The Watcher’ also ties in the true story of John List, another part of Westfield lore
Cannavale described the original narrative as a “jumping off point” for Murphy, as the story takes a turn from the real account after the Brannock family moves into the house.
For example, the “The Watcher” ties in another gruesome incident from Westfield’s past.
Dean encounters a man named John Graff (Joe Mantello), who previously lived in 657 Boulevard. John Graff is based on John List, a Westfield resident who killed his wife, mother and children in 1971, then disappeared for 18 years. List moved to Virginia and remarried, caught only after an episode of “America’s Most Wanted” aired with a bust of what prosecutors believed List would look like now.
The Broadduses and the List sagas did not overlap quite as closely as they do in the show. List lived on 431 Hillside Avenue, a 19-room Victorian mansion in Westfield, located two miles from 657 Boulevard.
And there were neighbors who watched 657 Boulevard from lawn chairs
Real estate agent Karen is a fictionalization for the “The Watcher” — but next door neighbors Mitch (Richard Kind) and Mo (Margo Martindale), who watch the house from lawn chairs, are likely inspired by a detail from the New York Magazine story.
Bill Woodward, the Broadduses’ housepainter, shared a detail with Reeves in the New York Magazine profile about the couple who lived in the house behind 657 Boulevard.
“One day, I was looking out the window and I saw this older guy sitting in one of the chairs,” Woodward told The Cut. “He wasn’t facing his house — he was facing the Broadduses.’”
Theodora Birch (Noma Dumezweni) is a fictionalized version of the private investigator that the Broadduses hired.
As in the show’s ending, ‘The Watcher’ never got caught and the mystery never was solved
Over the course of several years, police, investigators and the FBI studied the case, examining handwriting in the letters, analyzing DNA evidence and interviewing neighbors in an attempt to connect the messages to an individual.
Nevertheless, as of now, there has been no official discovery as to the identify of “The Watcher,” which explains the show’s open-ended conclusion.
The investigation is not active but not closed, according to the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.