For episode 3 Carrie dove deep into a strange tale out of New Jersey: The Watcher, who wrote one family creepy and vaguely threatening letters until they left town. Who was the Watcher? What was their motive? Why were the residents of the neighborhood...
For episode 3 Carrie dove deep into a strange tale out of New Jersey: The Watcher, who wrote one family creepy and vaguely threatening letters until they left town.
Who was the Watcher? What was their motive? Why were the residents of the neighborhood such dicks to this tormented family? Sean & Carrie try to find some answers in this convoluted story.
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Have you ever had a secret admirer?
I remember when I was a kid I like, really REALLY wanted one. It seemed so cool, so romantic, so mysterious. I mean, however much those things could be to a 6th grader, anyway. I always hoped I’d get a mysterious Valentine or an unsigned “Do u like me? Check YES or NO” note stuck into my locker during lunchtime. However, no love phantom ever came to sweep me off my feet. I mean, I dealt with plenty of creeps, but I knew who they were.
On this episode I’ll be taking the reins to tell you an ooky-spooky story about an unknown writer. I’ll be focusing on a story with a smaller scope, so if you’re waiting to hear about Jack the Ripper or the Zodiac with bated breath, trust me, we’ll deep dive into those assholes into the future. This story is definitely less well-known, yet still very sinister- and just plain weird.
This bizarre tale you may have seen floating around recently, maybe on Buzzfeed, on true crime forums, and even in the New York Times. Y’all, it’s THE WATCHER.
As names go, bravo, guy, because it’s a good one. This isn’t a Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer situation, no- this is much less fuddy-duddy-Daddy and much more “ew who’s that weirdo looking in our window”? For this story I’ll be mainly referencing an excellent article by Reeves Wiedeman in The Cut called “The Haunting of a Dream House”- credit where credit is due, because Wiedeman details this case with the intensity of a thrilling page-turner. So, the case of the Watcher begins like this…
Derek and Maria Broaddus moved into their new home in Westfield, New Jersey ready to tackle some renovations and enjoy the fulfilment of a dream. Maria had grown up in Westfield a few blocks away and she always wanted to raise her own family in the town. Westfield was recently ranked among the top 100 wealthiest towns in America, with its 30,000 residents mostly consisting of well-to-do families, with many parents working in nearby New York City.
Derek Broaddus turned 40, got a promotion, and the Broadduses dropped a swanky $1.3 mil on the house that they would find out later probably should’ve had a steeper discount. By June 2014 they hadn’t moved in yet but had started some renovations, so Derek was in the house when an envelope addressed to “The New Owner” was dropped off in the mail.
The note claimed as follows, according to a lawsuit we’ll discuss later:
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 went on to identify the family’s Honda minivan and mentioned the renovations of the home, saying: Now that they have it to flaunt it, they pay the price. Tsk tsk tsk...bad move. You don’t want to make 657 Boulevard unhappy.
Not only that, there were references to the Broaddus’ kids: You have children. I have seen them. So far I think there are three that I have counted. Are there more on the way? 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 to me.
Who am I? There are hundreds and hundreds of cars that drive by 657 Boulevard each day. Maybe I am in one. Look at all the windows you can see from 657 Boulevard. Maybe I am in one. Look out any of the many windows in 657 Boulevard at all the people who stroll by each day. Maybe I am one.
Welcome my friends, welcome. Let the party begin - THE WATCHER.
So yeah, that’s GREAT. The family hasn’t even moved in yet and they’re already getting the worst kind of junk mail. Derek Broaddus, alone in the house after 10PM, promptly turned off all the lights and called the Westfield Police Department. The dispatched officer responded to the letter with “What the fuck is this?”, which honestly is the appropriate reaction. He also told Derek to get some construction equipment off the porch so the “Watcher” didn’t toss it through the window. Very comforting.
That night Derek went back to their old home where Maria and the kids were packing up and disclosed the letter to her. They immediately emailed John and Andrea Woods, the previous owners who had sold them the house. I imagine the email read something like “What the fuck is this?” but essentially, it asked if they had any clue who the Watcher was or what they’d written the letter, including the lovely quote “I asked the woods to bring me young blood and it looks like they listened.” Honestly, even if this was a reference to James Woods it would still be unsettling.
Andrea replied the next day, saying that though they had never experienced anything like it in their 23 years living at 657 Boulevard, they had received a letter signed “The Watcher” a few days before moving out. Think you could’ve mentioned that little detail, Andrea!? Since they never had gotten anything like it before, they tossed the letter and that was that.
But it wasn’t.
The same day Maria Broaddus went with the Woodses to the police station, wehre they were advised not to tell anyone about the letters because literally all the new neighbors were now suspects. Welcome to the Boulevard!
Derek and Maria understandably spent the next weeks jumping at everything. Maria wouldn’t let the kids out of her sight without calling out to them; Derek freaked when a neighborhood woman taking a tour of the renovations said to him “It’ll be nice to have some young blood in the neighborhood.” They still hadn’t moved in. 2 weeks after the first letter, Maria saw familiar thick black writing, now address to “Mr. and Mrs. Braddus”, on a piece of mail and immediately called the police. The new letter continued the creepathon: 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.
I am pleased to know your names now and the names of the young blood you have brought to me- you certainly say their names often.
Indeed, the Watcher went on to correctly identify the 3 children by name and birth order, asking after one of the Broaddus’ daughters by saying: Is she the artist in the family? Apparently, the Watcher had seen her using an easel...inside...in an enclosed porch hidden from the street by vegetation. The rest of the letter went as follows:
657 Boulevard is anxious for you to move in. 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? 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 Braddus 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.
Have a happy moving in day. You know I will be watching.
Well, understandably the Broadduses stopped bringing the kids to the house. Plans to move in were put on hold. A few weeks later, a third letter asked them Where have you gone to? 657 Boulevard is missing you. Bitch, trying to avoid YOU!
There were few clues- but there were some. The letters were processed in Kearny, which is the US Postal Service’s distribution center in northern New Jersey. The postmark on the first letter was from June 4th, which was before the sale was public (as the Woodses had never put up a For Sale sign) and just a day after contractors arrived to start renovations. Derek began to suspect the Langford family, who lived next door, could have something to do with it. Peggy Langford was in her 90s, and several of her children, all in their 60s, still lived with her. They were odd, but apparently harmless. One of the sons, Michael, didn’t work and was described as a “kind of a Boo Radley character”. But we all know what happened to Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird, so I don’t want to give that theory too much credence.
Michael was interviewed by police soon after the first letter arrived, and of course he denied any knowledge. The detective on the case told the Broadduses, basically, that he thought it was likely Michael. However, there wasn’t really any hard evidence, and the police chief told the Broadduses there was nothing else they could do at that point.
So, the Broadduses began their own investigation. Derek became especially obsessed. He set up webcams in the house and spent nights crouched in the dark, waiting to see if he could spot anyone watching the house at close range. He made a map marking when each of 657’s neighbors had moved in — the Langfords being the only ones there since the 1960s — with overlays highlighting possible sight lines for his daughters’ easel and a circle for “Approximate Range of ‘Earshot’ ” to estimate who might have heard Maria yelling their kids’ names. Only a few homes fit both criteria. The Broadduses also employed a private investigator and reached out to multiple former FBI agents for their professional opinions. Despite all of this, their focus remained on the Langfords. In cooperation with Westfield police, the Broadduses sent a letter to the Langfords announcing plans to tear down the house, hoping to prompt a response. None came. Eventually, the Broadduses hired lawyer Lee Levitt who met with several members of the Langford family along with their attorney to show them the letters, along with photos explaining how their house was one of the few vantage points from which the childrens’ easel could be seen, as noted on Derek’s map. The meeting apparently grew tense, and the Langfords insisted Michael was innocent. DNA discovered on one of the envelopes was tested and found to belong to a female--however, when tested against major players like Maria Broaddus and Langford family member Abby, no match was found.
There was, of course, the whole rest of the neighborhood to consider. The Broaddus’ hired PI found two child sex offenders within a few blocks. The family’s house painter had also noticed something strange--the couple behind 657 Boulevard kept their lawn chairs weirdly close to the Broadduses’ property. He stated that once when he was looking out the window, an older man was sitting in one of the chairs facing 657 Boulevard, and not his own house. Now, how suspicious do I find this? I dunno. I mean, maybe that’s the direction the sun was coming from and this fellow was working on his base tan. Who knows.
By late 2014, the investigation was at a standstill. The Watcher had left no digital trail, no fingerprints, nothing substantial aside from creepy letters and a Northern New Jersey postmark. They couldn’t in good conscience move in after everything that had happened and subject their family to possible threat, so, they tried to sell the home. For a long while, nothing panned out. In June 2015 they filed a legal complaint against the original owners the Woodses, arguing that the Woodses should have disclosed the letter just as they had the fact that water sometimes got in the basement. The lawsuit was later dismissed. A neighbor told The Cut that, after the news broke, she and ten or so of her neighbors had gathered in the street to puzzle out who might have sent the letters. Eventually, she said, they came to a consensus: the Broadduses had sent the letters to themselves.
The possibilities behind WHY the Broadduses would do such a thing varied: they had suffered buyer’s remorse; or they realized they couldn’t afford the home, and concocted a bizarre scheme to get out of the sale; or Derek Broaddus was generating some kind of insurance fraud; or they were angling for a sweet, sweet movie deal.
Not wanting to uproot their kids, they used an LLC to secretly buy property elsewhere in Westfield, still not wanting to live at the Boulevard house. Even back on the market there were no buyers once interested parties read the Watcher letters. At this point, the Broadduses’ real-estate lawyer proposed an idea: Sell the house to a developer to tear it down, splitting the property into two lots with two sellable homes. Estimated selling price for the lot was $1million. Subdivisions like the proposed one for 657 Boulevard had become common in Westfield, though many locals were against them. Despite 657 being one of the neighborhood’s largest lots, dividing it in two would require the Westfield Planning Board to grant an exception: The two smaller lots would be 67.4 and 67.6 feet wide — just shy of the mandated 70 feet. But barely a yard on either side shouldn’t be an issue...right?
The planning board met to decide the application in January 2017 with a whopping 3-hour hearing on the issue. More than 100 local residents showed up to the hearing. One neighbor who lived across the street from 657 Boulevard and had a daughter in the same grade as one of the Broadduses’ kids, had literally retained a lawyer to fight the proposal. The Broadduses’ attorney displayed a map of the neighborhood and argued that the map showed several existing lots on the block that were also smaller than the 70 foot mandate. The area residents countered that they needed to make a stand because “our neighborhoods are constantly under attack from turf, lights, parking decks, you name it.” Abby Langford, herself a member of the suspected Langford family, stood up to say she had “spent almost 60 years looking at a magnificent, beautiful house” and didn’t “want to be looking out at a driveway.” The focus of the hearing and of the residents was on what the Broadduses stood to gain financially — and the neighborhood might lose. That night, the board unanimously rejected the proposal. When the Broadduses later appealed that decision, a New Jersey judge denied their appeal. Maria Broaddus lamented, “I grew up [in Westfield]. I came back, I chose to raise my kids here. You know what we’ve been through. You had the ability, two and a half years into a nightmare, to make it a little better. And you have decided that this house is more important than we are. That’s really how it felt.”
Soon after, the family at least received a bit of good news--a family with grown children and two big dogs agreed to rent 657 Boulevard, with a clause in the lease that let them out of it in case of another letter. A couple weeks after the family began renting, Derek went to the house to complete standard landlord duties...and promptly was handed an envelope that had just arrived. The letter inside began:
“Violent winds and bitter cold
To the vile and spiteful Derek and his wench of a wife Maria,”
Subtle stuff. The letter was dated the same day as the Broadduses gave depositions in their lawsuit against the Woodses. It mentioned their investigative efforts, media coverage, renting out the home, and attempt to turn the house into two lots, among other things. A disturbing segment of the letter seemed to threaten the family, reading:
“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.”
Surprisingly, though the renters were understandably spooked, they agreed to stay if the Broadduses installed cameras around the house. The Broadduses also returned to the police with the new evidence. A detective looked at a neighborhood map and traced a circle around the house 300 yards in diameter, suggesting The Watcher must be somewhere in that area. That narrowed it down to about 10 surrounding homes. However, nothing more came of it, even with barely-veiled threats on paper. On Christmas Eve 2017, several families on and around the Boulevard received envelopes in their mailboxes. These were the houses of those that had been the most vocal in criticizing the Broadduses online, and did not bear any postmarks. One of the recipients notably had written publicly on Facebook: “I wish we could go back to the days of tar and feathers. I have just the couple in mind!” Charming. Families stated that the letters accused the families of wrongly speculating about the Broadduses and included stories about recent acts of domestic terrorism in which signs of mental illness had gone unnoticed. The typed letters were signed, “Friends of the Broaddus Family.”
When The Cut journalist Reeves Wiedeman asked Derek Broaddus whether he had written these new letters, he admitted he had. As Wiedeman wrote, “He wasn’t proud of it— he hadn’t even told his wife — and said they were the only anonymous letters he’d written.” Of course, this new bit of information in the story turned Boulevard residents and beyond even more against the Broaddus family, seemingly confirming that there was a strong possibility Derek had manufactured the entire affair.
So where are we now, post-November 2018, when the Cut article was released? In an episode of Buzzfeed Unsolved, host Ryan Bergara argued that some support for the Broaddus’ assertion that they never sent the real Watcher letters lies in the fact that in a later investigation it was discovered that another family had received a letter from the Watcher around the time the Broadduses received their first. As with the original owners of 657 Boulevard, this family had lived at their home for years with no issues and simply threw the letter away.
Soon after the Cut article’s publication, Netflix snapped up the feature rights to the Broaddus’ story and to adapt the article itself for a cool 7 figures. According to Deadline, bidders included Universal for Jason Blum, Warner Brothers for Roy Lee, Paramount for JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot, Amazon for producer Michael Sugar and Fox for Peter Chernin. Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman are attached to direct, an interesting choice with projects including Paranormal Activity 3 and 4, and the 2010 documentary Catfish, which was later rebooted into a popular MTV television series. So, hey, if the Broadduses were hoaxing this entire situation to get a movie deal...somehow, some way, they made it happen.
In July 2019, the family finally sold the house at a $400,000 loss. There is a Twitter account for a Derek Broaddus that purports to be run by this story’s Derek Broaddus, and he posts often about the Watcher, stalking, DNA testing in crime, and other related topics. I find it hard to believe it’s someone pretending to be him since the account was created years ago. In November 2019, the account posted “1 yr ago this [article] came out. Thx for telling part of our story @reeveswiedeman. We have the *female* dna. Still no arrest. Victims shouldn’t have 2 beg cops to do their job. Still no correction/apology”. It seems, though the Broaddus family no longer resides in Westfield New Jersey, the Watcher of 657 Boulevard has continued to reside in the family’s psyche.
It’s time for Roast 2 Roast AM.
Unlike the usual use of this news category, which will probably be to highlight ridiculous Coast to Coast AM interviews and calls, I wanted to bring up a news item they both spotlighted on their webpage and tweeted about: A dog in Florida that has become a viral sensation thanks to its “jaw-dropping fur pattern which makes it looks like he possesses the head of a dachshund and the body of a dalmatian” or, as they also described it, the body of a cow. Moo, so named due to this bovine patterning, belongs to Miami resident Victoria Hoffman, who explained that she had always wanted a dachshund but wasn't able to get one until a few months ago when the coronavirus pandemic left her with enough downtime to devote to a new puppy. And I will attest, Moo is cute as hell. But I love Coast to Coast AM posting about this alongside other articles like “Odd Balloon-Like Object Over Japan Sparks Online Frenzy” and “Pet Camera Films Ghost Cat?” Apparently, no one at C2C online realized that dapple dachshunds are a fairly common variant of the breed (just like red, chocolate, and black-and-tan doxies) and while Moo is painfully adorable and uniquely shaded, he doesn’t quite fit in among the conspiracies and cryptids that are Coast to Coast’s bread and butter. Our dachshund Poe, however, is an alien in a wiener dog’s body and should be investigated.
You can follow sweet baby Moo at moo_in_Miami on Instagram.
Speaking of Poe and cryptids, it’s time for Poe’s Cryptid Corner!
That’s it for the third episode of Ain’t It Scary with Sean and Carrie! Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @aintitscary, and check out our website at aintitscary.com. And please, subscribe to the show and throw us a 5-star review on iTunes...we’ll be forever grateful.
See you next Tuesday!
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