The Watcher of Westfield
What if you finally bought the house of your dreams?
What if you began receiving anonymous letters at your dream house before your family had moved in?
What if the letters made menacing references to observing the house for decades and looking forward seeing more of your three small children, but warning against them playing in the basement because it’s far away from the rest of the house and if you were upstairs you would never hear them scream?
Derek and Maria Broaddus don’t have to ponder, knowers.
Perhaps it sounds like the stuff of a Lifetime Network weekend thriller, but it’s also the chilling and distressing reality that happened to them in 2014 when they bought their house at 657 Boulevard in Westfield, New Jersey.
After Derek’s promotion to senior vice president (and the accompanying salary bump) the couple purchased the three bedroom three-and-a-half bath manor with its high ceilings, three fireplaces, and wraparound front porch and began renovations before moving in.
It was while picking up the mail while the house was still undergoing renovation that, among the handful of bills and junk mail, Derek Broaddus spied a white envelop hand-addressed to “The New Owner.” Inside was a typewritten letter that opened:
Dearest new neighbor at 657 Boulevard,
Allow me to welcome you to the neighborhood.
Though it started blandly enough, the letter took a quick turn first to creepy, then to dark and menacing:
How did you end up here?
Did 657 Boulevard call to you with its force within?
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.
…You have children. I have seen them. So far I think there are three that I have counted.
…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 signature, too, was typed, signed simply: “The Watcher.”
Derek, of course, took the letter to the police, whose investigation uncovered that the previous owners had received a similar letter before they moved out. But for some reason they thought little of it and discarded it.
Yeah, knowers, I don’t know how you toss out a letter in which the latest in several generations of watchers monitoring my home in secret introduces himself, but maybe that’s just me.
As the renovation continued on and the Broadduses kept picking up mail at the house, more letters came. Each one made it clear that the Watcher was living up to his name as he seemed to delight in sharing what he learned about them in his shadowy vigil: Their family name, their children’s names, what the family did -- including one daughter’s time at the house spent painting at an easel, asking in one letter:
Is she the artist in the family?
For a while, the police investigation focused on a reclusive neighbor family -- an elderly woman and her adult children who had lived in the house next door for half a century, with ample opportunity and the line-of-sight to 657 Boulevard to gain the information the Watcher brandished in the letters. At first investigators suspected the schizophrenic son who was a shadowy and unsettling presence in the neighborhood. But they quickly dismissed him, after DNA obtained from the seal on one letter’s envelope turned out to be female, and turned their sights on his sister. When her DNA didn’t match,
though, they informed the Broadduses the family was no longer under suspicion.
Which of you knowers immediately screamed in your head like I did “What about the mother?” when you read that? There’s no mention of the authorities doing anything to rule her out…
The Broadduses tried to keep the whole thing quiet as they worked through it. But once they filed suit against the previous owners for not disclosing their contact with the Watcher – treating it as a defect to the property like when a murder has occurred on the premises -- it was picked up in the press. And the public attention grew quickly ugly.
Aside from the obvious neighbors suspecting neighbors of the stalker-y intimations of menace, some neighbors blamed the Broadduses. Those theories were all some variation of the family either not being able to afford the house and trying to scam their way out of the mortgage or flat-out accusations of a ploy to acquire permission to level the house and build two newer homes on the lot for a profit.
I tell ya, here in Cincy, I’ve never had a problem. But where I lived as a kid… man, we had some neighbors that spent more time in front of their windows watching the neighborhood than the average eighth grader spends in front their Nintendo.
After two years, the Broadduses still had never moved in and still had been unable to sell 657 Boulevard, thanks to the steep discounts all the offerors expected with the property’s reputation. At one point they did have the place rented—for less than they were paying on it mortgage—until their tenant handed them a typed letter that had shown up in the mail:
Violent winds and bitter cold
To the vile and spiteful Derek and his wench of a wife Maria,
You wonder who The Watcher is? Turn around idiots.
Maybe you even spoke to me, one of the so called neighbors who has no idea who The Watcher could be.
Or maybe you do know and are too scared to tell anyone. Good move.
It went on to detail the media coverage the whole situation had received.
Eventually, in 2019, having never moved into their dream house, they finally were able to sell the place - at a nearly half-million dollar loss. They also received one final letter that taunted:
You are despised by the house.
And The Watcher won.
Knowers, the identity of the Watcher and his reasons for harassing and menacing this family are today still unknown. Dismissing suspect after suspect over the years, the police have essentially thrown in the towel, and private detectives and security experts hired by the Broadduses have never turned up anything substantial. Many theories still stand: a neighbor unhappy with the renovations the Broadduses made to the grand old manor; the child of a servant or contractor who once worked in the house; a business competitor of Derek’s; a rival bidder on the house disgruntled by being outbid for the
property by the Broadduses…heck, there’s even a 2016 movie about the whole thing that, aside from highly fictionalizing the whole thing to the point of unrecognizable, presents its own theory (no spoilers here, knowers).
I dive a whole lot deeper into all this in this week’s SOMEBODY KNOWS podcast. But if you can’t wait, this 2018 article by Reeves Wiedeman from New York Magazine’s The Cut covers the case and the various incidents and theories exhaustively.
And this ABC News piece focuses on the legal cases that not only resulted but drove many of the theories regarding what was really happening to the Broadduses
and their dream home turned nightmare experience.
Got a theory? Want me to discuss it on an upcoming the podcast?
Leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments section. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if any of my knowers have an insight or even a connection to the case that might bring us to an answer on the Watcher and the reason behind these letters.
No crime has to go unsolved -- somewhere, out there, somebody knows.