It looks like Halloween is coming a bit early this year courtesy of mega-producers Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan and their new show “The Watcher,” which is set to hit Netflix at some point this fall. Based upon a series of chilling but true events surrounding a handsome Dutch Colonial located at 657 Boulevard in Westfield, N.J., the tale is almost too bizarre to be believed!
As the story, which was covered in detail by an extensive 2018 feature in The Cut, goes, in June 2014 Derek Broaddus, a senior vice president at a Manhattan insurance agency, and his wife, Maria, purchased their dream house (pictured below), a picturesque six-bedroom, four-bath, 3,869-square-foot residence situated on a hilly green plot in affluent Westfield for $1.35 million. The couple planned to move into the idyllic three-story 1905 structure with their three young children following a renovation project. But their dream dwelling quickly turned into the stuff of nightmares when Derek found a letter in the mailbox of his new home just three days after the close of escrow. The typed missive stated, “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 it 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 note was ominously signed “The Watcher.” (Shudder!)
Within two weeks, a second message had arrived, this one mentioning the three Broaddus children by their nicknames along with the query, “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.” (Again, shudder!) A third communication turned up a few weeks later, as equally foreboding as its predecessors.
Derek promptly contacted the police and an investigation was launched, but little headway was made in pinpointing The Watcher’s identity. There were plenty of hunches floating around the neighborhood, though. The most prevalent theory centered on the adult son of the longtime owners of the house next door, a man one area denizen described as a “kind of Boo Radley character,” according to The Cut, who suffered from schizophrenia and was known to harass local residents by peeking through windows and traipsing through yards. His realtor sister was also considered a person of interest, as were those who had been outbid by the Broadduses when 657 Boulevard was on the market.
But the most predominant speculation fell upon Derek and Maria themselves, with many neighbors embracing the idea that the couple had fabricated The Watcher character as a way to recoup financially after suffering an extreme case of buyer’s remorse – or even possibly in an attempt to drum up publicity for a profitable future movie deal. As preposterous as both of those scenarios might seem, the Broadduses did wind up selling their story rights to Netflix for the upcoming series in what Deadline deemed was “shaping up to be one of the biggest material deals” of 2018. And they sued 657 Boulevard’s prior owners for not disclosing that they, too, had been sent a letter from The Watcher just a few days before escrow closed. The suit, which was later dismissed, requested a “refund of the entire purchase price with interest while also permitting Plaintiffs to retain fee title to the home,” per documents published by the Daily Mail, with hefty treble, compensatory and consequential damages tacked on. And there’s this interesting little tidbit to consider. On Christmas Eve 2017, anonymous typed letters were found in the mailboxes of several neighbors who had been especially critical of the Broaddus family. About a year later, Derek admitted to The Cut that he had authored them. He stoutly maintains that he had nothing to do with “The Watcher” missives, though.
Renovations on 657 Boulevard were completed in the fall of 2014, but the Broaddus family could not bring themselves to inhabit the place, opting instead to move in with Maria’s parents. In the meantime, the story of the house and its creepy Watcher began to attract widespread publicity and it wasn’t long before the pad became a macabre tourist attraction for true-crime-loving passersby to gawk at.
As the months lingered on, the Broadduses attempted to offload the dwelling, putting it on the market several times. (MLS photos of the interior can be seen here.) But there were zero takers. They then tried to sell to a developer who hoped to subdivide the land, but the Westfield Planning Board quickly vetoed that plan. Options of turning the place into a halfway house or leasing it to the Department of Veteran Affairs were also explored but never came to fruition. The family ultimately rented the abode to a private party for a time before putting it up for sale yet again in March 2019 for $999,000. It sold four months later for $959,000, almost $400,000 less than Derek and Maria originally paid for it five years prior.
Happenings on the picturesque block have been presumably quiet ever since, though the story has become the stuff of legend and the property will likely forever be known as “The Watcher House.”
While the story is undoubtedly nightmarish, the Netflix dramatization promises to slant toward the comedic, as showcased in a recently-released promo for the series that sees the fabulously kooky Jennifer Coolidge stepping into the shoes of fictional Westfield realtor Karen Calhoun as she takes prospective buyers on a video walkthrough of her new listing at 657 Boulevard.
As evidenced in the three-minute spot, “The Watcher” is not making use of the actual home where the unsettling events took place. Instead, the production team found a suitable stand-in residence about 25 miles northeast of Manhattan in Rye, N.Y. for the shoot. Situated just steps from the shoreline of the Long Island Sound on a pristinely manicured corner lot at 1 Warriston Ln., the fictional 657 Boulevard is far more opulent and grand than the real thing. Where the Broadduses’ former property is rather traditional in style with clapboard siding and a mansard roofline, its television counterpart, which towers four stories, is fronted with Cedar shake, handsomely valenced windows and a stone staircase that spills out onto a generous grassy expanse below.
Boasting six bedrooms (all ensuite) and seven baths in a whopping 10,166 square feet, the dwelling is also much larger than the Broadduses’ actual former home and is surrounded by a far more considerable plot of land – 1.25 acres as compared to 0.46.
A newer build, the Rye residence was originally constructed in 2016 by the Greenwich, Conn.-based Douglas VanderHorn architectural firm and last changed hands for $1.93 million in August 2020.
Exquisitely outfitted from top to bottom, the property’s interior looks like a designer showpiece! Just a few of the plush amenities that can be found on-site include a formal entry with a curving staircase, a chef’s kitchen fashioned with Calcutta stone, a home theater with seating for 10, a gym, a game room with a full bar, a wood-paneled library, an indoor basketball court, a golf simulator, water views, 10 to 25-foot ceilings throughout, six fireplaces and a three-car garage complete with an electric vehicle charging station.
Outside on the bucolic grounds are a wraparound gravel driveway, handsome stone walls, an outdoor fireplace, multiple grassy stretches, a spacious terrace and a 70-foot pool with an attached spa.
If the “The Watcher’s” promotional video is to be believed, only the exterior of the Rye property is being utilized on the series. The interior shown appears to be an extensive set very loosely modeled upon the actual features of the home, with some decidedly unique elements added, including what Karen describes as a dumbwaiter large enough to fit a person and a “sous chef kitchen” fashioned out of hot tub wood and faux marble.
Whether or not we ever find out who “The Watcher” is in real life, the Netflix series is sure to make for a darkly fun ride!
(Please remember the houses mentioned in this post are private. Do not trespass or bother the residents or the properties in any way.)