“Based on a true story” is honestly the horror punchline these days, and the fact that the Netflix mini-series “The Watcher” is based on a true story is terrifying. The strange events that occurred at 657 Boulevard in Whitefield, New Jersey, were covered by The Cut. Derek and Maria Broaddus bought the beautiful house in Whitefield. Away from bustling city life, Whitefield was the perfect place to settle down with a family. Derek received the first letter when their house was being renovated. The writer introduced themselves as “The Watcher” and discussed how their grandfather was the Watcher in the 1920s and then their father in the 1960s. The Watcher was now responsible for watching over the house as the house’s 110th birthday was approaching. The writer questioned the owner of the house about whether or not they were aware of the house’s history. The Watcher mentioned that they looked forward to finding out the reason why the family had come to the house. In the mini-series, the first letter is similar to the one originally sent. It was downright creepy when Watcher stated that they would draw the children towards themselves once they knew their names. To think that a couple had to go through such an experience is chilling.
While the first letter did not refer to the Broaddus, the next letter sent two weeks later was addressed to the couple, but their names were spelled wrong. The letter stated the information that the Watcher had gathered by now, that is, the name and age of the young children. They also expressed how well they knew the layout of the house and wondered who slept in which room. It got wild when the Watcher mentioned the basement. They discussed how the parents would be unable to hear their children even if they screamed in the basement. This letter shook Maria and Derek, and they debated whether or not to sell the house. Webcams were set up in the house as the family decided to live away from 657 Boulevard. In the mini-series, the family, apart from Dean, started to live away from the house, similar to what the Broaddus family did in reality. The third letter that the couple received was a request from the Watcher to bring back the children to the house. They believed that the house needed some young blood playing around and ordered the couple to bring back the children. The third letter was the final nail in the coffin. The Broaddus family listed their house for sale. But unfortunately, nobody showed an interest in buying the house. Maria and Derek wanted to be honest with the buyer, and after showing them the letters, the potential buyers would decide against it. The Watcher scolded Maria and Derek and called them names. They were perhaps disappointed that the owners did not bring back the children and instead wanted to sell the house. The Watcher asked the owners to look around if they wanted to know who the Watcher was. Indicating that they were someone who lived in the neighborhood and the couple knew them. The Watcher went on to send another letter, threatening to murder the family or their close ones and making it all look like an accident. The Broaddus family could not find a buyer until 2019, and they had to sell the house at a loss.
The mini-series dramatized multiple facets of the actual case to make the series more impactful. The character of Roger Kaplan is influenced by Robert Kaplow, the English teacher at Summit High School. The students of Kaplow remembered that he used to be obsessive about a house in Westfield that he admired. He had written over 50 letters to the house. The strange coincidence was that Robert Kaplow retired in 2014, and the Broaddus family bought the house in 2014. Even though Robert moved out of Westfield after retirement, his brother Richard continued to live half a block away from 657 Boulevard. Robert dismissed the rumors, claiming that he admired another house and not 657 Boulevard. He did write letters to the house he loved, but the letters expressed his admiration for the house and were not threatening. The series also wisely incorporates the John List case. The man murdered his wife, mother, and three children in 1971 in Westfield. The name is changed to John Graff in the series, and a whole different theory is woven around the character.
After the case was published, DNA samples were collected from the neighborhood, though none matched that of the letter. Maria and Derek stated that there were potential suspects who refused to give DNA samples; therefore, the neighbors could not be completely left out of the picture. There was suspicious mail sent to the local officials questioning the point of the DNA sample collection. The person stated that it was a waste of the prosecutor’s resources. The man called himself Malcolm Mannix, a direct reference to a 60s television show. Many believed that the family profited from it, but an article published in “The Cut” explains how the family went through nothing but emotional and financial loss after buying 657 Boulevard. The prosecutor is yet to return the DNA evidence and letters to the Broaddus family, who have decided to close the case in 2020.
While the Broaddus family never really stayed at the house, the Brannock family in “The Watcher” lived there for a substantial amount of time. The neighbors are portrayed as suspicious entities in the series, just as they were considered so in reality. The teacher character is another element that the showrunner chose to incorporate into the series. A great extent of artistic liberty is taken in this Ryan Murphy production, resulting in an edge-of-the-seat experience. The person behind the letters can be assumed to be someone elderly who was disappointed with the rapid changes brought into the neighborhood. But nothing concrete was ever stated, and the case remains unsolved.