Surpassing even its state hellbeast, New Jersey's most intriguing mystery remains (to my mind) The Watcher House, a sizable suburban colonial haunted not by ghosts, but by a mystery stalker who harassed the last buyers off the block. Despite the media attention Derek and Maria Broaddus received since their ordeal at Westfield's 657 Boulevard began in 2014, they have not spoken openly about the creepy letter campaign that drove them from the house before they even moved in—until now.
For the uninitiated, a quick recap of The Watcher case: In 2014, three days after the $1.3 million sale closed on 657 Boulevard, Maria and Derek received a deeply strange "welcome to the neighborhood" letter, signed "The Watcher." The dispatch explained that The Watcher's family had watched the house since the 1920s. "It is now my time," the author wrote. "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 missive offered the Broadduses no reason to think its author wouldn't make good on that final promise, because alongside ominous scoldings about mild renovations the couple made, The Watcher wove in personal details: The brand of minivan they drove, the number of children they had (three). "Do you need to fill the house with the young blood I requested? Better for me," the letter continued. "Once I know their names I will call to them and draw them too [sic] me."
Spookily, the note also reminded the Broadduses that it would be nearly impossible to pinpoint The Watcher's identity. Someone driving by? A neighbor? A pedestrian passing through? "Welcome my friends, welcome," The Watcher concluded. "Let the party begin."
Naturally, Maria and Derek did not feel particularly eager to place their young bloods in the stalker's crosshairs, and delayed move-in day as the letters continued to arrive. Here's another chilling excerpt:
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.
On Tuesday, The Cut published an in-depth look at The Watcher case. In it, we learn that the anonymous notes were unsettling in and of themselves, but the Broaddus's account suggests that the nightmare really picked up steam when the town turned against them, tethering them to an unsaleable house of horrors and earning them untold enemies within the small community.
The house's previous owner offered few clues for Derek and Maria, having received only one letter just before finalizing the sale. So the couple scrutinized their neighbors with suspicion, enlisting multiple private investigators and corralling their kids around them when they attended a meet-and-greet barbecue across the street. "We kept screaming at them to stay close," Maria told NY Mag. "People must have thought we were crazy."
People did seem to decide that the Broadduses were, if not crazy, then certainly scammers who engineered a hoax to extort the previous owners (against whom the Broadduses filed a civil complaint for failing to disclose the in-person haunting). The town turned on the Broaddus family, refusing to let them demolish the house and sell the lot, effectively obligating the couple to keep hemorrhaging money in maintenance and mortgage fees while they looked for a buyer. The family stayed in Westfield amid escalating animosity, and rented the house instead of moving in.
"You know what we've been through," Maria, a Westfield native, chastised the town in her interview with the Cut. "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."
Four years later, do the Broadduses have any idea who The Watcher is? Heck no! Please see this excerpt from a message delivered to their tenants in roughly 2016:
"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," it continued, going on to threaten a number of bloody ways this story could end: "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."
Westfield, meanwhile, seems to have moved on. When Gothamist went to watch The Watcher in 2015, peak Watcher panic, most residents weren't "comfortable talking about it." Now, according to NY Mag, "many were surprised to find out the Broadduses were still dealing with the problem." The family found a new tenant, but police never publicly pinpointed a suspect. The Watcher is still be out there, friends: Watching and waiting.