Get to Know the Real-Life Stalking Case Behind Netflix’s ‘The Watcher’

The Watcher key art

The New Jersey town of Westfield has been named one of the safest communities in the United States, but try telling that to Derek and Maria Broaddus, whose real-life stalking horror story is now the basis of the new Netflix drama The Watcher, premiering on Thursday, October 13.

“The Watcher” is the pseudonym of whoever started writing threatening letters to the Broadduses, starting just after their June 2014 purchase of the house at 657 Boulevard.

“Allow me to welcome you to the neighborhood,” the first letter began, according to a 2018 New York Magazine article about the saga. “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.”

In subsequent letters, The Watcher referred to Derek and Maria and their three children — who were 5, 8, and 10 years old at the time — by name. “Will the young blood play in the basement?” one letter read. “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.”

Derek and Maria contacted local law enforcement after the first letter arrived, but when the cops’ investigation came up empty, the couple enlisted private investigators and a former FBI agent to help with their search. That homegrown investigation stalled, too, and so Derek and Maria — whose nerves were frayed — decided to sell the house after six months of ownership. They insisted on disclosing their experience with potential buyers. “I don’t know how you live through what we did and think you could do it to somebody else,” Derek told New York. And in June 2015, Derek and Maria filed a legal complaint against the house’s prior owners for not disclosing the one “odd” letter The Watcher sent them a few days before they moved out. (That suit was dismissed, according to CNN.)

A local reporter found that legal complaint, however, and soon, the Broadduses’ story had made national news. Amid the media frenzy, Derek and Maria reluctantly told their kids about the letters. “Can you imagine having that conversation with a 5-year-old?” Derek told New York. “Your town isn’t as safe as you think it is, and there’s a boogeyman obsessed with you.”

Neighbors, meanwhile, began to suspect the Broadduses of inventing the story. They thought maybe the Watcher saga was an insurance fraud scheme, or a shot at a movie deal, or a way of undoing a home purchase that Derek and Maria were perhaps now regretting.

All the while, the house didn’t sell. At the advice of their real-estate lawyer, the Broadduses proposed splitting the property into two lots. But amid protests from neighbors, the planning board denied the proposal. (“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,” Maria told New York.)

Finally, the couple managed to rent out the house to a family. And then came another letter, “You wonder who the Watcher is? Turn around, idiots,” the letter read. “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.”

By the time of the New York article, the Broadduses still owned 657 Boulevard but had never moved in. In his interview with the magazine, Derek admitted that he sent anonymous letters to skeptics and critics in the neighborhood, a letter that included stories about cases of domestic terrorism stemming from unnoticed mental illness.

“It’s like cancer,” Derek said in the magazine piece, reflecting on his 657 Boulevard nightmare. “We think about it every day.”

Just weeks after New York published the article, Netflix won a six-studio bidding war for the rights to the story, according to Deadline, with Eric Newman and Bryan Unkeless signed on to produce the series and Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman attached to direct.

Ryan Murphy and frequent collaborator Ian Brennan linked up and joined the project, and the producers cast Bobby Cannavale and Naomi Watts to star as Derek and Maria. The cast of the miniseries also includes Mia Farrow, Noma Dumezweni, Margo Martindale, and Jennifer Coolidge.

As for the Broaddus family, CNN reports Derek and Maria finally sold the house for $959,000 in July 2019, after paying $1.3 million to buy the house five years prior and spending about $100,000 on renovations.

The Watcher, Limited Series Premiere, Thursday, October 13, Netflix