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Is Netflix’s ‘The Watcher’ Based on a True Story? The True Story, Explained

Bobby Cannavale and Naomi Watts as the Brannocks in The Watcher

The Watcher premiered on Netflix on October 13, 2022, and marked the streaming service’s latest chilling crime thriller courtesy of their deal with Ryan Murphy. The series stars Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale as Nora and Dean Brannock. The Brannocks are a married couple who move into their dream home in Westfield, New Jersey. However, their dream home deteriorates into their worst nightmare when they start facing harassment from a mysterious figure called The Watcher. The unidentified stalker sends them ominous letters filled with chilling threats as well as intimate details of their lives that prove they are being watched.

The Watcher has performed well so far, even succeeding in dethroning Netflix’s other hit crime series, Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story as the #1 top TV show in the U.S. on the streamer. The Watcher and Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story share the same creators, as both come from the minds of Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan. In addition to Watts and Cannavale, the series also stars Mia Farrow, Noma Dumezweni, Joe Mantello, and Jennifer Coolidge.

It’s still early, but the show has received mainly mixed reviews from critics so far. They praise the show’s performances and labeled it as intriguing, but criticized the tone and pacing. Even if critical reception isn’t stellar, though, its place on Netflix’s Top 10 means it’s still getting high viewership. After all, the series did release at just the right time, as its chilling premise is perfect for the upcoming Halloween holiday. It is truly the stuff of nightmares: being randomly targeted, harassed, and watched by an unknown figure. What makes The Watcher even eerier is the fact that there’s an element of truth to the story.

Is The Watcher based on a true story?

Netflix’s The Watcher is, indeed, based on a true story, making it a true crime miniseries similar to Murphy’s Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. The Brannocks are based on a real-life couple, Derek and Maria Broaddus. Like the Brannocks, they purchased and moved into their dream home in Westfield, NJ. However, shortly after their move, they started receiving letters and threats from someone who called themselves The Watcher. Their story was detailed in New York‘s “The Cut” magazine in an article titled “The Haunting of a Dream House” by Reeves Wiedeman. The Watcher is largely based on Wiedeman’s article that explored the Broaddus’ story.

The Watcher true story explained

Netflix's The Watcher shows the house on 657 Boulevard

Of course, Netflix takes some liberties with The Watcher, so here’s the full true story behind it. The Broadduses lived in Westfield, NJ, in 2014, and in June purchased a new home at 657 Boulevard. The house couldn’t be described any other way than a true dream home. It cost the Broadduses $1.3 million and was a luxurious six-bedroom 1905 Dutch colonial revival. However, for the next two years, they would desperately try to sell the house, finally ridding themselves of it in 2016 at a loss of half a million dollars.

The reason was that they began receiving ominous letters and threats upon moving in. The first letter was signed by “The Watcher” and they received it just three days after closing on the house. It read:

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.

The letter turned increasingly creepy as it identified the Broaddus’ car, the contractors at the home, and the work the Broadduses had done on the home so far. Even more terrifying, it mentioned seeing their children and threatening to call to them and draw them in. The next letter that came identified the family by name and even listed all of the children’s nicknames in birth order. The family was still living in their old Westfield home at this point and subsequently decided to stop bringing their children to the new home. However, letters continued to appear at the residence inquiring about them.

Who is The Watcher?

The police became involved in the case but struggled to find leads. A family had lived in the house before the Broaddus family for 23 years. In all those years, the only letter they received from The Watcher came days before they moved out and reiterated many of the sentiments in the first letter the Broaddus family received. An investigation was launched and honed in on several suspects. The biggest apparent suspect in the case was Michael Langford. He and his family lived right next door to 657 Boulevard and Langford’s family had lived in Westfield since the 1960s. Meanwhile, Langford’s father had passed 12 years earlier, meaning The Watcher role could’ve theoretically been passed on to him.

While Langford was interviewed multiple times, the police lacked hard evidence. Langford was never charged and his family has vehemently denied his involvement and even claimed to have been harassed by police because of the letters. Other suspects ranged from sex offenders in the area to former tenants of 657 Boulevard to disgruntled buyers who had missed out on buying the house. Some residents even accused the Broadduses of writing the letters themselves as an elaborate scheme motivated by buyer’s remorse. But the family seems so exhausted by the subsequent events that it’s hard to see what they would’ve gained from perpetuating such a story.

Every lead has led to a dead-end. The police eventually closed the case, but the Broadduses continued to press for answers, hiring private investigators and getting the FBI involved. Derek even installed cameras all around the home and watched them obsessively. To this day, though, The Watcher’s identity is unknown.

The Watcher aftermath

Booby Cannavale, Jennifer Coolidge, and Naomi Watts in The Watcher

The Broadduses struggled to sell their home for two years. They even tried and failed to get the house torn down. Understandably, nobody wanted to touch it when they learned of The Watcher. Finally, though, a family with adult children and two dogs agreed to rent it. Shortly after moving in, they received a letter from The Watcher. The letter listed in specific detail all the Broaddus’ doings with the house over the previous years. It was a scathing letter that slammed the Broadduses for wanting to tear down the house and promised revenge.

The renting family chose to stay in the home despite the letters and the Broadduses continue to rent it out today. As for The Watcher, the letters stopped after 2016. However, Derek fears that the disturbed individual is still out there in Westfield. Despite The Watcher, Derek and his family have remained in Westfield. They will never forget The Watcher and the ongoing nightmare they experienced, though.

The family lost their dream house, suffered financially from selling it, and dealt with ostracization from their neighbors for the whole ordeal. Derek and Maria also detailed having nightmares after the incident. Meanwhile, they never received any closure as no one knows who The Watcher is or if they’re still watching the home on 657 Boulevard.

(featured image: Netflix)

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Rachel Ulatowski is an SEO writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, YA literature, celebrity news, and coming-of-age films. She has over two years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.