Netflix’s latest mini-series The Watcher has clocked up more than 148 million viewing hours.
The hit show tells the story of how the Brannock family moves into what was supposed to be their suburban dream home, before it quickly becomes a living hell.
Ominous letters from someone calling themself “The Watcher” are just the beginning as the neighbourhood’s sinister secrets come spilling out.
Dean (Bobby Cannavale) and Nora Brannock (Naomi Watts) purchase their dream home in the idyllic suburb of Westfield, New Jersey, but after putting all of their savings into closing the deal they soon realize the neighbourhood is less than welcoming.
There’s a kooky older woman named Pearl (Mia Farrow) and her brother Jasper (Terry Kinney), who sneaks into the Brannock’s house and hides in their dumbwaiter.
There’s Karen (Jennifer Coolidge), the realtor and an old acquaintance of Nora’s, who makes them feel like they don’t really belong, and nosy neighbours Mitch (Richard Kind) and Mo (Margo Martindale), who don’t seem to understand property lines.
Their icy welcome quickly turns into a full-blown living hell when letters from “The Watcher” start arriving, terrorizing the Brannocks to their breaking point.
But the creepy tale is based on a true story.
In November 2018, New York Magazine and The Cut published an article detailing the story of a real-life New Jersey family receiving letters from a stalker.
Derek and Maria Broaddus bought their six-bedroom house at 657 Boulevard in Westfield, New Jersey, in June 2014.
Just three days later they found a mysterious card among the mail addressed to “The New Owner”.
The typed note inside read: “Dearest new neighbor at 657 Boulevard, Allow me to welcome you to the neighborhood.”
But the letter takes a strange turn asking the family how they came to the house and “Did 657 Boulevard call to you with its force within?”
It continued: “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.”
The Watcher made references to the couple’s children and asked them to fill the house with “young blood”.
The Broadduses took it to the police and were told not to tell their neighbours about the contents because it seemed likely it was someone nearby who had sent it.
More letters followed.
Many theories about the source of the correspondence were considered, including a particular neighbour due to his vantage over the family’s home.
The Broadduses became disliked in the community with some accusing them of sending the letters to themselves to aid in regaining some of their money.
They ended up selling the house in 2019 for $400,000 less than they bought it for.
Despite inquiries, including by private investigators, police and former FBI agents, the Watcher has never been identified.
Some changes have been made to the true story for the Netflix series, including the Broaddus’ names. Instead of three, they have only two children, and the couple is older than when their real-life counterparts purchased the home.