657 Boulevard: The fate of the real-life inspiration of Netflix's 'The Watcher'
Warning: minor spoilers ahead
Another true crime miniseries in The Watcher—co-written and directed by Ryan Murphy of American Horror Story and DAHMER - Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story fame—has taken streaming giant Netflix by storm.
Based on the feature story "The Haunting of a Dream House" by Reeves Wiedeman of New York magazine's The Cut in November 2018, the seven-part The Watcher follows the family of Dean and Nora Brannock (Derek and Nora Broaddus in real life) moving into their new house on 657 Boulevard in the town of Westfield in New Jersey, United States.
As they settle into their new home, the Brannocks find themselves receiving a mysterious letter from a certain "The Watcher," asking them "How did you end up here?" and "Did 657 Boulevard call to you with its force within?"
"Do you know the history of the house? Do you know what lies within the walls of 657 Boulevard?" the letter reads.
The Watcher sends more letters that become increasingly menacing and personal, with the couple's children already involved. The Watcher describes the children as "young blood" who they will call and draw to themself.
A series of investigations—and revelations—in the neigborhood would ensue, and the Brannocks ultimately sell the house and find residence elsewhere. But the supposed clean slate in the miniseries finale isn't realized, as Dean visits 657 Boulevard and talks to the new owner, Ben. From a distance, inside his car, Dean even watches Ben pick up letters from the mailbox later on. (It's unclear whether Ben also got a message from The Watcher.)
Nora then calls Dean, who lies to her about getting stuck in traffic after a job interview. The next scene, however, shows Nora following her husband, passing by their former house and glances at it before speeding off.
While the dramatic ending tries to paint a disturbing picture about how 657 Boulevard still lives in the Brannocks' heads rent-free, what happened to the real Broadduses isn't quite the same.
In the original 2018 feature, The Cut's Wiedeman said that one day during spring (March to June), Derek met with him and told him that they "no longer live in ever-present fear" about The Watcher.
The Broadduses' kids, however, are occasionally teased at school and the conspiracies persist.
Curiously, residents have also received letters à la The Watcher during the last Christmas Eve, signed by "Friends of the Broaddus Family." Derek admitted to writing the letters himself, but said he wasn't proud of it and kept it a secret to his wife.
In a follow-up story last Oct. 11, Wiedeman wrote that the Broadduses are still in Westfield, living in a "lovely, albeit smaller" house. They're trying to avoid thinking or talking about The Watcher, he said, turning down interviews from television networks and documentarians.
Still, Derek told The Cut that he's having "a difficult time getting beyond his obsession with the case and what it did to their lives." He described it as "like cancer," and that they "think about it everyday."
Wiedeman, citing the Broadduses' neighbor, also wrote that the couple pocketed close to $10 million (P589.8 million) for giving Netflix the right to adapt the story. The amount, however, still wasn't enough to cover the losses on the house.
Though they were given some control over the story's direction, the Broadduses wanted little involvement as much as possible. They only made two requests: that Netflix doesn't use their real names, and that the fictious Brannock family doesn't resemble them (the Brannocks have three children, versus the Broadduses' two). They even wanted Netflix to depict the fictitious 657 Boulevard burned to the ground (which didn't obviously happen).
In any case, Wiedeman said the Broadduses haven't seen the Netflix miniseries. Derek doesn’t plan to watch it, as seeing the trailer was "stressful enough."
As a matter of fact, before the Netflix adaptation, the Broadduses already had concerns about being in the limelight. Several producers have expressed interest in acquiring the rights to adapt The Cut's article, with one even offering to buy 657 Boulevard as a set.
A 2016 movie similarly called The Watcher also drew inspiration from the Broadduses' account, much to their dismay. It, however, pushed through as producers employed enough creative freedom: the film’s couple is biracial and the letters come from “The Raven."
It must also be noted that in real life, the Broadduses never stayed on 657 Boulevard, opting to renovate it first. It was during the renovation process when The Watcher's letters would haunt them.
Wiedeman wrote in his Oct. 11 update that the Broadduses tried to sell the house for $999,000 (P58.9 million), from the original $1.35 million (P79.6 million), in March 2019. (Netflix turned the price to $3.2 million or P188.6 million to further dramatize the situation and cause “considerable financial strain” on the Brannocks.) They intended to sell it to a builder that can tear the house down.
But a young family was able to buy it for $959,000 (P56.5 million)—not taking into account fees and taxes, as well as payment for utilities, home insurance, contractors who made renovations to the house, and the lawyers and private investigators who tried to shed light into the mystery.
The Broadduses asked their lawyer to send to the new owners a note that read, “We wish you nothing but the peace and quiet that we once dreamed of in this house." They also attached a photograph of The Watcher’s handwriting, just in case mysterious letters would start plaguing them.
So far, the new owners haven't received any letter from The Watcher.
A Google Earth search shows 657 Boulevard situated in a busy neighborhood filled with trees and houses.
To date, whether it's real or reel, The Watcher case remains unsolved. A title card before the closing credits of the miniseries finale also indicates this.
But as Wiedeman concludes in his original feature: "The Watcher had been obsessed with 657 Boulevard, and Derek, in turn, had become obsessed with The Watcher and everything the letters had set in motion."
"You are despised by the house," Derek's letter reads. "And The Watcher won."