Top 10 Things Netflix's The Watcher Got Factually Right & Wrong
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Cassondra Feltus
So, what did Netflix's "The Watcher" get factually right and wrong? For this list, we'll be looking at what's fact and fiction in the Netflix thriller about a nightmarish house purchase. Our countdown includes creepy neighbors, hiring a private investigator, secret tunnels & hidden rooms, and more!
Things Netflix's The Watcher Got Factually Right and Wrong
Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Things Netflix’s The Watcher Got Factually Right and Wrong.
For this list, we’ll be looking at what’s fact and fiction in the Netflix thriller about a nightmarish house purchase. Warning, spoilers ahead!
Are you watching “The Watcher”? Let us know in the comments.
#10: The Family Actually Lived in the House
Dean and Nora Brannock, the fictionalized counterparts of real couple Derek and Maria Broaddus, go to the open house of a massive home in affluent Westfield, New Jersey. Soon they’re moving in and starting renovations. In June 2014, the Broadduses purchased a Dutch colonial for $1.35 million, a house and price both significantly smaller than what is portrayed in the series. Just days after closing, Derek found the menacing Watcher letter in the mailbox. He and Maria were too freaked out to move in, which means they didn’t have any scary home invasion situations or slain pets. And, while teenage Ellie Brannock finds the first letter in the series, the IRL Broadduses kept the letters a secret from their three much younger children.
#9: Creepy Neighbors
Before the Brannocks even purchase the house, they meet two of their very strange neighbors, siblings Jasper and Pearl Winslow. While these two are completely fictiona characters, they’re likely based on Abby and Michael Langford, who were top suspects in the real case. Michael Langford, diagnosed with schizophrenia, was known in the neighborhood for odd but harmless behavior, similar to Jasper. One of the painters working at the Broadduses house also reported seeing a couple sitting in lawn chairs facing the house. This sounds like the inspiration behind the Brannocks’ hostile neighbors Mitch and Mo. Whether they wore matching tracksuits is unknown, but the blood cult was made up just for the series. Luckily, it doesn’t seem the real life neighbors ever harassed the Broadduses either.
#8: Dean Wrote a “Watcher” Letter
In the series, Dean’s obsession with catching the Watcher spirals out of control. It’s affecting his marriage, his job, his relationship with his kids, and his overall mental health. In episode 5, he confesses to Nora that he wrote the third letter to make her want to sell the house. Later, he also sends letters to people in the neighborhood to get back at everyone. Derek Broaddus also admitted to sending anonymous letters to his former neighbors in a 2018 New York Magazine article, which were signed “Friends of the Broaddus Family.” Like Dean, he was hard-pressed after they were accused of pulling off an elaborate scheme, though for his family, this went on for years.
#7: The Westfield Preservation Society
As the head of the Westfield Preservation Society, Pearl Winslow has a strong desire to protect the interior and exterior of 657 Boulevard. She vocalizes her disdain for the renovations and threats to rip out the one hundred year old trees. The Westfield Preservation Society doesn’t actually exist. However, another organization made the Broadduses’ lives much harder. In January 2017, the Westfield Planning Board had a three-hour meeting to decide if the Broadduses should be able to sell the house to a developer who would divide the property and build two homes in its place. The people of Westfield had a very Pearl-like reaction to the possibility of the home being demolished and the board ultimately rejected the proposal.
#6: The Broadduses Moved to the City
When the Brannocks decide to leave 657 Boulevard for good, they return to their old home in NYC. Derek and Maria Broaddus, however, opted to stay in Westfield, which is where Maria grew up. Despite never living in the house, they still had to pay a mortgage and property, totaling around $100,000. Even so, the Broadduses found a smaller house in the area, and taking a page out of Karen Calhoun’s book, the couple bought it using an LLC to keep their information private. They still had trouble selling the house given its reputation and had to repeatedly lower the asking price. Renters occupied the house until 2019 when the Broadduses were finally able to sell it.
#5: Hiring a Private Investigator
In episode 2, Dean meets with Theodora Birch, a former jazz singer and current private investigator. Once she’s hired, she gets to work looking into their weirdo neighbors and manages to uncover quite a bit throughout the series. The Broadduses also hired a private investigator when they started their own investigation, along with multiple experts like handwriting analysts and former FBI agents. They took extra security measures installing a new alarm system, and later putting in cameras around the property for the renters. However, there wasn’t a young security business owner hanging around and no secret teenage romance happening.
#4: Secret Tunnels & Hidden Rooms
Episode 5 ends with a construction worker showing Dean and Nora a tunnel the crew found in the basement. Desperate for answers, the couple head on into the tunnel without hesitation and come across a secret room that looks lived in. They see someone fleeing but aren’t able to catch them. It’s a scary discovery and thankfully, Derek and Maria Broaddus didn’t have this experience. The second Watcher letter ominously mentioned the basement, asking, “Will the young blood play in the basement? Or are they too afraid to go down there alone.”
#3: An English Teacher Was a Suspect
Theodora learns that Westfield resident and retired local teacher, Roger Kaplan, has been obsessed with 657 Boulevard since he was a kid. Not only that, for years he’s instructed students to write love letters to houses as a homework assignment called “An Ode to a House.” Kaplan’s based on real English teacher, author, and potential suspect, Roger Kaplow, who reportedly told his students about a house in Westfield that he always loved and, according to one account, had written over 50 love letters to. However, Kaplow claimed that this was true but that the house wasn’t 657 Boulevard but a Victorian on the north side of Westfield. Oddly enough, Richard Kaplow, Robert’s brother, lived less than a block away from 657 Boulevard.
#2: A Family Was Murdered in the House
In episode 3, Theodora tells Dean about a family who previously lived at 657 Boulevard. It’s also where they tragically died at the hands of family patriarch John Graff. While there wasn’t an actual mass murder at the house, Graff is inspired by real-life Westfield resident John List who methodically killed his mother, wife, and three children on November 9, 1971. Like the fictional Graff, List was fired from an accounting firm not long before he planned to murder his family, believing he was saving them from an evil world. However, unlike Graff, List left Westfield and started a new life in Denver, Colorado. It was 18 years before he was apprehended. He died in 2008 while serving five consecutive life sentences.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
Previous Owners Also Received Letters, Right
John & Andrea Woods Got One Letter Before Closing but Were Never Harassed Like the Pierces
Mansion by the Lake, Wrong
The Real 657 Boulevard Isn’t as Grand as the Series’ Substitute
The Watcher Gamer Name, Right
Someone Nearby Playing as a “Watcher” Video Game Character Was Briefly Considered a Suspect
Their Real Estate Agent Was an Old Friend, Wrong
The Colorful Character Karen Calhoun Is a Work of Fiction
#1: The Case Is Still Unsolved
The series is seemingly set in present-day, with the Brannock family being terrorized by the Watcher for months. Derek and Maria Broaddus have actually dealt with the nightmare since June 2014 and though they’re technically free of 657 Boulevard, there are still many unanswered questions. Like in the series, DNA from the envelope was determined to be from a woman. Abby Langford and Maria Broaddus gave DNA samples and neither were a match. The previous owner Andrea Woods was also ruled out. People, especially online sleuths, continue to theorize and look for clues and, with the Netflix series, there’s already renewed interest. As of October 2022, the new owners of the house haven’t reported receiving any letters. The true identity of the Watcher remains unknown.