The family began receiving ominous notes three days after they closed on their dream home in 2014. They never moved in.
It sounded as if it could be a script for a horror movie: A family began receiving ominous notes just days after they closed on their dream home. But for Derek and Maria Broaddus, the tension surrounding their house in New Jersey over the years has been real.
So real, that they sold the property, 657 Boulevard in Westfield, New Jersey, in July at a loss, according to county records. They had never moved in.
The house, built in 1905, sold on July 1 for about US$959,000 ($1.5 million), according to records filed with the Union County Clerk's Office. The listing on Zillow shows the single-family home is about 3,920 square feet set on nearly half an acre.
The Broadduses bought the six-bedroom Colonial home in the affluent suburb for US$1.3 million ($2 million) in 2014, records show. The nightmare that followed over the letters the family received was chronicled in a New York magazine article last year, and Deadline reported that Netflix purchased the rights to the story in December. (The Broadduses did not return a request for a comment Friday.)
Three days after the couple closed on the home in 2014, according to New York magazine, Derek Broaddus received the first of many menacing notes from someone who went only by the name "The Watcher." The writer — whose identity the couple said they never learned — appeared to be spying on the family from somewhere nearby.
The writer noted the make of the couple's car and the comings and goings of construction crews, and observed that the couple had three young children. He or she wrote:
Was your old house too small for the growing family? Or was it greed to bring me your children? Once I know their names I will call to them and draw them too [sic] me.
Derek Broaddus called police, and the couple immediately emailed the previous owners, John and Andrea Woods, asking if they had gotten such letters. They had lived in the home for 23 years without incident, Andrea Woods said — although they had received one letter from 'The Watcher,' just a few days before they moved out, said Richard Kaplow, the lawyer who had represented the Woodses after the Broadduses sued them, on Friday.
That letter was "non threatening" and made "no claim of any possession" of the house, Kaplow said.
Two weeks later, another note arrived, New York magazine reported.
"The workers have been busy," the writer noted. "Have they found what is in the walls yet? In time they will."
At first, the Broadduses wondered if the writer was someone who had made a failed bid to buy the house, but that theory was quickly dismissed.
Suspicion then fell on the house next door, where a widow in her 90s lived with several adult children, who were in their 60s. The police questioned one of the adult children, but he denied knowing anything about the letters.
Broaddus set up webcams and hired private investigators, including a retired FBI agent, but his team was unable to solve the mystery.
The couple grew suspicious of other neighbours and began having nightmares. They had sold their own home and were staying with Maria Broaddus' parents nearby, terrified at the notion of moving into the new house. They were fighting and stressed. They soon decided to sell.
But rumours had begun to fly around the town about why they hadn't moved in. No one was buying.
They lowered the price and disclosed the information about the letters to prospective buyers. They also filed a lawsuit against the Woodses for not informing them of the letter they received. (It was later dismissed.)
When a local reporter found the complaint and reported on it, the story went viral. News trucks parked outside the home, and the couple was deluged with requests from the media.
"In this small town of ours, this whole 'Watcher' house thing was a big deal at the time," Kaplow said Friday.
The story put many residents on edge. Some even accused the couple of orchestrating a hoax, which the Broadduses have denied.
The couple were eventually able to rent the house.
Reached by telephone Friday, the new owners of the house, identified on the deed as Andrew and Allison Carr, declined to comment, citing concerns about privacy. Nor would they answer questions about their purchase, such as whether they had known about the history of the house before considering it. Beth Sullivan, the real estate agent who was listed as involved in the sale, also declined to comment Friday.
Lee Levitt, the Broadduses' lawyer, did not return requests for comment Friday.
Written by: Christine Hauser and Karen Zraick
© 2019 THE NEW YORK TIMES