Netflix's new true crime drama The Watcher is based on a true story, but it takes plenty of creative liberties. The show has reignited national interest in the story of the Broaddus family, who tried to purchase a large, historic home in northern New Jersey only to find themselves threatened by an anonymous letter writer. The true story is described in an article by Reeves Wiedeman for New York Magazine's The Cut in 2018.
Derek and Maria Broaddus kept their story relatively quiet at first, but the first reports of it were scattered in local newspapers and legal periodicals. Wiedeman is responsible for constructing the concise form known as "The Haunting of a Dream House." It includes interviews with the Broaddus family themselves, local authorities, investigators and even suspects. It has some striking differences from Netflix's version.
The Broaddus family now freely admits that they purchased a home at 657 Boulevard in Westfield, new Jersey for $1.3 million in 2014, but at first they guarded those kinds of details as closely as possible. They did so at the behest of police, who were trying to help them find the author of threatening letters delivered to their new address long before they even planned on moving in. The letters are copied closely in Netflix's show.
In hindsight, the Broadduses and Wiedeman all seem to conclude that this secrecy was one of the main reasons this story became so contentious. It makes sense that the police instructed the Broaduses not to tell their neighbors about the letters or the investigation, as any of them might have been suspects. However, that only meant that when the news finally broke, it seemed to "come out of nowhere" from the neighbors' perspective. Many were even indignant to have something kept from them when it could have affected them personally.
Thankfully, in the true story the Broaddus family never faced as much immediate danger as their on-screen counterparts. They never truly moved into the house out of fear for their children's safety, and never really glimpsed any suspects – though Derek said he reviewed lots of security camera footage and spent nights watching out of the windows himself.
The true tragedy for the Broadduses played out in town planning board meetings where neighbors refused to allow the couple to tear down the house and split the property into two smaller lots – their best hope for recouping their financial losses. This evolved into some fierce hostility between neighbors and, eventually, into Derek writing angry anonymous letters to his detractors himself.
In truth, the Broadduses leaned on family and friends to find a different living situation and rented out their dream home at a loss while looking for a way out. According to an update from The Cut, the Broadduses finally accepted an offer on the house in March of 2019, taking a loss of about half a million dollars in the process. The new owners reportedly have not received any new letters since then. Investigators say the most likely way this case could be solved is a confession, with a DNA match on the envelope coming up as a distant second.
As for the TV show, the Broadduses had previously turned down an offer to sell the rights to their story to Lifetime, then later sent cease-and-desist letters when Lifetime made an eerily similar movie anyway. After that, the Broadduses determined that selling the rights to their story was the best way to ensure they had some creative license over its depiction. They welcomed the new show's creative changes to their story, including the dramatic ending. However, they said they did not plan on watching The Watcher themselves.