A family tormented by anonymous threatening letters from a so-called "watcher" of their new dream home also suffered from criticism by their neighbors in an affluent New Jersey town.
Derek and Maria Broaddus, who never moved into their six-bedroom colonial in Westfield out of fear from the threatening missives, told New York magazine in their first public accounting of their ordeal that some of their neighbors seemed to blame them for their plight or, at least, showed no sympathy.
"I wish we could go back to the days of tar and feathers. I have just the couple in mind!,” one neighbor wrote on Facebook while Derek and Maria Broaddus were trying to figure out what to do with their recently-purchased $1.35 million home after receiving letters from someone calling him or herself “The Watcher.”
The first letter arrived at the six-bedroom colonial at 657 Boulevard in June 2014 before the Broadduses had the chance to move in with their three kids.
“My grandfather watched the house in the 1920s and my father watched in the 1960s. It is now my time. Do you know the history of the house? Do you know what lies within the walls of 657 Boulevard?,” the letter read. “Do you need to fill the house with the young blood I requested? Better for me.”
The family was spooked. Derek Broaddus reported the letter, which had no return address, to the Westfield police. Investigators told the Broadduses not to mention the letter to neighbors, as they were all suspects.
But as rumors and media stories brought attention to the letters, some residents of Westfield — a New York suburb with an average household income of about $200,000 a year — began to vilify the Broadduses.
Some were offended that police had approached them as suspects, according to New York magazine.
Others were reportedly angry that they only learned about the letters from a lawsuit the Broadduses filed against the previous owners of the home. The suit claimed the prior owners should have disclosed an anonymous letter they received before closing on the sale. It was eventually dismissed.
Some other Westfield residents suspected the Broadduses may have been sending the notes themselves as part of some twisted real estate scheme or buyers’ remorse, the magazine reported.
Broaddus has a different theory about the reaction of some of his neighbors.
“What happened to my family is an affront to their contention that they’re safe, that there’s no such thing as mental illness in their community. People don’t want to believe this could happen in Westfield,” he told New York magazine.
Three years after buying the house, Broaddus sent some letters of his own to neighbors who had been especially critical of him and his wife, he admitted to the magazine.
People who received his letters said they referenced recent acts of domestic terrorism that had stemmed from mental illnesses gone unchecked. The notes were signed “Friends of the Broaddus Family.”
Broaddus said they were the only anonymous letters he sent, and that he hadn't told his wife.
He wrote the letters shortly after town officials stood in the way of a plan the Broadduses came up with as a last resort. They applied to tear the house down and build two houses in its place.
The town's planning board unanimously rejected the proposal.
Meanwhile, the Broadduses had become consumed with finding the author themselves. Over the years, they have had two former FBI agents, a private investigator, a security firm CEO and a forensic linguist on the case, according to New York magazine.
No one, including the local police, could figure out where the letters were coming from.
Six months after they closed on the house, the Broadduses initial solution was to sell the home that they had never lived in.
A deciding factor was one of the "The Watcher" letters which referred to the Broaddus children’s nicknames. It said, “Who has the bedrooms facing the street? I’ll know as soon as you move in. It will help me to know who is in which bedroom. Then I can plan better.”
In their first efforts to sell the house, the Broadduses felt compelled to disclose the letters to potential buyers, which made the value of the home plummet. They took it off the market.
In 2016, the Broadduses put the house on the market again at a severely reduced price. But no one would buy the home even at discount.
The Broadduses still own 657 Boulevard, but rent it out for less than their mortgage payment.
The first renters got the fourth and latest letter, Derek Broaddus told New York magazine. “Loved ones suddenly die,” it said. “You are despised by the house. And The Watcher won.”
The couple intends to try to sell the house again if they can amass some letter-free years.
Real estate website Zillow.com estimates that 657 Boulevard is currently worth $1,074,444. According to Zillow, the value of the home has dropped by almost $100,000 in the last month alone.