Netflix’s new creepy crime series from producer Ryan Murphy has soared to the top of the streaming service just one day after its debut. It tells the story of a picture-perfect family who moves into a lovely suburban home only to be terrorized by a mysterious letter-writer known as “The Watcher.”
If the spine-chilling story sounds like something out of Murphy’s “American Horror Story,” you might be surprised to learn that it is based on an incident that occurred in Westfield, New Jersey, in 2014. Several days after Maria and Derek Broaddus closed on their nearly 4,000-square-foot home, they received a letter from someone claiming his family had been keeping an eye on it for years. The Broadduses paid $1.3 million for the house near where Maria Broaddus grew up to raise their three children, but the idyllic home turned out to be less than ideal.
After many upsetting letters, lawsuits, town meetings, and financial losses, the Broadduses sold the house in 2019. The true watcher was never discovered.
“Watcher,” like many “based on a true story” Hollywood adaptations, takes some liberties in bringing the story to the screen. Here are three key differences between the Netflix adaptation and the true story (with minor spoilers for the first few episodes):
The real family never lived in the ‘Watcher’ house
Like the real family, Nora and Dean Brannock (Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale) buy a large house in the New Jersey suburbs in the Netflix series. The couple receives their first threatening letter after moving into their new home with their two children, one of whom discovers it.
The Broaddus family had not moved into the house when the first letter arrived, and they never lived there because they were scared of the letters. The house was eventually sold in 2019 for $959,000, far less than the $1.3 million they paid.
However, it makes a much better (and more terrifying) story for the fictional family to have to deal with stalking and harassment while sleeping in the house every night.
The series is far more violent than the real case
In the series, the fictional Brannock family faces harassment that goes beyond threats, including the murder of a family pet, break-ins, and mysterious phone calls (and that’s just in the first few episodes). The violence is graphic and sensationalized, as befits a Murphy show.
In reality, the family only dealt with the letters because they had never lived in the house, despite the fact that this was enough to seriously harm their lives.
The previous owners were never harassed
In the second episode, Dean meets with one of the house’s former owners, who has his own stack of threatening letters and a strange story about the neighbors participating in human sacrifice, which could be a hallucination.
According to the New York magazine story that inspired the Netflix series, the couple who sold the house to the Broaddus family did receive one letter from the Watcher, which they tossed aside without taking seriously. After the Broadduses and their children began visiting the house, the letters became more frequent and disturbing. The couple later sued the sellers for failing to disclose the Watcher letter, but the case was dismissed.