The Watcher Reporter on Netflix’s New True-Crime Series and the Creepy Case’s Current Status

The 'Watcher' Reporter on Netflix's New Series and the Case's Current Status  | Vanity Fair

The Watcher Reporter on Netflix’s New True-Crime Series and the Creepy Case’s Current Status

It has been eight years now since Derek and Maria Broaddus purchased the six-room home in Westfield, New Jersey, that would completely change them. In something like three days of shutting on the 1905 Dutch provincial, for which they paid almost $1.4 million, the family got a letter from somebody called “The Watcher,” who professed to have been “put responsible for watching” the home. The Broadduses and their three small kids hadn’t even moved in — they never would — yet The Watcher before long refered to tormenting particulars about their family in follow-up letters. The Watcher knew the names of their kids, the make of their vehicles, and, surprisingly, the way that their most youthful kid had attracted on an easel a side room of the house. The messages were additionally sprinkled with agitating expressions like “bring me youthful blood” and “let the party start.” One more prodded, “There are a great many vehicles that drive by 657 Lane every day. Perhaps I’m in one. Take a gander at every one of the windows you can see from 657 Street. Perhaps I’m in one.”

The letters “are truly freaky, creepy things,” explains Reeves Wiedeman, the New York Magazine features writer who gained the family’s trust to write 2018’s “The Watcher,” which detailed their saga and the ensuing investigation into The Watcher’s identity. “It’s hard even reading them as someone who these weren’t sent to. I could only imagine how the Broadduses felt getting these letters.”

The New York Magazine article relating this horrendous section of the family’s lives was so tormenting, as a matter of fact, that it instigated a six-studio offering war — with Ryan Murphy, the American Harrowing tale and Dahmer plan, at last winning the freedoms for a Netflix series. On Thursday, Murphy’s restricted series in view of Wiedeman’s element debuts, with Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale showing up as the Broadduses’ fictionalized intermediaries, the Brannocks. Fully expecting the genuine wrongdoing transformation, VF addressed Wiedeman about his experience announcing the story, whether The Watcher designated him, and his expectations for the case at long last being settled.

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Vanity Fair: Congratulations on the series. How’s the week going so far?

Reeves Wiedeman: So far so good. We published an update to the story yesterday, which you may or may not have seen. I’m just kind of watching it all happen, so to speak, to use that word.

So we know how this story began for the Broaddus family thanks to your feature. But how did this story come across your radar?

So I ought to offer credit where’s at least some respect. The plan to do the story came from Alexis Swerdloff, who is a supervisor at New York Magazine. She had this thought after the story had at first had its viral second in 2015, after the claim that the Broadduses had documented had been disclosed. Perhaps a half year from that point onward, we sort of had this thought of, “Hello, that unusual secret never got settled. We should go check whether we can attempt to sort out what occurred and, on the off chance that we can’t do that, we should find out what it resembles to live in a town and be around a story like this.

How did you go about gaining the trust of the family?

It was obvious to me from whenever I first met Derek and Maria Broaddus that this had been a really horrible encounter for themselves and that even, years after the fact, when I was conversing with them, this was the kind of thing that was still truly challenging for them. When I had gotten to them, they weren’t stressed over The Watcher truly coming after them in the manner they were in toward the start. Yet, they actually claimed the house and were attempting to sort out some way to dispose of it and continue on from that. They were all the while managing individuals around being exceptionally disparaging of them and the choices they had made. Furthermore, they were all the while attempting to sort this out.

It was clear I could not rush them. But it was also clear once I spoke to them that the only version of the story that needed to be done at that point was one sharing their side. Because they had never spoken to the press before, and there had been a lot of speculation about what had happened on all sides.

What did reporting the story look like?

It was a course of investing a ton of energy conversing with the Broadduses, obviously, and afterward attempting to get individuals who knew something to talk. That included individuals who had examined the case, a portion of individuals that the Broadduses had recruited [to work on their home or the case]. And afterward attempting to converse with individuals in the town. At first the thing we were doing was attempting to sort out how individuals had an outlook on residing nearby to this house, or residing in a similar town. Westfield, similar to any town, is where individuals like to blather about the greatest story around.

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The Broadduses understandably became obsessed with figuring out who The Watcher is. As a reporter, how obsessed did you get with the story?

I would never claim to have gotten in as deep as they did. For obvious reasons, this became the thing that their entire lives revolved around, and they had to do a lot of work to even move on from that. I was able to approach it a little bit objectively. But yeah…I think one thing that made the story so intriguing to people is it does feel like it should be able to be solved.

It includes letters coming to a house and few individuals who could have the information inside these letters. So I think it was tempting in like that. And yet, it’s sort of a hard case to sort out. There was no video proof of somebody appearing at the house. It was simply letters appearing via the post office. I became fixated on attempting to settle it and clearly I’m frustrated for a ton of reasons that we haven’t had the option to make quick work of it.

In some way I’m hoping that. We just published for the first time the handwriting that was on the letters. It’s messy handwriting…it could be someone who was writing with their non-dominant hand, someone intentionally trying to mask their handwriting, or just someone with bad handwriting. And there is still this hope that the Broadduses had pushed for for a while with the police of trying forensic genealogy. But it’s tough because at this point there are a lot of serious crimes that go unsolved. It does seem like whoever was [writing these letters] has stopped doing this. You want the police to focus on [cases that are] the most imminent threat. But I, along with many people, would love to see some resolution to this.

What elements of the case were most haunting to you?

I wasn’t the person who got the dangers. However, it is one of these situations where you can see thinks all over the place. So when I was going through the various conceivable outcomes, I was positively having snapshots of interfacing spots and thinking perhaps I had a leap forward and obviously it would be an impasse. I will say I have perused the letters and we’ve distributed a great deal of passages from them, yet they are genuinely freaky, unpleasant things. Hard in any event, perusing them as somebody didn’t get them. I could barely comprehend how the Broadduses felt getting these letters.

The Broadduses were finally able to sell their house, at a considerable loss, in 2019. But as far as you know there have not been any letters sent or received since?

No, there have been no letters as far as anyone is saying or is aware of. The [new residents] have not gotten letters [as far as we know]. The Broadduses did give [the new owners] a letter when the sale happened, basically saying, “If you get anything, here’s who to call”—giving them their police contact as a courtesy and in case any new evidence shows up.

Do you know much about the new residents? Were you able to get in contact with them?

I don’t. They’ve declined to talk about the whole thing and did the same with me. So I don’t know much about them, but the good news is that this doesn’t seem to have continued.

Did you have a sense when writing this that it would make such a splash—going viral and inspiring a Netflix TV show?

I don’t think I at any point might have anticipated it arriving at this point. However, when I was dealing with it, I sort of figured perusers would [be into it] for a portion of similar reasons I fixated on it. It’s a really dreadful, frightening thing. In the event that you’re sufficiently fortunate to purchase a house, being this great thing is assumed. Simultaneously, everybody knows purchasing a house is a bad dream. Furthermore, this was an unheard of level of that. What’s more, it appears to be so feasible — everybody has their own hypotheses and fear inspired notions and so forth.

I think it had to be someone in close proximity to the house because of the details that were in the letters, the knowledge of the area, the descriptions of things the Broadduses were doing in the house. I won’t get into speculating who it might be beyond that but there are different theories. Was it someone who didn’t get the house and was pissed off and wanted it? Was it a realtor who didn’t get the commission?

A coworker of mine moved into the neighborhood and, when she did so, was told by a realtor that the town had always known who The Watcher was—someone in the neighborhood who was mentally ill and did not pose an actual threat. In your original piece, you mention a Michael Langford who was diagnosed as schizophrenic, according to his brother, and who had been known to do some strange things in the neighborhood. What can you say about that theory?

He lived next door and was kind of the first suspect. We’ve been told that the police ruled him out because of DNA evidence. The other thing I’ll just note is that Michael Langford died two years ago. I’ve talked to people who knew him and would kind of say, “Yes, he was an odd guy, but he’s never done anything like this.” On the one hand, it fits our sort of conception of who this might be. On the other hand, it’s stigmatizing. But that certainly is a theory that I’ve heard.

Fast forward to your article being optioned by Ryan Murphy for a Netflix show. How much involvement in the show did you have?

Not much involvement at all. I answered a few questions that the production team had at one point, but otherwise it’s kind of in Ryan Murphy and his team’s hands. I haven’t seen the show, so I’m eager to watch it as well.

What are your hopes for the show? I know we talked about it hopefully reinvigorating interest.

At this point the only resolution I wish for is to figure this out. And not even necessarily to have this person face consequences, but just to give everyone, and certainly the Broaddus family, some closure. It would be nice if we could finally unmask The Watcher with all of the attention that will come to this.

Do you have any sense of how the Broadduses feel about the show?

I think this was the worst experience of their lives for many years, and they understand the reasons that people are interested in their story. They, of course, would like some resolution. But I think they don’t have much interest in any attention, publicity, or excitement around the show. For them, it’s still something they want to move on from—so that they can have the nice suburban life that they were hoping to get when they moved into—or tried to move into—this house.

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Were you at any point on The Watcher’s radar? Did you get any sort of letter?

I did not. And I was kind of waiting for that. But once the police started sniffing around and everyone was paying attention, I figured it was probably something you’d want to stop doing. Especially if you’re just doing it for whatever sick game or non-practical reason that seemed [to be the motivation]. But I never got anything, thankfully.

As it stands now, the Broadduses have said that they’re still willing to invest in a continued investigation, but authorities are not presently moving forward on the case. Is that accurate?

Indeed. I suppose in the event that an extraordinary tip came in, the region examiner’s office would surely investigate it. Be that as it may, I think right now it seems like it will be an extreme case to break. There is this one kind of criminological parentage plausibility they could attempt, yet who knows whether it would really end up working. Something’s been utilized in cool cases. That would unquestionably be something that [the Broadduses] would be keen on assuming that the examiner’s office was ready to try it out. However, we’ll simply need to see.


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