In 2014, a New Jersey couple bought their dream home in Westfield, in what's ended up being one of the more headline-grabbing real estate purchases America has seen in recent years. That's all thanks to "the Watcher," an anonymous sender of creepy and ominous letters to the new residents of 657 Boulevard. Except "residents" is a misnomer: Derek and Maria Broaddus and their three kids never actually moved in, having been so spooked by the contents of the letters, the first of which arrived as they were having renovations done. In a lengthy piece for the Cut, Reeves Wiedeman shares extensive excerpts from the letters, like this:
- "Will the young blood play in the basement? Or are they too afraid to go down there alone. I would [be] very afraid if I were them. It is far away from the rest of the house. If you were upstairs you would never hear them scream."
Wiedeman traces in great detail the ultimately fruitless hunt to unmask the Watcher: recounting clues (one letter referenced an easel on a porch that could only be seen from the backyard or next door); the neighbors the family suspected; the former FBI agents, security firm, and forensic linguist they hired to analyze the letters and their handwriting; and the one small bit of DNA evidence they had. The story simultaneously tracks their quest to get out from under the burden of their purchase, which they were unable to sell; an attempt to raze the home and divide the lot into two smaller ones was prohibited by the town's planning board after an outcry from residents. Some suspected a scam, lawsuits went nowhere, and the renter they finally found received, you guessed it, a letter from the Watcher. Derek's belief: "In my view, [the sender lives in] one of ten houses in the world." Read the full story here. (Or read more longform stories here.)