When Derek and Maria Broaddus first toured their new home last year, they thought they had found their dream home. Six bedrooms, two modern baths, high and beautifully decorated walls, a fireplace, a covered porch facing the street, and an open, sun-filled patio facing the backyard where the kids could play undisturbed—all of these appealed to her right away.
The price of $1.355 million for 364 square meters of living space also seemed like a bargain for the Broaddus for the newly renovated house in Westfield, New Jersey. Even the real estate agent didn't have to persuade her to buy for long.
He had raved about the "picturesque place" just 40 minutes by car from New York. A 30,000-strong community with "good schools" and the "friendliest neighbors" imaginable, it was said.
Almost exactly a year later, not much remains of the enthusiasm. Shortly after the purchase, the dream villa turned out to be a “horror house”, a nightmare for a family who wanted to enjoy the quiet of the country with their three young children far away from the hustle and bustle of New York. The Broaddus have long since moved out, or more precisely, they have fled. The house is empty and a resale has so far been unsuccessful.
Earlier this month they sued the previous owner as well as the real estate agent. What they report in the court documents about their experiences in the house at 657 Boulevard in Westfield is reminiscent of a poorly made Hollywood horror film than of a romantic village idyll.
Because just three days after signing the purchase contract, the Broaddus received a strange, anonymous letter on June 5th. They were informed that the house was "under surveillance". The letter was signed with the name "The Watcher".
The Broaddus initially thought what the stranger wrote was a bad joke. It was creepy nonetheless. “Why are you here?” asked the self-proclaimed observer, announcing, “I'll find out. "Once I know all your names, I can plan better."
At least the unknown writer provided an explanation as to why he needed to know what was going on in the house. "My grandfather watched it back in the 1920s," wrote The Watcher. “My father in the 60s. Now it's my turn. My time has come today.”
He also claimed that the villa "would belong to his own family" for decades. A tip that did not lead to a hot trace of the anonymous author in the later investigations by the police. Officials have not been able to find a possible motive.
Almost two weeks later, on June 18, Broaddus received a second letter. But they couldn't laugh about it anymore. "I told the Woods to bring me young blood," the new letter said. This meant the previous owners John and Andrea Woods. "Did you stick to it? And where do they play, in the basement?” The Woods had set up a special playroom for children there.
Out of concern for their two daughters and their primary school and kindergarten-age son, the Broaddus alerted the police. To this day, however, there is no trace of the mysterious stalker. Even in the letters, of which the family claims to have received "numerous" according to the trial files, there was no decisive evidence of the identity of "The Watcher". For the Broaddus, however, they were pure horror.
"Have you already found out what's in the walls?" the family had to read in one of the letters. "You'll find out over time." In one letter, the stalker asked who "actually lives in the front bedroom, the one that faces the street?" Location."
"I'd be pretty upset if I was buying a house and someone wrote me letters like that," Westfield's Robert Hagen told CBS about the case, which is now occupying the whole town. "I wonder what the previous owners know about this 'Watcher'." That's what the Broaddus now want to find out in their lawsuit against the Woods.
They are seeking damages of an undisclosed amount for the "stress, horror and fear of the Watcher's letters". At least they want the purchase price of 1.355 million dollars back. Their attempt to sell the villa has so far failed.
Meanwhile, the stories about the horror house and the "Watcher" are not only known in Westfield. Mayor Andrew Skibitsky also made it a topic at this week's town meeting. He announced that he would do everything to ensure that the anonymous stalker would be arrested for the threatening letters.
The case, on the other hand, is considered extremely interesting by lawyers. "The seller must inform the new owner of the problems with the house," law professor Jack Feinstein of Newark's Rutgers School of Law told NJ.com. "But that really only applies to structural defects or problems with vermin." In his entire 40-year career, he has never heard that a house stalker should also be included.
Charles Sullivan of Seton Law School sees it similarly. "Some states require that a seller also provide information about tragic accidents or murders that occurred in the house." However, New Jersey does not have such a law. "So in this case there's really no reason to provide information about the 'Watcher'."
This article was first published in 2015.