The Watcher: A Family Finally Breaks Its Silence About Its 4-Year-Long Ordeal

The Watcher: A Family Finally Breaks Its Silence About Its 4-Year-Long Ordeal

In June 2014, the Broadduses thought that they were moving into their dream home, but when they started receiving creepy and terrifying letters, they suddenly realized they were wrong.

At the time, 657 Boulevard in Westfield, New Jersey, was a beautiful 6-bedroom house, built in 1905, that sits on an expansive, nearly 20,000 square foot lot. The neighborhood prides itself on being an idyllic setting: just 45 minutes away from New York, its residents are mostly families who would typically be considered, by many accounts, to be wealthy. Westfield is, in fact, the 99th-richest city in America, the 18th-richest in New Jersey, and was recently named the country’s 30th-safest town. Amongst the locals, the chief complaint in recent history was the temporary shutdown of the Trader Joe’s, due to a roof collapse. Boulevard is largely considered to be one of the most desirable streets in town: wide, tree-lined, and with some of the more expensive homes in the area.

Derek and Maria Broaddus were in the process of making some renovations when they received the first anonymous letter. They had closed on the home for about $1.3 million. The letter, a card-shaped note in a white envelope, had been postmarked on June 4th — before the sale of the home had been made public. There was no return address.

Little did the couple know that this would be the first in a string of increasingly threatening letters they would receive at 657 Boulevard — angry messages that not just targeted them, but also their three young children.

At first, the first letter seemed innocuous, even welcoming.

Dearest new neighbor at 657 Boulevard,
Allow me to welcome you to the neighborhood.

But as Derek read on, the writer’s tone shifted, suggesting a more hostile intent. The writer spoke of bringing “young blood” into the house and questioned why the Broadduses had moved in. He promised to watch the house, the children inside, and to “lure” them to him. Whether the letter was a nasty prank, the delusions of an angry neighbor, or the empty threats of a bitter rival buyer, it was a scary start to a new life: the writer, who called himself “The Watcher” had already done his research. He seemed to know a lot about the family despite them having not yet moved in: he had taken note of what their car looked like and the kinds of renovations being made on the house — which he had made clear in the letter that he was deeply unhappy with.

Derek, who was alone in 657 Boulevard at the time, went straight to the police. Authorities said that there was not much to be done with just a letter and no other lead.

The Broadduses were on high alert every time they visited their new house. Derek and Maria kept their children close at all times, fearing that The Watcher would make good on his promise to “lure them” and even hurt them.

Two weeks later, the second letter came in the mail. This time, The Watcher knew the children’s names and stated them in the letter, referring to them as “young blood.” He assured the couple that he had been, and would continue to watch the family very closely.

All of the windows and doors in 657 Boulevard allow me to watch you and track you as you move through the house. Who am I? I am the Watcher and have been in control of 657 Boulevard for the better part of two decades now. 

At this point, Derek and Maria stopped bringing their kids to the new house. Several weeks later, a third letter came, demanding to know where they had gone.

Not only did the couple not want their children in the home and neighborhood, they were giving up on their dream home. While 657 Boulevard was everything they wanted in a house (they had poured money into its renovations, turning it into a house now valued at over $1 million), they felt unsafe and worried about the future. The idea of living there and at the mercy of The Watcher, an anonymous stalker tormenting them and following their every move, filled them with anxiety. By the time the third letter had arrived at the home, the couple decided to launch an official investigation into the identity of The Watcher, sell the home, and sue the couple who lived there before them. The sellers had apparently failed to disclose they they received a letter from the stalker too, just a few days before moving out. While this isn’t illegal in New Jersey, the Broadduses felt that they should have been told if the new residents would be threatened this way.    

The investigation did not yield much. There were some suspects, neighbors who fit the profile of the suspected stalker. The Watcher had left no digital footprint, but most people, including the authorities, agreed that he must live in close proximity to the house. Derek started sleeping with a knife nearby and Maria suffered from nightmares, and when the Westfield authorities were left with no leads on the culprit, the couple launched a private investigation that was just as inconclusive.

In the four years that have passed since Derek and Maria received The Watcher’s first letter, they’ve made many attempts to get rid of the house. With no one wanting to buy it, they tried petitioning to destroy 657 Boulevard, split the lot into two, and to rebuild. The neighbors were infuriated, and the town denied the request. Luckily, a man only identified as “Chris” decided to rent the home for some time, but it wasn’t enough income to help the Broadduses pay down their mortgage. While the renter occupied the home, a fourth letter arrived: it was the most ominous of all the notes, threatening violence against the family and vowing to get revenge for trying to tear down the house. More scared than ever, they wanted the case to be pursued, but there was little for investigators to go on, much like in the beginning, when the whole ordeal started.  

Derek and Maria have finally opened up about the “haunting” of their home to New York Magazine, and have made details about The Watcher’s letters public. Derek himself has revealed to the publication that last Christmas, he delivered anonymous, copycat letters to former neighbors — especially those who were the most critical and unsympathetic to the family’s plight, and those who did not believe in plausible threat The Watcher posed.

Westfield Police have yet to identify a suspect, and The Watcher has not been heard from since February 2017, when the fourth letter was sent.

The house, 657 Boulevard, is also back on the market for about $1.1 million.

[H/T]: New York Magazine

How Can I Prepare for A Wildfire? What To Do Before, While, And After Disaster Strikes

How Can I Prepare for A Wildfire? What To Do Before, While, And After Disaster Strikes

Disclaimer: The below is intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes advice or specific recommendations.

Three separate wildfires have ravaged parts of California, decimating the town of Paradise in the Sierra Nevada. Tens of thousands have evacuated their homes, and over two dozen people have already perished. Authorities expect to be battling the inferno for a while, and say that the work of containing and extinguishing the fires has only just begun.

As a homeowner who may live in a wildfire-prone area of the country, you may wonder what you should do before, during, and after disaster strikes. In the event of a wildfire, you may be lucky to get a warning of imminent danger, but there are steps you can take to reduce the chances of a tragedy striking you and your family.

Some natural disasters are unavoidable, but if you are lucky enough to be given sufficient warning to prepare yourself, formulate an emergency plan with your family and your neighbors, and don’t wait until the last minute to a safe place.

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Want To Organize A Successful Neighborhood Cleanup? Here Are The Steps To Take

Want To Organize A Successful Neighborhood Cleanup? Here Are The Steps To Take

If you love your neighborhood and the people who live there, you want it to be the best possible place to live. That means keeping it safe, fun, and clean! But you can’t stop trash from piling up in some places, or from being strewn on the sidewalk by neglectful passersby. We can all do our part to clean up every once in a while, but a community-wide effort can help improve the overall appearance of your neighborhood. If you think it’s time to organize a cleanup with your neighbors, here are a few steps to take that may help you do that.

1- Pick a project.

A “cleanup” is a catch-all to refer to a number of different projects you can take on. Litter pick-up is just one option, but your choice may depend on the state of your neighborhood or what you think needs work. Does your community need a green space? Plant a garden. Does a local playground need to be spruced up? Organize a painting project. Is there a body of water, like a small lake or pond, that needs some refreshing? Set up a time for trash removal from these places. It’s up to you and your neighbors!

2- Create a plan and set up the basics.  

Beyond the time, date, place, and type of project you’re taking on, there are a few details you may want to iron out before getting people to commit to your volunteering opportunity.

  • If the location isn’t well-known, find an easier-to-find meeting spot.
  • Set a target number of volunteers.
  • Outline the day, the kind of work that needs to be done, and the number of people needed in each task group (if applicable).
  • Make a list of supplies you need, including a first aid kit.
  • Make a list or organizations or government bodies you need to contact in order to get permission, permits, or licenses for your project, if necessary.
  • Prepare waivers and have a plan in the event of an emergency.
  • Outline any events that may occur after the clean-up.

3- Pick a captain.

If you don’t plan on being the ringleader of such an undertaking, find someone who is willing to be the leader of the project. This person should be lively and able to inspire others to make a difference in their community, no matter how small.

4- Advertise and recruit volunteers.

Once you’ve planned out the timeline of the event, it’s time to take action! Advertise all over your neighborhood with flyers, on online community forums, and on social media. You can even go door-to-door, recruiting people in person! Ask to advertise on school message boards, at the local public library, in local businesses, and the community center. This way, you may encourage kids and adults alike to do their part to help keep their home beautiful!

5- Get supplies.

If possible, ask for donated supplies and funds. If the tools you need can be found in almost any homeowner’s garage, you can also ask volunteers to bring what they already own. You will probably have to spend some money in order to get the project started, but you can limit how much you spend out-of-pocket by estimating costs and asking local businesses to donate the funds or the items themselves in exchange for promotion at the event.

6- Assign responsibility for clean-up.

Once the project is underway, you will surely quickly accumulate trash and debris. Plan for its disposal! Know where you should be discarding your debris according to the material. If possible, get a service to appropriately dispose of the trash. You may also want to contact the local government to see if they can schedule a truck to pick up the debris after the event is over. You can also consider renting a dumpster.

7- Plan a party.

Don’t forget to reward all the people who will come out and make this project such a success! Have some shirts commemorating the project made, or have a pizza party with a raffle giveaway afterward. Volunteers will appreciate you acknowledging their efforts the same way you will appreciate their help beautifying the neighborhood for everyone! Most importantly, it may encourage them to come back as a volunteer the next time you choose to organize another project.

While beautifying and cleaning up your neighborhood is a great initiative to take, the benefits of a clean-up extend far beyond the appearance of your community: it’ll allow you to bond with your neighbors, make new friends, and get to know your home!

Want to know more about your neighborhood? Plug an address into NeighborWho’s property finder and see what you can find!

One City, Two States: Here Are 4 American Towns That Grew Past Their Borders

One City, Two States: Here Are 4 American Towns That Grew Past Their Borders

Borders are tricky: while official laws dictate what they are, they may be contested by the people they divide. Formed by geography, history, and politics, borders are essentially dictated by somewhat arbitrary rules. Perhaps this divide is felt to a lesser extent between states than they may be between countries, where physical walls and checkpoints are oft erected to regulate the flow of not only goods and people, but culture as well. As examples, here are four American towns that have defied their borders to grow past them.

Bristol, VA, and Bristol, TN

Bristol, Virginia, and Bristol, Tennessee, are legally considered to be separate towns, but the area’s history may suggest otherwise: in 1856, two separate railroad depots served Bristol, Tennessee, and Goodson, Virginia, two towns on the border separating the two states. However, the depot located in Goodson continued to be referred to as Bristol, Virginia. In 1890, the Virginia town took the name Bristol.

Over the years, both towns grew. Now, the state line divides the metropolitan area into two halves, and the downtown area surrounds the line. Visitors often look for and are confused by the division of the town. Plaques and markers are placed throughout the center of the street (called State Street) indicating the Virginia and Tennessee sides.

Though both sides of Bristol have rivaling high school sports teams, together, they are known as the birthplace of country music, a title that was made official by the United States Congress in 1998. They also jointly host the city’s annual music festival, Rhythm & Roots Reunion.  

Essentially, the boundary is so inconsequential to locals that, while there is in fact a Bristol, Virginia, and a Bristol,Tennessee, both are considered to be the same city.

Texarkana, TX, and Texarkana, AK

Texarkana, Texas, and Texarkana, Arkansas are technically twin cities on the Texas-Arkansas border. The cities’ name is also the name of the metropolitan area often referred to when talking about the area as a whole. The Texarkana metropolitan area was first defined in 1960, and the name is a portmanteau of TEXas, ARKansas, and nearby LouisiANA (there are multiple versions of local lore that tell the story of the name’s origin).

Both places could easily be confused as one city: many federal buildings straddle the state line, including the post office. In regards to the law, Arkansas residents whose permanent residence is within the city limits of Texarkana, Arkansas, are exempt from the state’s individual income taxes.

Bluefield, WV and Bluefield, VA

Bluefield, West Virginia, and Bluefield, Virginia, have a tense history: the Virginia town used to be named Graham until 1924, when it decided to rename itself as Bluefield to try to unite the two towns, that had been feuding since before the Civil War. Now, the two cities are at peace, and even have joint statistical data as the Bluefield Metropolitan Area. Isn’t it amazing what renaming can accomplish?

Copperhill, TN, and McCaysville, GA

Unlike the other places on this list, Copperhill, Tennessee, and McCaysville, Georgia, are not named the same on either side of the border, but if you’re visiting, you may notice that the border may not even matter. Differences in name aside, they appear to be one city simply divided by a state line, which is made obvious by blue stripes painted diagonally across Ocoee Street. However, these lines don’t just run up the street, they also intersect the sidewalk and run and up the walls of buildings and houses. A church is even split by the border!

The differences in names are well marked in other places other than the border: at the state line, both the main road and the nearby river change their names from Ocoee (Tennessee) to Toccoa (Georgia).

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Summer Isn’t Over Yet! Here Are America’s Top 5 Cities For Ice-Cream Lovers

Summer Isn’t Over Yet! Here Are America’s Top 5 Cities For Ice-Cream Lovers

It’s almost Labor Day weekend, and if there’s one thing to do, it’s grab some friends and grab some ice cream! While the warm weather will likely last for much of September, depending on where you live, the official end of the season arrives with this three-day weekend. If you feel that your options are limited to solely the ice cream truck that circles your block twenty times a day, think again: if you live in these 5 cities, you are around some of the best and most inventive ice cream flavors around!

1. Savannah, Georgia
For most of the year, it’s hot in Georgia — so it should come as no surprise that one of its most visited and most beautiful cities has some of the best ice cream in the country. You may be tempted by its old-school parlors like Leopold’s Ice Cream, which is by far the most popular ice cream parlor in Savannah. Open since 1919, it has more than 20 flavors and often carries seasonal flavors like Guinness, Lavender, and Rose Petal. Other places like Candy Kitchen and Sugar Shack come in as close seconds with lines that extend far beyond the parlors’ front doors.

2. Providence, Rhode Island
To the surprise of many, Providence is one of the best places for tasty street food, and ice cream is no exception. The students living in this college town are quite lucky that they can take advantage of some of the best ice cream in America year-round. Flavors like pumpkin chocolate chip and pineapple basil and ice cream inventions like macaron ice cream sandwiches sure tickle their taste buds! If you find yourself in the area, check out Ellie’s Bakery, Three Sisters, and pushcart PVD Pops.

3. Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville is always a good time: with a great music scene, delicious food, and friendly natives, having great ice cream is really the cherry on top of the, well, ice cream sundae. Like the city itself, there are tons of fun flavors to try like whiskey pecan or a pear sorbet with a Cabernet reduction. Check out Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams among other great parlors in the city.

4. San Francisco, California
The Bay area may be expensive, but it may be worth living there just for the ice cream! Many of the flavors are twists of the classics, like sticky chewy chocolate, Turkish coffee, and root beer swirl. But you still have your fair share of unique and wacky flavors: dare to try the green apple mayo sherbet, peach vinegar cobbler, and wasabi. Bi-Rite Creamery and Bakeshop in the Mission District is a must-visit if you’re in town, as are Humphry Slocombe and Salt & Straw.

5. New York, New York
New Yorkers can be proud: not only does the city have some of the best dining in the world, but they can top off their meals with what is quickly becoming some of the best ice cream in the country. Not only are the flavors mind-blowing and the quality top-notch, but you now can find versions of the dessert from all over the world. Hit up newly-opened Republic of Booza in Williamsburg for extra-stretchy ice cream, Il Laboratorio del Gelato for a taste of Italy, Tipsy Scoop for a boozy frozen treat, and 22 Below for some of that Thai rolled ice cream you’ve been seeing all over Instagram.

Regardless of the flavors you choose or the parlor you end up at, make sure you make the most out of the last days of summer!

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