This article contains spoilers for The Watcher.
Ryan Murphy’s latest show takes on a real case – that of the Broaddus family who bought a house in Westfield, New Jersey in 2014 and subsequently began receiving highly strange and threatening letters signed off by someone calling themself The Watcher. Murphy’s show explores various possibilities as to who might have sent the letters, some based more in fact than others. So which is the most plausible? To consider that, let’s first look at the evidence.
Three letters were sent in 2014 (another came later), suggesting that The Watcher and their family had been in the neighborhood for decades and felt some level of ownership over the property.
An extract from the first letter reads:
“657 Boulevard has been the subject of my family for decades now and as it approaches its 110th birthday, I have been put in charge of watching and waiting for its second coming. My grandfather watched the house in the 1920s and my father watched in the 1960s. It is now my time. Do you know the history of the house? Do you know what lies within the walls of 657 Boulevard? Why are you here? I will find out.”
The Broaddus’ never actually moved into the house due to the creepy letters but also because they were undergoing renovations, which apparently The Watcher was not a massive fan of, later writing:
“The house is crying from all of the pain it is going through. You have changed it and made it so fancy. You are stealing its history. It cries for the past and what used to be in the time when I roamed its halls.
“The 1960s were a good time for 657 Boulevard when I ran from room to room imagining the life with the rich occupants there. The house was full of life and young blood. Then it got old and so did my father. But he kept watching until the day he died. And now I watch and wait for the day when the young blood will be mine again.”
And while the show posits there were letters sent to several former residents (more on this later), there’s nothing to suggest that’s true. The exception is the family who sold the house to the Broaddus’ who received one letter, a few weeks before they were to move out, and according to them nothing at all else in the 23 years they lived there. So this really does seem to be a targeted instance.
In real life no one knows who The Watcher was, and while there are no doubt Reddit threads for days of armchair detectives attempting to solve the case, that is not Den of Geek’s jam. Instead we’ll rank the plausibility of the theories proposed in the show, and how they relate to the real case.
7. The PI Did It
The PI didn’t do it. Not in real life, and not in the show. It’s a fun twist toward the end when Theodora (Noma Dumezweni) confesses to Dean but it’s made very clear just after that this confession was solely to try to give Dean and Nora some peace, so the not knowing didn’t eat away at them. In real life the Broaddus’ hired experts including a PI and a couple of former FBI agents, but there was never any suggestion they had anything to do with it.
6. The House Did It
Bear with us. The show absolutely sets up this idea that the house is in some way haunted. In the show one man who lived in the house had a massive breakdown after his child reported seeing a baby being slaughtered in the tunnels under the house and his wife took her own life. This resident was plagued by letters from The Watcher too. Then there was John Graff who (in the show) lived in the house in the early ‘90s, lost his job, was harassed by The Watcher and went on to murder his family (more on him later). Decades later, 16-year-old Ellie Brannock (Isabel Gravitt) finds and wears a random lipstick, in a way that is linked to murdered 17-year old Pat Graff. Obviously the house has not developed literacy and opposable thumbs, but there are definite Overlook Hotel vibes. Could it be that the house drives its inhabitants mad? That Dean is destined to become The Watcher if he stays too long? Is it the former resident, driven bonkers, who is sending the letters until it’s time for Dean to take over? We like this theory. Though it is, of course, nonsense.
5. Mitch and Mo Did It
Did the tracksuit wearing weirdos from across the street send the letters to the Brannocks? Possible, though we learn they only moved to the neighborhood in 1996 (making all the talk about the 60s a bit incongruous). Former resident Andrew Pierce says his son told him he saw Mo and a bunch of other old people killing a baby and drinking its blood. He also says he ran into Mo in the tunnels under the house. But Pierce is not a very credible witness. Mitch and Mo don’t really have a motive to be The Watcher. And Mo has cancer, which Theodora certainly thinks would make her less likely to waste her energy on driving the family out. Mitch and Mo are stand-ins for various Westfield neighbors who behaved strangely around the time of The Watcher. So in terms of how plausible this theory is, it’s 50-50. Do we think it was all about a blood pact all along? Nooo. Could it have been one of the Westfield weirdos? Very much yes.
4. The Realtor Did It
In the confines of the show this does make a kind of sense. Realtor Karen (Jennifer Coolidge) is jealous of the wealthier Brannock family, has a motive to want to buy back the house quickly and cheaply via an LLC and flip it for a massive profit, and has enough access to the family to be able to include details in the letter. By the end it’s clear it’s not Karen, in fact she’s just exploiting an already difficult situation. In reality it’s also not super likely. Though the Broaddus’ did use the same realtor when they did eventually sell the house five year later (not to an LLC though, to a young family).
3. The Teacher Did It
This is a strange twist in the story. Could former teacher Roger Kaplan (Michael Nouri), who used to write love letters to a house in Westfield be responsible? In the show Kaplan admired a particular house since childhood but was unable to buy it when it became available because of a higher offer. After many years writing “Ode to a House” poems, Kaplan suddenly turns nasty when the homeowner gets a divorce, in the hope of driving her out. Kaplan’s ex-wife certainly thinks he’s responsible. In real life there was a teacher Robert Kaplow who used to teach his students “Ode to a House” as one of his lessons, encouraging them to write poems addressed to properties. So letters are definitely his MO, and an obsession with architecture also fits. But the Ode to a House letters were all positive, and Kaplow was by all accounts just a very well liked teacher.
2. John Graff Did It
John Graff both definitely did it and also definitely did not do it. In the show Graff is a man who murdered his family, is a religious obsessive who hates change. And we see him escaping from the tunnels under 657 Boulevard, only to pop up in Pearl and Jasper’s house uttering the phrase “they’re onto us”. So while the end of the show reiterates that the case was never solved, the narrative is clearly pointing to Graff. Which is not actually that useful for viewers interested in the real case since Graff is based on a real-life family annihilator, John List, and John List died in 2008 and had nothing to do with The Watcher
1. Pearl and Jasper Did It
The theory that seems the most logical is that it was Pearl and Jasper (in the show, with John Graff, but ignore that for now). They have been in the neighborhood long enough, they are both obsessed with the house, they live in the right spot to be able to see and hear what’s going on and they are kind of weird. This is also the most compelling theory in real life. The counterparts to Pearl and Jasper are Michael and Abby Langford. They lived right next to 657 Boulevard, with their 90 year old mother Peggy, their father had lived in the house since the 60s and died 12 years earlier, which fits with the timelines in the letters (the writer talks about how their father had watched the house before them and how the mantle had now been passed to them). Experts the Broaddus’ hired suggest there were various indicators that the letters had been written by someone older. The Broaddus’ were convinced it was Michael Langford, and he was interviewed by police several times but always denied it. The Broaddus’ hired experts to look into the family and were even planning to bring a civil suit against him, but were then told the police had ruled the family out as suspects (without saying why). After the female DNA was found on one of the envelopes, one investigator managed to pinch Abby Langford’s water bottle to test against, but it was not a match. Despite this, the Langfords (aka Pearl and Jasper) are definitely our top pick for The Watcher.
The Watcher is available to stream on Netflix now.