Three days after the Broaddus family closed on the purchase of their Westfield, NJ dream home, they received an eerie letter from a person identifying themselves as “The Watcher.”
"Why are you here? I will find out," it read in part. And then,“My grandfather watched the house in the 1920s and my father watched in the 1960s. It is now my time. I have been put in charge of watching and waiting for its second coming."
The Broaddus’ purchased the stately colonial for $1.3 million in June of 2014 planning to move in with their young children. There was plenty of room for a family — the three story house has six bedrooms, four bathrooms, four fireplaces, two porches and a finished basement. But the Watcher’s letter left the new owners terrified — particularly the part where he had written, “Do you need to fill the house with the young blood I requested? Once I know their names I will call to them and draw them out to me."
Westfield is about 30 minutes away from Manhattan — close enough to make for an easy commute and far away enough to offer residents an idyllic suburban existence. The streets are lined with trees, the grassy lawns are well maintained, and the homes — which in 2016 had a median price of $809,935 — attract young professionals with families. The quaint downtown even boasts a community theater and an orchestra. In the summer, residents can enjoy the Westfield Memorial Pool for $360 a family.
In 2014 Timeout NY wrote that New York City residents should “ditch the Upper East Side” for Westfield’s “ideal merging of suburban serenity with a pedestrian-friendly main drag.” The town has been lauded as one of the best small cities in the US and is ranked as one on the New Jersey towns with the lowest crime rates in the state. But none of that would have mattered much to the Broaddus family, especially after they received the second and third letters from The Watcher.
As creepy as the first letter had been, these letters were even worse. The Watcher wrote, “Have they found out what is in the walls yet? In time they will … I am pleased to know your names now and the name of the young blood you have brought to me … Will the young bloods play in the basement?"
The Watcher seemed to take issues with the upgrades and repairs the Broaddus’ had made to the home — proving that someone was, indeed, actually watching the home.
“You have changed it and made it so fancy. It cries for the past and what used to be in the time when I roamed its halls … When I ran from room to room imagining the life with the rich occupants there … And now I watch and wait for the day when the young blood will be mine again."
Terrified by these threats, the family never moved into their expensive home. They put it up for sale for $1.125 million — far less than they’d just paid for it. And in a civil suit, the Broaddus’ stated that the former owners of the home, the Woods, knew about the Watcher and intentionally withheld the information from them. In their complaint they cite language from one letter that read, "I asked the Woods to bring me young blood…[I] have been in control of 657 Boulevard for the better part of two decades now. The Woods family turned it over to you it was their time to move on and kindly sold it when I asked them to."
As the suits and countersuits wound their way through the legal system, the home remained in real estate limbo. Unable to sell it, the Broaddus’ began renting it out for $5,000 a month in 2017. When reporters knocked on the door to find out what the new tenant thought of the whole situation, the man politely declined an interview, saying “That is not my issue.”
How could all this happen in an idyllic town like Westfield? The press coverage of the story — in 2017 the website Thrillist named the “Watcher House” the creepiest urban legend in New Jersey — has made much of the incongruity between the terrifying letters and the seemingly perfect suburban town. But Westfield has already faced a real life horror that makes even the creepiest details of The Watcher seem tame.
Because forty years before there was The Watcher, there was a different house of horrors -- and it's just a few blocks over. This home, about 10 minutes away from the Broaddus home, was also a large, expensive colonial. With 19 rooms it was known as the Breeze Knoll mansion and it’s where, in 1971, a father murdered his entire family and then fled to begin a new life — he became known as the “bogeyman of Westfield.”
In 1971, John List worked as a vice president and comptroller at a Jersey City bank. He seemed like a typical buttoned up executive. Local lore has it that he mowed the lawn in a shirt and tie. The List family seemed no different than many of the comfortable, white collar residents who currently live in Westfield. Living in the large home with List was his mother, Alma, his wife, Helen, and the couple’s three children, 16-year-old Patricia, 15-year-old John, Jr, and 13-year-old Frederick.
On November 9, 1971, List shot his wife and mother. Then he waited for his children to come home from school. First to arrive were Patricia and Frederick. List shot them each in the back of the head. Then he drove to Westfield High to pick up John Jr. from a soccer game and bring him home, where he shot the boy in the chest and face.
List laid the bodies out on sleeping bags in the home’s ballroom, cut his own image out of every family photograph, turned the radio to a religious station, and left the home. The bodies of the List family would go undiscovered for a month. Neighbors eventually became alarmed when the lights in the List family home began to burn out.
List was on the run for 18 years. He remarried and began a new life in Virginia. It wasn’t until his case aired on America’s Most Wanted in 1989 that he was finally apprehended. At trial he claimed he’d killed his family to protect them from the financial ruin he’d been keeping a secret. In 2002 he gave a television interview in which he stated that he had not killed himself because he believed dying by suicide would keep him from getting into heaven where he hoped to be reunited with his family. He died in prison in 2008.
Breeze Knoll mansion burned to the ground in a suspicious fire in 1972. The home built in its place is still referred to by many residents as “The List House.”
In 2017 the Broaddus’ civil suit was dismissed. Various theories have been floated about the Watcher. Some believe the Broaddus’ themselves may have invented the creepy letter-writing stalker in an effort to get money out of the previous owners. Some speculate that the Broaddus’ are screenwriters intent on selling their story to Hollywood.
Still, years after purchasing their million dollar home in a picture perfect suburb, the family has neither moved in or been able to sell the house. And this isn’t the first time strange circumstances have surrounded the sale of the home. First owned by William Davies, who would become mayor of Westfield, the house was struck by lightning in 1932. In 1947, Davies sold the house to his son for a single dollar. In 1951, Davies’ son and daughter in law sold the home to Dillard and Mary Bird. The cost? $1. From there it went to the Bakes family — for $1. In 1955 the Bakeses sold it to the Shaffer family for...you guessed it...a single dollar. That's five owners in eight years.
The Shaffers lived in the home until 1990 when they sold it to the Woods, purchase price unknown. And in 2014 the Woods sold it to the Broaddus family for the considerably heftier price of $1.3 million.
So what can we make of the strange real estate transactions? And what do the two different tales of “haunted houses” in the same small New Jersey suburb have to do with one another? Does the “boogeyman of Westfield” have anything to do with the The Watcher? Most likely not.
But there is a reason so many horror films are set in the suburbs and why urban legends like the Watcher House endure there. In a time when we are reminded daily of how unsafe our world is, it’s natural to want to take respite in our homes. And what could be safer place to call home then a leafy, cultured, little town with a quaint downtown and a country club? We want violence and terror to exist outside of the small patches of land we’ve claimed for ourselves and made into our safe zones. So is there anything more terrifying or destabilizing than finding out that one’s own small town has a history of mass murder, or that one’s own home is being watched by a malevolent force intent on “young blood”?
The investigation into who (or what) sent the Watcher letters remains officially unsolved. And the home itself, 10 minutes away from the List House on a serene leafy street, has been taken off the market.