How true is The Watcher on Netflix? We uncover how much is fact and how much is fiction in the sinister show

The Watcher on Netflix has likely raised a few questions about what really happened in New Jersey all those years ago...

The Watcher on Netflix, scene from Episode 101 of The Watcher
(Image credit: Cr. Eric Liebowitz/Netflix © 2022)

How true is The Watcher on Netflix might be the burning question on many fans’ minds as just because the chilling storyline is based on real life doesn’t mean it all actually happened…

Whether it’s a mystery show inspired by an equally gripping work of fiction like the books Karen Pirie is based on or a drama adapting a horrific true story like The Secret, there are always bound to be small changes made. So it’s perhaps no surprise that some might be wondering how true The Watcher on Netflix really is. Going into the show the main characters Dean and Nora Brannock are inspired by Derek and Maria Broaddus who were caught up in the real-life events and the 2018 New York Magazine article “The Watcher" that The Watcher is based on

It’s not just names that have been tweaked with other shocking differences made - alongside some real-life moments that are so creepy you might hope they’re fiction…Here we reveal some of the key changes and some details that are completely true to life in The Watcher on Netflix…

*Warning: spoilers ahead!*

Naomi Watts as Nora Brannock in episode 105 of The Watcher.

(Image credit: Cr. Eric Liebowitz/Netflix © 2022)

Did the family really move into The Watcher house? 

Whilst The Watcher Netflix show depicted the Brannock family as moving into their new dream home, in real-life Derek and Maria Broaddus and their kids never made this move - all thanks to their anonymous tormentor’s chilling notes. Just a matter of days after they began to move their belongings into The Watcher House, the couple discovered the first of The Watcher notes in June 2014. The letter claimed that not only had they been watching the New Jersey property for a while, but that this was supposedly a family tradition for the mysterious sender.  

This was the first in a series of The Watcher letters that they received - and which the Netflix series does include accurately. However, unlike we’ve seen with the Brannocks in the show, the Broadduses ultimately decided not to ever fully move into The Watcher house after being understandably and thoroughly put off by the notes. 

Instead, Today (opens in new tab) reports that the family chose to remain living in their old home until it was sold. After this, they then moved in with Maria Broaddus’ parents temporarily and later finally sold The Watcher house, as it’s now colloquially known, in 2019. 

Was anyone killed at 657 Boulevard?

One of the major details that anyone wondering how true The Watcher on Netflix really is might be unsure about is the character of John Graff. Initially showing up and claiming to be a building inspector it’s later revealed that John used to live in the Broaddus’ home, 657 Boulevard, and that he’d not only received letters from The Watcher himself, but had murdered his wife and children in the house. This never happened in real-life and John Graff is a fictional character, however this particular storyline wasn’t a complete invention for the Netflix show. 

Joe Mantello as John Graff in episode 103 of The Watcher

(Image credit: Cr. Eric Liebowitz/Netflix © 2022)

Although the John story didn’t actually happen in connection with the real-life letters from The Watcher, this character is understood to have been based upon John List. List murdered his wife and children in 1971 and according to Today, then disappeared for 18 years. 

He didn’t commit his appalling crimes at 657 Boulevard itself, but he *had* lived in Westfield, New Jersey which is the general area the Broaddus’ former home is located. After evading detection for many years, List was eventually caught in Virginia in 1989 days after America’s Most Wanted had aired his case. He was found guilty at his trial and sentenced to five life terms in prison in New Jersey.

Did the previous owners of The Watcher house get letters?

In The Watcher on Netflix, viewers have seen it come out that several former owners of The Watcher house received letters and that it wasn’t just Dean and Nora Brannock, though this was only partly true. In reality, the Broadduses only contacted the couple they’d bought The Watcher house from and went on to learn that they had received one, "odd" letter in the days before they moved out for good. However, this was apparently the only letter the former owners got in all their many years living there and they apparently hadn’t felt threatened by its contents.  

Luke David Blumm as Carter Brannock, Isabel Marie Gravitt as Ellie Brannock, Bobby Cannavale as Dean Brannock, Naomi Watts as Nora Brannock in episode 101 of The Watcher

(Image credit: Cr. Eric Liebowitz/Netflix © 2022)

Were the kids threatened in real-life?

In the Netflix show, we see the Brannock kids being threatened by The Watcher and this is one haunting plot thread that really did happen. Derek and Maria Broaddus received a letter from their stalker which not only identified the children, but their birth order and their names. 

“I am pleased to know your names now and the name of the young blood you have brought to me,” the letter is said to have read, per The Sun (opens in new tab)

The Watcher is also believed to have gone on to ask whether the kids were “afraid” to go down to the basement, adding a further suggestion of threat to the letter. 

Isabel Marie Gravitt as Ellie Brannock, Naomi Watts as Nora Brannock in episode 105 of The Watcher

(Image credit: Cr. Eric Liebowitz/Netflix © 2022)

“I would [be] very afraid if I were them. If you were upstairs you would never hear them scream,” the anonymous figure wrote.

However, whilst the kids were threatened by The Watcher, the Netflix show has tweaked a few things when it comes to Dean and Nora's children. In the show they only have two - Ellie and Carter- and they look to be far older than Derek and Maria's three children who were reportedly all under 10 in real life at the time they started receiving the letters.

Were The Watcher neighbors based on real people? 

Some of The Watcher neighbors are very memorable and could reportedly have been inspired by the real-life neighbors of Derek and Maria Broaddus, but only to a certain extent. The neighbors that are seen watching the Brannocks from their lawn chairs, Mitch (Richard Kind) and Mo (Margo Martindale) could possibly have come from a detail revealed to The Cut (opens in new tab)

The publication previously reported that Bill Woodward, the Broaddus’ house painter, had claimed to have noticed a couple who lived behind 657 Boulevard had lawn chairs close to Derek and Maria’s home.

Richard Kind as Mitch, Margo Martindale as Mo/Maureen in episode 101 of The Watcher

(Image credit: Cr. Eric Liebowitz/Netflix © 2022)

“One day, I was looking out the window and I saw this older guy sitting in one of the chairs,” Woodward alleged. “He wasn’t facing his house — he was facing the Broadduses.’"

Despite this, there was no evidence to suggest that the neighbors had binoculars like those that Mitch uses in The Watcher. So whilst plenty of the characters are fictional and the neighbors in the show aren't a completely accurate depiction of real people as they truly were, it seems at least possible that some inspiration could've been drawn from Bill's remarks for The Watcher on Netflix.

All episodes of The Watcher are available on Netflix now.

Emma is a Senior Lifestyle Writer with six years of experience working in digital publishing. Her specialist areas including literature, the British Royal Family and knowing all there is to know about the latest TV shows on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and every streaming service out there. When she’s not writing about the next unmissable show to add to your to-watch list or delving into royal protocol, you can find Emma cooking and watching yet more crime dramas.