I grew up in a quaint, suburban neighborhood in New Jersey, exit 135 for those familiar with the Garden State Parkway. Picture newly built homes with attached garages, families with big dogs, soccer games on Sundays and a picturesque downtown with all the essentials — the bagel shop, the local diner and the penny candy drugstore.
My family has lived in the same house for my entire life. I grew up spending the summers barefoot in the park with the neighborhood kids and I went to high school with my classmates from kindergarten. All of the neighbors knew each other.
When I was younger, I would complain to my mom that our town was boring and that I wished something exciting would happen. Other than that Charles Addams used to live in my town and his house inspired the Addams Family House, there wasn’t anything noteworthy or exciting about Westfield, New Jersey.
I think some of this desire for excitement probably came from watching too many episodes of “20–20” and true crime shows. It was crazy to think these mysteries happened in real life, in comparison to my town where the biggest scandal was a series of car robberies (because people left their car keys inside their cars).
So in 2014 when one of our neighbors bought a house and began to receive threatening letters from an unknown stalker, it was the biggest story in Westfield’s history. The incident began with murmurs within the neighborhood, then it hit the local news, then the national news and now it is being made into a Netflix series, “The Watcher,” that is scheduled for release this October.
“The Watcher” is about 657 Boulevard. Boulevard is this beautiful, historic street on the south side of town. It is a picture-perfect neighborhood and 657 was the quintessential “dream home”— six bedrooms, four bathrooms and a large backyard.
Soon after the family bought the house, they began to receive threatening letters from a stranger who said they were watching the family and their children. The messages became increasingly troublesome and the stalker who called themself the Watcher threatened to harm the children if the family stayed in the house.
The family moved out of the house on Boulevard, and everyone knew the situation because they were our classmates, our friends and our neighbors. The town was abuzz with questions about who the Watcher was. Was it a jealous buyer that didn’t get the house? Was it one of the neighbors from down the street? Could it be the family sending the letters to themselves? There were even rumors that the letters had been tested and a woman’s DNA was found on the envelope.
Years passed but no one ever discovered the identity of the Watcher. The house sat unoccupied for many years before it was sold again. I used to go for walks around the block and when I passed the Watcher House I would hurry by with my head down. From the outside, the house looked like any other house, but if I looked at the windows with the white frilly curtains for too long I almost felt like the Watcher was watching me too. The nightmare that was the Watcher House became a local legend whispered in the dark by trick-or-treating children.
Since the Watcher is the most exciting thing that’s happened in Westfield, I will now be referring to my hometown as the spooky Halloween fright that is the Watcher House instead of suburban New Jersey.
You can contact Caroline Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.