Welcome back to Freaky Friday here on Lawyers & Liquor, where the crypt door to the unholy filing room has swung open and the little ghosties and ghoulies from all over have crept out to serve summons in the dead of night. I’m your ghost host, the BOO-zy Barrister, here to talk about the creepy, paranormal, and downright weird areas of law that others seem to forget exist. Or at least don’t mention, because as we learned about in the past, there’s a lot of stuff in law that we’re not going to tell you about when we’re taking on your case. Like the fact that lawyers are essentially modern day vampires who suck your blood, but we don’t wear capes (okay, everyone except that one legal aid guy, but he’s a little strange and nobody sits next to him at bar functions anymore.)
Is that really an issue, though? Not telling people shit? I mean, it’s like the biggest horror movie trope there is. You don’t tell someone that the amulet you left them in your will is haunted by a demon that comes out at night to anally assault you without lube. You fail to mention the cemetery that got paved over so your new house could be built on top of it. Maybe you leave off the part about the family of stalkers that’s been watching your house for the last several generations and sends you letters demanding that you feed the home “young blood.” It’s a trope, right?
You know, except for that last one.
That last one totally fucking happened in real life.
Westfield, New Jersey is Nice
Welcome to lovely Westfield, NJ, a Union County town with about 30,000 and a real small town atmosphere. It’s mainly an upper class town of nice homes and good schools and shopping. The main street shopping district survived economic downturns and now a number of local and national shops nestle side-by-side in the charming former village that was founded in 1720, and as time progressed became a bedroom community for nearby New York City. Only a 50 minute train ride separates the residents of Westfield from the big city, but it’s an hour worth it to live in the charming little community filled with local restaurants and no crime, being one of the 30 safest communities in America.
Except for that whole “guy whose family has stalked one house for generations and writes creepy letters to anyone that moves in.”
But we’ll get to that shit.
A Dream Home
Derek and Maria Broaddus thought they’d found their dream home at 657 Boulevard. And who wouldn’t have wanted to live in the charming and yet sprawling 6 bedroom home from 1905? I mean, look at this shit! It’s fucking amazing, right? Considering that the Broaddus Family was a young one with children, and they planned on making it significantly larger as two young people with a substantial amount of money to burn through are wont to do, it fit their lifestyles without issue!
So when John and Andrea Woods, the owners of the property in 2014, decided to place the house on the market, the Broaddus’s weren’t going to let the grass grow under their feet. They immediately made an offer to purchase the place for roughly 1.3 million dollars in May of 2014 The Woods happily accepted, and the money went into escrow pending the closing on the property.
Everyone was happy as fucking clams, despite the fact that they were all required to live in New Jersey at this point.
Until the first letter came.
“Why are you here? I will find out.”
The Broaddus family closed on the home at 657 Boulevard on June 2, 2014 and took the keys in hand. They began the process of moving into their new home and had three peaceful, though likely stressful, days of moving themselves and their young family into the sprawling house and settling into the neighborhood and town of Westfield. Three nice, quiet days…until on June 5, 2015 when they went to the mail and found a letter from a person who identified themselves only as “The Watcher.”
It’s easier to let the Watcher speak for himself…or itself…in regards to the contents of the letter. Here’s an excerpt from the eventual court case that quotes the contents of the letter:
You know, in most neighborhoods you take the new neighbors a tray of brownies or some shit. You don’t introduce yourself by demanding the names of the children and stating your entire family has spent their lives staring at the house.
But hey, New Jersey.
It wasn’t as if these were the only letters, either. One letter like this a family could write off as some sort of absurd prank meant to make them be nervous. Some stupid kid in the neighborhood, maybe someone that Mark Broaddus pissed off, or maybe some elderly neighbor who wasn’t fond of the renovations to the old house that the young family was doing. Homeowner’s Associations can be really fucking insistent at times, and there’s nothing saying that this letter wasn’t the New Jersey equivalent of “you painted your garage door the wrong shade of beige.” Who the hell knows what they do in Jersey, eh?
Until the next two letters showed up.
“Have you found what is in the walls?”
Over the course of the next month, on June 18th and July 18th of 2014, Derek and Maria received two more letters from the man that was now being referred to as The Westfield Watcher, each increasing in its alarming nature. Again, because this is just some pure fucking insanity, I’ll let the Watcher speak for himself through the court documents:
Alright, I get a letter like that and my ass is on the road. Pack up the station wagon kids, we’re moving to that nice house we looked at over in Amityville! I’ll take shit that a young priest, an old priest, and a firm ban on pea soup can take care of over some guy that keeps aggressively referring to my children as “young blood” any day of the goddamn week!
Also, in case you missed it, re-read the part about needing to know who is in what bedroom so he can fucking plan better. This is a goddamn nightmare! How the hell as nobody bought the film rights to this shit yet?
But…they couldn’t move.
Could you? The Broaddus family may have been well-to-do enough to get a mortgage for a 1.3 million dollar property in a really nice town in New Jersey, but very few people in the world can afford to walk the fuck away from $1,300,000 in property and hope it fucking sells at some point in the near future. I mean, you still have to pay the mortgage on that shit while it’s on the market. Still, faced with the prospect of living in fear that someone would come crawling through their window at night to cavort nakedly through the home while covered in blood or, worse yet, finding out the thing in the walls was the goddamn Watcher himself, the family put the home on the market.
But…well…they also did something sort of stupid at the same time that they put the home on the market.
…They told potential buyers about the Watcher and showed them the letters in the interests of full disclosure. And, of course, nobody wanted to buy a house where someone may break in at night to fulfill grandpa’s old home and murder fetish.
Which sucks because, as they were about to find out, they totally didn’t need to do that shit.
The Watcher and the Woods
See, at some point it became clear that the Woods, you remember them, the sellers of the house, had received during the time between the sales documents being inked and closing, a letter from the Watcher themselves. This letter, according to the Broaddus family, advised the Woods that the Watcher considered himself to be the true owner of the home at 657 Boulevard and revealed that somewhere out there an entire family was creepily staring in the windows of a home in a quiet New Jersey town and muttering things like “young bloods” to themselves. Which…once again…I mean, it’s Jersey, so who knows how normal that shit is.
When Derek and Maria Broaddus found this out though, that before they were completely locked into the $1,300,000 obligation to be stalked that was this home the Woods had been made aware, they understandably lost their everloving shit. So, of course, they sued the Woods, claiming that since they had knowledge of the Watcher the sellers had an obligation to disclose his existence to them. The lawsuit was filed in 2015, and you can find a copy of the Complaint here. Boiling it down, though, the genesis of the claim here is that the Woods knew about the Watcher no later than June 1, 2014 and didn’t disclose it to the Broaddus family so they could make an informed decision. The Broaddus family says that this was, in essence, fraudulent because they never would have bought the house if they’d known about the Watcher beforehand.
And…the Woods admitted they did receive a letter then, but that it wasn’t threatening at all and therefore they didn’t have to disclose it to the Broaddus family. And you know what happened? You know what happened to these people that were willing to let a family receive a series of increasingly threatening letters when they basically went to court and said “Eh, we don’t have to tell them about that shit because the law doesn’t say we have to?”
Defects, Disclosures, and the Law
As we’ve covered before on Lawyers & Liquor, way back in the first Freaky Friday, sellers of real estate are only required to disclose material conditions that affect the value of the home to the buyers. Even then, they’re limited to being required to disclose, at common law, only those material defects that they actually know about or, by virtue of their ownership should have known about, and are not required to disclose defects they don’t know about that could have been discovered by the buyer doing some due diligence. Now, way back when we first talked about that shit I left out the part where each state will also determine what is and is not a material condition that rises to the level of a seller having to disclose the information if they have it but aren’t asked about it.
In some states, like California for instance, a death in the house within the last three years is a material condition and requires that both the death and the cause of death be disclosed. In others, it isn’t. So you can see that each state, over time, has developed their own law, both court made and statutory, as to what a material condition is.
And in New Jersey, that shit was limited to only physical conditions and defects in the house itself, not to some family that creepily stalks around the bushes, especially since the Broaddus family couldn’t prove the Woods had ever received anything past that one letter. Given that the letter received by the Woods family wasn’t threatening and, likely, didn’t contain phrases like “and now I watch and wait for the day when the young bloods will be mine again,” the court agreed and held that the Woods had no obligation to disclose the whole “obsessive and possibly supernatural stalker maintaining a vigil on what appears to now be a demonic entity masquerading as a house.”
The Broaddus family was stuck.
Still Stuck: 4 years later
The Broadduses tried to sell the house. Twice in fact. They attempted to sell it once in 2015 and again in 2017, both times for less than what they paid. Neither time did the house actually sell.
As of current, there are renters in the property who have, to date, had no issues with the creepy letter writer. Which begs the question: what was going on?
It could have been another buyer that wanted to purchase the house, but was thwarted when the Broadduses put in their offer at $1,300,000. Maybe he was hoping they’d list it again at a lower value so he could buy it, or maybe he was hoping to thwart the sale at all given that the first letter went to the Woodses. If the house stays on the market, the asking price would normally drop down.
Maybe it was a mentally unstable individual who had grown an attachment to the old home over time, and genuinely felt that the contents of their letters were true…which isn’t all that comforting.
Perhaps it was even a scheme by the Broaddus family itself who, locked into the purchase of the home, were trying to create a situation where they could negate the deal and get their money back.
Who knows, really? All we do know is that the Watcher, if he exists, is presumably still watching the home at 657 Boulevard in the quiet town of Westfield. Waiting. Wondering when the next buyer will move in and bring him some young blood to play with.
I’m the BOO-zy Barrister.
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