Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Hallowe'en Countdown 2015: The Watcher

As of October 2015, 657 Boulevard, Westfield NJ, was on the market for USD $1.25 million. Image Source: Christian Hansen/Gothamist.

Every horror fan knows that when you buy property, you should beware the amazing real estate deal. In June 2015, a lawsuit in Union County, New Jersey, USA suggested that a house there sold with a hidden legacy. The court papers read like a cross between The Amityville Horror (1977) and When A Stranger Calls (1979). In June 2014, the Woods family sold their six-bedroom house at 657 Boulevard, Westfield, to the Broaddus family for $1.3 million, which was a steal because Union County is a prosperous place with nice schools and good jobs: it is 119th in per capita income among 3,113 counties in the United States. Perched on the Atlantic seafront, sheltered by the Watchung Mountains, the motto of this leafy enclave is "We're connected to you!"

Yes, we are: in June 2014, three days after the new home owners at 657 Boulevard moved in, they started to receive hostile anonymous letters, threatening their children and claiming that for generations, the house and its inhabitants have been stalked by the letter writer, a malevolent voyeur described in court documents as 'The Watcher.' The Daily Mail:
“Police have not yet released the letters but the profilers say they would be able to tell a lot from the handwriting, sentence structure, use of grammar and tone. In the messages, which date back to last year, the stalker said that his family had been 'watching' the house for generations. He also claimed he would be able to see the family through their windows. And he accused them of updating the house. ‘You have changed it and made it so fancy,' he wrote. '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… Stop changing it and let it alone.’ One letter read: 'Why are you here? I will find out. 'My grandfather watched the house in the 1920s and my father watched in the 1960s. It is now my time. Do you need to fill the house with the young blood I requested?' He seems to be referring to the Broaddus family's three children. In the first letter, dated June 5 [2014], he wrote: 'Once I know their names I will call to them and draw them to me. 'I asked the [prior owners] to bring me young blood. And now I watch and wait for the day when they [sic] young blood will be mine again.'

'Have they found what is in the walls yet? In time they will. I am pleased to know your names and the names now of the young blood you have brought to me. 'Will the young bloods play in the basement. Who has the rooms facing the street? I'll know as soon as you move in. It will help me to know who is in which bedroom then I can plan better.' All the windows and door in [the house] allow me to watch you and track you as you move through the house. 'I am in charge of [the house].'
The buyers sued the house's previous owners for not disclosing information on the Watcher before the sale. Courthouse News reported that the plaintiffs invoked the 'decency of civilized society':
All told, the letters are "the epitome of extreme and outrageous conduct so severe in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society," the complaint states.
The Watcher's letters state that he had communicated with the sellers, but to win the case, the buyers have to prove that the sellers already knew about the Watcher when they sold the house. New Jersey does not have a law forcing sellers to disclose negative information about real estate. Nolo: Law for All advises that hauntings and other psychological stigmas are encouraged by sellers of New Jersey real estate, but disclosures remain voluntary; it is up to the house buyer to ask if the property is stigmatized:
What to Disclose If the House Is Haunted or Otherwise Stigmatized

There are some "intangible" problems with a property that buyers cannot discover through an inspection. A property may, for example, be "stigmatized" if it is affected by psychological or other factors that have nothing to do with its physical condition but affect whether it would be desirable to live in. Examples of such stigma include a house that is allegedly haunted or where a violent death took place. In New Jersey, you do not have to disclose these things BUT, if the buyer asks you about them, you must answer honestly.

Filling Out a Disclosure Form

In light of the various disclosure obligations described above, most Realtors in New Jersey will require that the seller fill out a SELLER'S PROPERTY CONDITION DISCLOSURE STATEMENT to share with prospective buyers. You may attract more buyers if you are willing to let them know straight up what condition the property is in before they make an offer. If you do not provide a disclosure form, you may well scare off a buyer who thinks there must be issues with the property that you'd rather not disclose. This form provides facts about the history of repairs to the property and almost every physical aspect of the property, from the basement sump pump to the rooftop. Sellers usually deliver it to prospective buyers when they express an interest in making an offer on the property. The form is not required of a New Jersey seller. In fact, some sellers refuse to fill it out, for fear that they may make an innocent omission or representation. If you do fill it out, make sure you answer it completely and honestly. Failure to do so could set you up for a potential suit for misrepresentation or failure to disclose.

Documents (with fictitious names), 2 June 2015, Superior Court of New Jersey. Image Source: Gawker.

Grisly threats in the Watcher's letters to new home owners, received in early summer 2014. Image Source: Gawker.

If the Watcher is telling the truth about having a connection to the house, presumably authorities could trace who he is. (Is the Watcher male? The commenters at goodreads thought so: "I agree it would have to be a man because if it's a woman she would be happy with the remodeling.") The authorities have not revealed any relevant research, although a local history and genealogical sources are available online and the house was built in 1905. NJ.com True Jersey constructed a timeline for the house, which you can see here.

One previous occupant, who lived there in the 1950s and 1960s, thinks the house was wonderful. It Was Not Scary. He did, however, believe that the house has been enormously over-inflated in value, which in his view may have something to do with this "farce." Another former occupant, who lived in the house from the 1960s to the 1980s, said 657 Boulevard was a lovely home and she had never been threatened or had any frightening experiences there.

Some online enthusiasts discovered that the house was struck by lightning in 1932 and concluded that it was subsequently inhabited by a demonic entity. No newspaper citation was given for the report. Image Source: Twitter.

Theories about the Watcher vary. Some assume that the buyers want to get out of the mortgage. This was the conclusion drawn by the editor of the local newspaper, who spoke to The Gothamist in July 2015 and hinted that one should follow the money:
Horace Corbin is sitting in the downtown offices of the Westfield Leader, the town's local paper since 1890. He's in his 70s, with a shock of white hair and a red cup in his hand. "It's after 5, so I'm drinking a vodka," he informs me. The office has lots of wood-paneling and smells heavily of cigarettes. I feel immediately at home.

Corbin is the paper's publisher, and put plainly, he thinks the idea of an unhinged madman haunting the neighborhood is a load of crap. In an effort not to reveal too much, he peppers me with a series of questions about mortgages that I don't understand.

"When did the closing happen? When was the lawsuit filed, and when was all the work done?" he asked. (I did not have answers to these questions at the time, though I have since learned that the lawsuit was not filed until a solid year after the new owners were allegedly scared from their home.) He went on to ask, rhetorically, who the lender was, and who owns the lending company.

"How can a couple with a $300,000 house in Scotch Plains and $175,000 mortgage 10 years ago have a $1.1 million mortgage at a mortgage rate that doesn't make sense? You might ask those questions," he said, waving the cup. "Or you might ask, maybe it's a ghoul in a house. But the issues are probably more practical." He pointed out that records show the new owners having had 12 mortgages in the past 10 years. Corbin says that, despite the lawsuit claiming that the new owners already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on renovations, neighbors deny that any contractors were ever seen at the house, and that no permits were ever filed with the city.

Nor, he said, has the house been put on the market. Moreover, upon receipt of these alleged "letters," the new owners didn't even go to the police—instead, they went directly to the Union County Prosecutor. Westfield has a great police department—why wouldn't they go to the cops?

"There are a lot of weird things—protocol and timing things, that don't make sense," he said. It's clear he thinks the new owners wrote the letters to themselves to get out of their million dollar mortgage, though he does not explain why they would choose such a glitzy publicity stunt sure to attract media attention. ... "I would say at this stage, things have been fleshed out in a lot of different directions, such as who all the players are, who all the real estate agents are, all the transactions, all of the mortgage records of all the players. And my opinion is, there is no Watcher."
Web Sleuths, an online community whose members solve mysteries around news items, decided that the Watcher is a hoax. Oddly, the buyers' lawyer, Lee Levitt of Parsippany, was listed on Lawyers.com as having had his license suspended as of 6 April 2015.

A Springfield Union newspaper reporting on the earlier John List murder case in the neighbourhood is up for sale on Ebay for USD $68. The whole newspaper is online. Image Source: Ebay.

If it is a hoax, it is a convincing one, because the mayor held a town meeting over this case. The town has an earlier history of murder, in which John List, also known as the Bogeyman of Westfield, killed his family and went on the run for eighteen years. Clearly, the mayor wants to avoid an abiding municipal stigma. The house at 657 Boulevard has already joined a list of stigmatized properties. New buyers have been scared off when they hear about the letters. The real estate listing (while it lasts) is here.

Another theory - supported by FBI investigators - is that this case relates economic hardship from the Great Depression through the Great Recession in hard-hit pockets of an upwardly-mobile community. From V Point News, this is the 'jealous family' theory:
For: The Watcher claims that their grandfather began watching 657 Boulevard around the time of the Great Depression, so it's quite plausible that the family fell into poverty. Statements like "I am in charge of 657 Boulevard" suggest a feeling of rightful ownership. "Now they have it to flaunt it, they pay the price" implies resentment that the Broaddus family can afford to buy the property. "I have been put in charge of watching and waiting for its second coming" could mean that The Watcher expects their own family will reacquire the house at some point.

Against: If this campaign of harassment really has been going on for almost 100 years, why are the current owners the first to speak publicly about it? Also, what kind of person would devote their life to a weird, pointless vendetta started by their granddad? It's believable that one person could be bitter enough sustain the fixation, but three generations of equally obsessive weirdos seems at least statistically unlikely.
The Gothamist sent a reporter down to Westfield in July, who heard a rumour that the Watcher is a local crank and the townsfolk are protecting him. But when the reporter made inquiries, the locals denied it. One interviewee ventured: "I just think it’s somebody with a psychological problem ... . There are a lot of psychologically impaired people. People don’t always take their medicine."

A street in the neighbourhood. Image Source: Christian Hansen/Gothamist.

This true story is a little too cinematic to be believed. The 'jealous family' theory made me think of the regular hotel caretaker in Stephen King's book, The Shining. The summer maintenance guy, Watson, is descended from the hotel's original owners. I am amazed that the current owners of 657 Boulevard, still saddled with the house, have not sold the movie rights yet. Oh wait. They almost have:
Big name production studios such as Blumhouse Productions, Dimension Films, New Line Cinema, and Universal are reportedly jumping at the opportunity to seal the deal on movie rights and get a storyline into production. “Several different takes on the true terror tale are being pitched across the board, some unofficially, with rights still up in the air,” according to The Tracking Board, an industry news website. Its also believed that well known action/thriller directors such as James Wan, known for Furious 7, and Bryan Bertino, known for The Strangers [another 'true story'-based horror film], are interested in developing a film adaptation of the story, according to Cinema Blend.
The studios' lawyers are haggling over who owns the rights. The Blood-Shed speculates:
It will be interesting to see how this saga plays out for a variety of reasons. I’m no entertainment lawyer, but the first question that comes to my mind is: Who owns the rights to this story: The Broaddus Family, the Woods Family, or the elusive Watcher himself? Obviously, the fiend would need to emerge from the shadows if he wants to milk this cash cow—an action that could either enhance or kill the appeal of this mysterious tale. Like, what if he turns out to be some pimple-faced World of Warcraft addict living in his parents garage? Well that doesn’t sound like a terribly exciting film to me.

Even if the Watcher has no interest in financial windfalls, the lure of fame must be either exciting or terrifying for him. Will the stalker disappear into the dark ether from which he came, or could the prospect of a movie fuel a dangerous escalation (if he is as mentally unstable as his messages imply)?
If they make a movie version about the Watcher, I hope David Lynch directs it. Oh wait. He already did.

Scene from Blue Velvet (1986), directed by David Lynch. Video Source: Youtube.

See my earlier posts on haunted Real Estate here, here, herehere - and another Recession Ghost Tale here.
See all my posts on Horror themes.
See all my posts on Ghosts.

Check out other blogs observing the Countdown to Hallowe'en!

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