DEAR MR. MYERS: Are you familiar with a property in New Jersey that’s called “The Watcher” house? If so, what’s its story?
ANSWER: The six-bedroom, four-bath house in the upscale suburb of Westfield, N.J., has burst into newspaper headlines recently. Built in 1905, its two-story Dutch Colonial design is a bit reminiscent of the infamous Amityville Horror House, which was gutted and redesigned several years ago.
Derek and Maria Broaddus thought that the Westfield property would become their dream home when they purchased it for $1.35 million in 2014. But that dream turned into a nightmare: The Broadduses never even moved in after they started getting creepy letters from an anonymous writer shortly after the sale closed.
The first letter welcomed them to the neighborhood, but it also asked: “Why are you here? I will find out.”
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Subsequent letters alarmed the Broaddusses even more, in part because the writer suggested that he or she had also learned the names of their three children.
“Have they found what is in the walls yet?” one note read. “In time, they will. I am pleased to know your names and the names now of the young blood you have brought to me.”
“My grandfather watched the house in the 1920s, and my father watched in the 1960s,” another eerie passage stated. “It is now my time.”
With few leads in the ensuing investigation, some law-enforcement officials and residents simply dubbed the letter-writer “The Watcher.”
After deciding against moving into the house, Mr. and Mrs. Broaddus sought other alternatives. The first was to file a lawsuit against the previous owners, claiming that the sellers had failed to disclose that they, too, had received at least one letter from the mysterious suspect.
A series of more lawsuits and countersuits followed. On Oct. 17 of this year, a New Jersey Superior Court judge dismissed most of the complaints filed by the buyers and sellers against each other.
Earlier, the Broadduses had also filed a request with the local township to have their spacious parcel split and then redeveloped into two smaller homes. Residents, though, complained to the Township Council that dividing the lot would depress the value of neighboring homes. The couple’s request was rejected earlier this year.
Now the home is back on the market for $1.25 million – $100,000 less than the Broadduses paid for it in 2014, even though prices for other homes in the area have soared since then.
DEAR MR. MYERS: I’ve heard that the Lalaurie House in New Orleans is one of the most haunted homes in America. But is it true that it’s owned by actor Nicolas Cage?
ANSWER: It was purchased by Cage in 2006, but he lost it at a foreclosure auction in 2009. Though the bank wiped the actor’s name off the property’s title, it may never be able to erase its ghastly past. Located at 1140 Royal St., the house was bought by Madame Delphine Lalaurie and her rich husband in 1831. Though prominent in social circles, Madame Lalaurie apparently had a secret cruel streak as long and dark as the nearby Mississippi River.
One night, a neighbor saw her chase a child of one of her many slaves onto a balcony with a bullwhip. The girl then either jumped, fell or was pushed to her death. It was later discovered that the body had secretly been dumped in a well behind the house.
Not long after, a devastating fire broke out at the house. It reportedly was started by a slave cook, who had been permanently shackled inside the kitchen and had lost the will to live. Firefighters and other rescuers found about a dozen slaves in the home, many either dead or dying, chained to the walls or strapped to makeshift operating tables. Some had been horribly maimed and tortured. Madame Lalaurie escaped by carriage as an angry mob approached the home, and she never publicly resurfaced.
The hauntings apparently began in the late 1830s, after a new owner bought the property and rebuilt it. Several ghostly apparitions were reported over the ensuing years, including the figures of disfigured slaves and the Madame herself. Lights would turn on and off as if switched by unseen hands, the eerie sounds of invisible chains being dragged across the floor became commonplace, and disembodied screams would float down from the attic, where many of the slaves had been held.
Few of the subsequent owners or renters stayed in the property for long over the next 100 years. The home became a run-down tenement by the 1920s, and residents began complaining of a new ghoul: A ghostly man who would walk about the house, cradling his severed head in his arms.
The property later became a furniture store, but the owner gave up his business after repeatedly opening his doors to find his merchandise covered with filthy, foul-smelling goo.
No credible incidents of paranormal activity have been publicly reported since then. Some wonder whether the tortured spirits of Madame Lalaurie’s mansion are happy with the new, cheerier decor and can finally rest comfortably in their graves. Some others, though, suggest that she’s just taking a “respite in hell,” waiting for an opportunity to torment a new generation.
David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.