The Story Behind the Story – Part 3


By Lois Winston

The Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries take place in Westfield, NJ, the town where I lived for twenty-three years until my recent relocation to Tennessee. Westfield is famous for being the home of cartoonist Charles Addams of The Addams Family fame, as well as the infamous John List, who murdered his entire family in 1971, then disappeared. The hunt for List made international headlines, but it took eighteen years and an episode of America’s Most Wanted before he was finally apprehended.

 

In 2014 Westfield once again made headlines when both the national and international press descended on a stately, historic street a few blocks from where I lived. The mystery that drew this unwanted attention centered around a Dutch Colonial built in 1905. The house had recently sold for 1.35 million dollars.

 

However, shortly after the new owners took possession of the house, they received a very disturbing anonymous letter from someone who called himself The Watcher. Subsequent letters followed, threatening the new owners’ children. The Watcher knew the children’ nicknames and mentioned having seen their young daughter painting at an easel, asking, “Is she the artist in the family?” Fearful for their safety, the family never moved into the house, although they continued to make extensive renovations to the property. 

 

Since the family received that first letter, they’ve sued the former owners, claiming they knew of The Watcher prior to the sale of the house. The former owners counter sued. Home disclosure laws vary from state to state. In NJ, even if the former owners had previously received letters from The Watcher, they wouldn’t have had to disclose that information.

 

The new owners tried to sell the house several times, each time reducing the price, but the home’s notoriety kept buyers away. They tried to have the house demolished but failed to get zoning approval to divide the property into two lots to build two smaller houses to recoup their losses. 

 

In a bizarre twist, at one point the husband admitted to sending nasty anonymous letters to some of the neighbors.

 

In 2016 the house became the inspiration behind a Lifetime movie and toppled the Jersey Devil from the top New Jersey’s creepiest horror myths. 

 

Extensive investigations over the years have failed to unmask the identity of The Watcher. Suspects have included the schizophrenic son of a neighbor as well as the owners of the house. 

 

In 2018 the family sold the rights to their story to Netflix in a 7-figure deal after a bidding war that included Universal, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Amazon, and Fox. This gives credence to those who believe that the family concocted the entire story, and there never was a Watcher.

 

BuzzFeed’s Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej of “Unsolved” profiled the Watcher House in the first episode of their fifth season. You can watch it here.

 

The Watcher House eventually sold in 2019 at a $400,000 loss.

 

With this real-life mystery unfolding in my own backyard, how could I not incorporate it into one of my books? In a subplot in Scrapbook of Murder, the sixth book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series, The Watcher becomes The Sentinel, and his first letter arrives shortly after food editor Cloris McWerther and her husband sell their house. Although the police haven’t been able to solve the mystery of The Watch after eight years, Anastasia solves the mystery of The Sentinel.

 

Scrapbook of Murder

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 6

 

Crafts and murder don’t normally go hand-in-hand, but normal deserted craft editor Anastasia Pollack’s world nearly a year ago. Now, tripping over dead bodies seems to be the “new normal” for this reluctant amateur sleuth.

 

When the daughter of a murdered neighbor asks Anastasia to create a family scrapbook from old photographs and memorabilia discovered in a battered suitcase, she agrees—not only out of friendship but also from a sense of guilt over the older woman’s death. However, as Anastasia begins sorting through the contents of the suitcase, she discovers a letter revealing a fifty-year-old secret, one that unearths a long-buried scandal and unleashes a killer. Suddenly Anastasia is back in sleuthing mode as she races to prevent a suitcase full of trouble from leading to more deaths.

 

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USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.

 

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7 replies
  1. Donnell Ann Bell
    Donnell Ann Bell says:

    This was a fabulous book. You're better than the Law & Order script writers. I can always count on you to find an irresistible plot ripped from the headlines!

    Reply
  2. Lois Winston
    Lois Winston says:

    Thanks, Debra, and LOL! I'm wondering if this case will ever be solved. It certainly has gone on for quite a few years now. Hard to believe it's 8 years already.

    Reply

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