'A Friend of the Family': How a Neighbor Groomed a Set of Parents and Abducted Their Daughter — Twice

Jan Broberg opens up about how a child predator seduced her parents and abused her under their nose

Robert Berchtold and Jan Broberg. Photo: Courtesy Jan Broberg

For years, actress Jan Broberg kept the story of childhood sex abuse she endured at the hands of a family friend mostly private. But in 1989, a friend asked her to talk about the abuse at her book club.

At first, Broberg, who is now 60 but was then 27, was reluctant. "I thought, 'Oh, I don't have anything to say. How can I? Why?" she tells PEOPLE.

She ended up going — and was surprised at how many questions the book club members had about how, exactly, the family friend, Robert Berchtold, had insinuated himself so thoroughly into her family's life.

Berchtold raped and abused Broberg for years, practically under the nose of her parents. He abducted Broberg twice — first at age 12, then at age 14 — but Broberg's parents waited days to report the first abduction to police. After Berchtold's arrest, Broberg's parents allowed him to have contact with their daughter for years, leading up to her second abduction.

Broberg credits the book club with helping her look at her ordeal in a clear-eyed way.

"The questions were so revealing," she says. The experience made her want to open up to others.

Abducted In Plain Sight
Jan Broberg. Netflix

Now Broberg is sharing more than ever about her harrowing ordeal. She is a producer of A Friend of the Family, a true crime drama series debuting on Peacock today.

For more on A Friend of the Family, listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day.

Featuring a includingAnna Paquin, Jake Lacy, Colin Hanks, andMckenna Grace, the nine-part series details how the charismatic and wily Berchtold was able to gain the unwitting trust of Broberg and her parents — seducing both her mother and father to gain their trust.

a friend of the family
A Friend of the Family. Erika Doss/Peacock

"It's a psychological look at how a predator is constantly figuring out how they're going to manipulate this person, and then this one and this one, until they get to their victim," says Broberg, who has acted in films including Iron Man 3.

Produced by Broberg and her mother, Mary Ann Broberg, the series "shows how this can happen to a really good, all-American family who's living their life, going to work, cooking meals and spending time with their kids," she says.

Claims About Aliens, Brainwashing, and 2 Abductions

Her harrowing ordeal began when Berchtold and his wife and kids moved to the Brobergs' middle-class neighborhood in Pocatello, Idaho, in 1972 and became fast friends.

The Brobergs became so close to Berchtold — or "B" as they called him, short for Bob — that she and her parents considered him family, she says.

But, as she points out, child molesters are more often than not "someone close to you."

She experienced that firsthand in the fall of 1974, when the then-30-something Berchtold kidnapped Broberg, then 12, whisking her off in an RV instead of taking her horseback riding, like he'd promised.

Jan Broberg and her family. Courtesy Jan Broberg

She remembers waking up inside the RV, tied down and terrified when she heard an otherworldly-seeming voice talking to her through a speaker, telling her she was part alien. (Berchtold brainwashed her with stories of aliens and UFOs.)

Thinking she was on a UFO, she said the voice told her that in order to prevent her younger sister from being abducted, and to save the ailing alien race, she needed to have a child with Berchtold.

Weeks later, the FBI found the pair in Mexico. Berchtold was arrested, and Broberg went back home.

Convicted of kidnapping in 1974, Berchtold's sentence was reduced from five years to 45 days, and he ended up spending only 10 days behind bars.

Two years later, Berchtold kidnapped Broberg again, when she was 14.

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up forPEOPLE's free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases.

He was able to do that by engaging in separate sexual relationships with each of her parents, blackmailing them into staying quiet about taking Broberg away again.

He was caught and arrested yet again, but was sent this time to a psychiatric hospital instead of prison.

Gratitude for Empathy of Cast Members

Delving into the series' difficult subject matter wasn't easy for Broberg or the cast, she says.

Jake Lacy, who plays Berchtold, "was amazing to work with," she says. When they first met, "He was scared. I was scared. And now we've become these great friends."

Lacy played the part of the charismatic, seeming-"good father" really well, she says. "And that's exactly the kind of character he had to play in order for it to be believable. He was so good."

Colin Hanks, who plays her father, "was so caring," she says. "He so wanted to embody my dad. He would ask questions like, 'What was the song he would play in the morning when you were waking up for school?'"

Hanks wasn't the only one trying to find out as much as possible about their characters.

"Anna Paquin" — who plays Broberg's mother — "wanted to FaceTime with my mom, wanted to know her and me," she says. "She was so lovely. And then McKenna Grace and Hendrix Yancey as the two Jans – they were so emotionally intelligent. They're so sweet. They're so much like I felt I was."

Thrilled with the performances of the cast, Broberg says, "I've gotten to talk to all these people in some deeper conversations than I ever imagined I would. And I appreciate their care and their talents. They're all very, very good in the roles and very believable and very much like the people, with their own nuances of course. I couldn't be happier."

Series is Most In-Depth Look at Ordeal, Says Broberg

Broberg's story has been told before. In 2003, her mother wrote the book Stolen Innocence: The Jan Broberg Story. Heavily redacted, it hid the fact that Berchtold had sexually seduced both parents in order to get to their daughter.

In 2019, Broberg's surreal story was the subject of the shocking Netflix documentary, Abducted in Plain Sight.

A Friend of the Family is different, Broberg explains. Spread out over nine hours, the series is able to go more in-depth than the book or documentary and will help educate viewers about how subtle and insidious a predator's grooming can be.

"In so many of the dramas that we watch, it's all tied up in a bow in an hour, an hour and a half," she says. "We're like, 'Wait, that doesn't show you enough so that you might be able to see it in your own life and prevent this.'"

She hopes her story will help other victims of sexual abuse to understand they aren't alone.

"To be a beacon of hope, that's exactly what I want to do with the rest of my life."

A Friend of the Family premieres Thursday on Peacock.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.

Related Articles