People Explains: Abducted in Plain Sight, the Disturbing True Story That's Stranger Than Fiction
As a child, Jan Broberg says she was abducted twice and raped repeatedly by the same man
In many ways, Abducted in Plain Sight, a disturbing 2017 documentary that began streaming on Netflix in January, seems too extreme to be believed.
Directed by Skye Borgman, the film tells the story of the Brobergs, a middle-class Pocatello, Idaho, family that, in the 1970s, became close with a charming neighbor named Robert Berchtold, as well as his wife and kids.
They were all members of the same congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and as they grew closer, Berchtold became a fixture in their home, spending time with parents Mary Ann and Bob and daughters Jan, Karen and Susan.
But the family’s friendship with Berchtold — whom the Brobergs often call “B” in the film — would take a sinister turn when Berchtold, then 40, became sexually fixated on 12-year-old Jan. First, he convinced her parents to let them share a bed. Then he went on to kidnap her twice, sexually assaulting her repeatedly. In an effort to brainwash her against resisting, he concocted fantastical stories about aliens.
Mary Ann and Bob Broberg also claim in the film that Berchtold manipulated them into separately engaging in their own sexual encounters with him as well.
The First Abduction
In October 1974, Berchtold took 12-year-old Jan on what was supposed to be a one-day horseback riding trip. They didn’t return — but since her parents didn’t believe Berchtold would harm their daughter, they didn’t report her missing for days.
After taking her, Berchtold drugged Jan and strapped her down in the back of the motorhome he was driving to Mexico. Jan told the Idaho State Journal that as she drifted in and out of consciousness, she began to hear bizarre instructions transmitted from a nearby intercom.
“[The voices] identified themselves as aliens from a dying planet,” she told the paper. “They said that they had been watching me since I was born and I had been chosen to be impregnated with a child who would save their planet.”
According to the voice on the intercom, the person who would impregnate Jan was Berchtold; the “instructions” claimed the fate of the world rested on Jan’s having sex with him.
“They said if I didn’t do this, my father and I would be killed, my sister Karen would go blind and my sister Susan would be kidnapped and take my place as the ‘female companion.’ The only thing I was thinking about was protecting my family,” she told the State Journal.
The lies and sexual abuse would continue for more than a month as Berchtold drove Jan toward Mexico, ultimately marrying her, as child marriage was legal there at the time. By then, Jan’s parents had notified the authorities about their daughter’s disappearance, and Berchtold was subsequently arrested in Mexico.
The Second Abduction
The marriage between Jan and Berchtold was annulled upon the duo’s return to the U.S., and Berchtold was charged with kidnapping. He only received a 45-day sentence, and ultimately he served only 10 days of jail time.
Meanwhile, the sexual abuse continued — though by then, Jan says in the film, she believed she was in love with “B.” When Jan went missing again in 1976, she was gone for four months, according to The Deseret News, and Berchtold took her to California.
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But word of Berchtold’s second abduction of Jan reached authorities, and Berchtold was again charged with kidnapping. He was forced to cut contact with Jan, then 14, and he dodged prison time, instead being sent to a psychiatric facility for five months.
In 2003, Jan and her mother, having come to terms with Berchtold’s manipulation and abuse, collaborated on a book about her ordeal titled Stolen Innocence: The Jan Broberg Story.
Subsequently, six other women came forward and said Berchtold abused them as children, and Newsweek reports he served a year behind bars for rape of a child.
Berchtold died by suicide in 2005.
Her Parents’ Role
Many viewers have expressed outrage at how Mary Ann and Bob Broberg turned a blind eye to their daughter’s abuse. They waited three days to report Jan missing when she first disappeared in 1974; they allowed her to sleep in bed with Berchtold; and the film states that they signed affidavits, after the first kidnapping, agreeing not to press charges. (They later retracted those affidavits, according to The St. George Spectrum.)
But Jan Broberg, now in her fifties, has said she harbors no resentment toward her parents because she considers them victims of Berchtold’s manipulation. “I have the bravest parents in the entire world,” Broberg said at an event, the Spectrum reports.
Where Are They Now?
Bob Broberg died in 2018; he and Mary Ann remained married until then.
Jan Broberg went on to become a successful actor, appearing in TV shows like Everwood, which ran on The WB, and appearing in films like Chasing Bullitt. Vanity Fair reports she currently lives in Utah, where she works as the executive director of a local theater.