“In this true crime documentary, a family falls prey to the manipulative charms of a neighbour, who abducts their adolescent daughter. Twice.” That’s how Netflix summarise their recently-popularised documentary: ‘Abducted in Plain Sight’.
I must admit, I’m a sucker for the crime genre, but when a feature-length documentary creates such a buzz on social media, I have to see what all the fuss is about – especially when you work in marketing. Always keeping on top of those hot topics and all that jazz.
Quick disclaimer before I go any further… All views in this blog post are solely based on my own personal opinions. If you don’t agree with anything I say, that’s completely fine, because I’m not asking you to.
*I will also be discussing topics, such as sexual misconduct that some readers may find upsetting.*
LET’S START FROM THE BEGINNING
Let’s go back to the 1970’s and start from the beginning. Robert and Mary Ann Broberg live in Pocatello, Idaho, along with their three young daughters, Jan, Susan and Karen. Their new neighbour, Robert Berchtold, was the charismatic man around town – somebody everyone wanted to be friends with. Being neighbours and all, the Brobergs quickly become close pals with the Berchtold family. Robert Berchtold, also known as ‘B’, was described as a second father to the three Broberg girls.
On October 17, 1974, 12-year-old Jan Broberg was kidnapped and brainwashed by ‘B’, after he picked her from school, with the permission of Robert and Mary Ann Broberg. Wow, we didn’t see that coming. However, I’m still massively intrigued as to how somebody could be kidnapped twice. So, I watch on.
If you are still reading and you have not watched this yet, then be aware for spoilers. Trust me, I have not given away ANYTHING yet.
GETTING TO THE POINT
The Netflix documentary quickly got to the point of the story, which I particularly liked. I personally cannot be bothered with watching an hour’s worth of background stories, it bores the daylights out of me. If anybody has watched ‘Fyre’, you’ll understand. I turned that rubbish off after 46 minutes, because I was consistently uninterested in waiting for the festival documentary to get the point.
So, on that note, I’m going to get to the point myself.
If your child goes missing, how long do you wait until you call the police? It took Robert and Mary Ann Broberg five days. Yes, let that sink in. FIVE DAYS! I honestly don’t understand… am I missing something? Why would you sit around and wait for five days, when your child is missing? “We didn’t want to upset Gail” (Berchtold’s wife). Screw Gail. I decided to take to Twitter to see what everyone else thought.
One user tweeted:
First of all why would you let your daughter go off with a man, if you felt uncomfortable about how obsessed he was with her & why the hell would you wait 5 days to call the police after she went missing because you didn't want to cause a bother for anyone? #AbductedInPlainSight
— LJED90 ☆ (@LiamJEDonbavand) February 3, 2019
STRANGER THAN FICTION
Robert Berchtold’s brother bluntly told viewers his thoughts: “he was a paedophile and I knew that – I guess he had a need to fulfil”. This stranger-than-fiction documentary only continues to become more despicable and shock me to my very core. And, despite the very predictable beginning, this true story couldn’t be any more unpredictable if it tried.
EXCUSE ME, WHAT?
The documentary then goes back in time, to before the kidnapping. Mary Ann declares she was attracted to B and how her feelings were solidified at a Church function, when they cosied up and got a little “carried away”. Steady on. Later, Robert Broberg spoke about how B didn’t have a good sexual relationship with his wife, Gail, and continues to mention how B asked to give him some ‘relief’. Broberg painfully tells viewers “I was dumb enough to reach over and relieve him in the act of masturbation. I did the worst thing I’ve ever done.” At that moment I was dumbfounded. Robert Berchtold had seduced both Broberg parents? I naively thought this true story could not get any weirder. Oh, how wrong I was.
B manipulated Robert and Mary Ann further when he led them to believe he had to spend some time alone with the Broberg girls as part of his therapy, for the abuse he suffered as a child. (Idiots). As a result, B slept in Jan’s bed four times a week, for six months, right up until the day she was kidnapped. Surely that in itself would raise some red flags for the Broberg parents? That was when I really started to question the stupidity of Robert and Mary Ann. Yes, they said neither one of them were comfortable with what was happening, but why did they let it happen anyway? Surely as a parent, you have the authority to say ‘no’. But then again, B was described as a charming and charismatic guy, and the Broberg parents had clearly, yet VERY foolishly, fell under his spell.
THE FIRST KIDNAPPING
Robert Berchtold fetches Jan from school and takes her horseback riding, as agreed with Mary Ann, who was apprehensive at first. Okay, so as viewers, we all know Jan is not going horseback riding, and we all know those ‘allergy pills’ B gave her, were a bit dodgy. Predictable? Yes. What I didn’t see coming was that B staged a fake kidnapping to make it seem like they had both been taken and in reality, took Jan to Mexico so he could have sex with her and get married. (Back then, marrying a 12-year-old in Mexico was completely legal.) I’m not even at the tip of the iceberg yet.
Whilst Jan was drugged up, she was brainwashed, by a tape recorder, into thinking she had to perform a ‘mission’ and save an alien race. That mission? Jan needed to have a child with B before her 16th birthday, and not tell anybody about it, or her family would suffer harmful consequences. “I believed it absolutely” says Jan. “When you combine being isolated and completely afraid, you can pretty much get someone to do or believe anything.” I’m not narrow-minded by any means, but at 12 years old, I knew that aliens did not exist and I also knew that having sex with an older man was completely wrong, not to mention, marrying one! On the other hand, this was many years ago and things were different in the 70s. Robert Broberg spoke about how he wasn’t even sure what a ‘child molester’ was back then.
In order to return back to the United States, B needed the Broberg family to agree to his marriage with Jan. The Broberg family did not approve and instead, B was charged with kidnapping upon returning to the US. (Yes, the Brobergs had a brain cell after all.)
YOU REALLY CAN’T MAKE THIS UP
The messed-up antics continue when Jan returned home. She was insistent she was ‘fine’ and told everyone that her and B were ‘on vacation’, as ordered by him. The Brobergs decided not to hold B accountable for kidnapping Jan, despite the FBI’s attempts to convince them otherwise. Turns out that brain cell was non-existent after all. However, it is worth a mention that the only reason the Broberg parents signed affidavits to stop B’s prosecution, was because his wife Gail threatened to expose Robert and Mary Anne’s sexual relations with B. B was sentenced to five years, but was reduced to 45 days. He eventually spent about 10 days in prison – I was outraged.
THE SECOND KIDNAPPING
Prior to the second kidnapping, Jan and B exchanged many love letters. Jan was massively convinced she was in love with B, and still admits to this day that she was.
In 1976, Jan was abducted by B, again – two years after the first kidnapping. This time, she was ‘swooped’ from her bedroom in Pocatello, Idaho, as part of a plan to stage a run-away from home. B enrolled Jan into an all-girl’s school, and posed as her father. With the ‘mission’ still actively continuing, B would constantly call the Broberg family, telling them he was receiving phone calls from Jan, but had no idea where she had ‘ran off’ to.
Now. What really grinds my gears about this part is Mary Ann’s reactions to these phone calls, that were being monitored by the FBI. Berchtold informs Mary Ann that Jan had chosen a life of drugs and prostitution upon ‘running away from home’. Mary Ann tells B how she won’t be able to sleep tonight in the most uninterested, most sarcastic manner. Something just never really added up for me when it came to momma Broberg.
Let’s talk about when Jan called home. “I’m just calling to tell you all I love you” weeps Jan. Don’t get me wrong, the Brobergs seem ecstatic to finally hear from their missing daughter but again, something just didn’t add up. I don’t know about you, but the way the Broberg family just ‘casually’ said their goodbyes, as if she was some relative that lives in Spain and occasionally visits at Christmas and birthdays. Like, what?! She’s missing! Don’t just let her go so easily. At this point, I’d never screamed at the television so much in my life.
Eventually, Berchtold was tracked down and arrested.
Up until Jan’s sixteenth birthday, she still very much believed in the completion of this ‘mission’ and never actually realised it was all a lie until the day came and nothing happened… No aliens, her family are still alive, everyone was okay. The illusion was quickly shattered. However, Jan never revealed the whole story to her family until years later.
Now, Jan and Mary Ann are on a mission of their own to raise awareness about sexual abuse, and even have a published book. B, who was said to have abused Jan more than 200 times, would turn up to these events in an attempt to sabotage their story. However, the awareness lead to other women speaking out to Jan, claiming they were also abused by Berchtold.
Later on, in the documentary, Joe Berchtold, confirmed that B committed suicide.
Either way, I still think Mary Ann and Robert are massively in denial and if I was Jan, I would be fuming with them for being such pushovers – and whilst this documentary does draw attention to that, I’ve come across a lot of articles that go into more detail as to why the Broberg parents may have turned a blind eye. It revolves around their Mormon/Latter Day Saint religion. But it still doesn’t clear up how in the Broberg’s world, a marriage between Jan and B could be taken seriously.
“I’m starting to get a glimmer of how being married in Mexico might have been persuasive to Jan’s family, B’s wife, and the LDS community. I mean, it wasn’t persuasive, but it’s not so far-fetched to me now that B thought it would give him a bargaining chip.
“I wouldn’t have been surprised if B succeeded in his quest to marry Jan in the US, then convinced a bunch of Mormons that the aliens had told him he had to have children with a bunch of 12 year olds. Then off they would all go to Mexico to procure 12-year olds for B.
“He really does seem like the perfect cult leader.”
If you want to read more on this article – you can view it here.