Fans of true crime documentaries are loving what Netflix has been serving up lately. Ted Bundy, murder mysteries in the church, and shows about some of the most sensational cases of recent memory. It's a true crime lovers dream! Or rather, a nightmare. Because lord knows we don't sleep well after watching them. But we just can't get enough. There's something so fascinating about true crime. You think to yourself, how could this have possibly happened? So many of the stories are so outrageous, they beg the question: how in the hell did this actually happen in real life? True crime documentaries scare us, educate us, and make us gape in amazement and horror and we love them for it. However, one true crime doc on Netflix was more than we bargained for, and has everyone talking. Allow us to introduce you to Abducted in Plain Sight.
There's ... so much wrong with this story, it's actually hard to know where to begin. At the heart of the story is a young girl who was abused for far too long. It's not an uncommon story, and it's heartbreaking every time we hear it. But this particular story has something that other true crime docs of this nature are missing. Namely, a set of parents so remarkably stupid and naive that it borders on criminal. It's hard enough to hear Jan Broberg recall her abuse in Abducted in Plain Sight. But to hear from her parents, and learn how they made this abuse possible, is beyond the pale. Buckle in readers, we're going to take you on a wild ride. It's too outrageous to be real, yet somehow, this all happened. Major spoilers ahead if you haven't seen the doc!
The Broberg family lived in Pocatello, Idaho. Dad Bob, mom Mary Ann, and daughters Jan, Karen, and Susan were the quintessential all-American family. Bob owned a floral business in town, and Mary Ann was a stay-at-home mom. They were well-liked by their community and active in their local chapter of the Church of Latter Day Saints (being LDS and Mormon will come into play a bit later). In 1972, the family was befriended by a neighbor named Robert 'B' Berchtold. Bob and Mary Ann and B and his wife Gail became fast friends, and the families spent a lot of time together. They got VERY close. Too close. Horribly, horribly close.
The documentary starts out normal enough. Jan begins telling the story of her abuse at the hands of B. Her parents cut in and out to offer details and background for some of the story. They set it up like it's going to be a terrifying case of a family friend turning out to be a monster. And it is! It is definitely that. But then we start to get little tidbits of information from the family and the FBI agent, Pete Welsh. The Brobergs talk (rather casually) about how B would do anything and everything to get close to Jan. Hmmmm, OK? That seems ... not right? But the parents discuss it so casually, you start to wonder if maybe there was more to the story. BOY WAS THERE EVER.
Hooboy. This is when things go from, "Wow, those parents were really naive!" to "HOLY CRAP THESE ARE THE DUMBEST PEOPLE ALIVE." Bob, happily married man that he was, did not bat an eye when B literally asked him to masturbate him for relief. See, B couldn't stand his wife Gail. And he had a lot of sexual tension, is the thing. So what's a good buddy to do for a friend? Jack him off in the front seat of the car they're riding in, obviously.
That face up there? That is the exact face Bob made when he relayed this little anecdote to the filmmakers. A shrug and a "meh!". Keep in mind, at this point both Bob and Mary Ann were growing concerned by the attention B paid to Jan. So clearly the only thing to do was for her to flirt with him and Bob to give him a handy.
So there was some hinky stuff going on between B and Mary Anne. And Bob and B had ... we don't even know how to categorize their relationship, to be honest. While mom and dad were completely dropping the ball left and right, B was getting closer and closer to 12-year-old Jan. We've established that Mary Anne and Bob Broberg were not the sharpest tools in the shed, but the depths of their stupidity is about to blow your mind. See, B opened up to the Brobergs about being in therapy, which he said stemmed from abuse he suffered as a child. In reality, he had previously spent a year in jail for raping another child, which he didn't disclose to the Brobergs.
Somehow, SOMEHOW, B convinced these parents that part of his therapy required him to sleep in bed with their daughter. Sleep. In the same bed. As their 12-year-old daughter. So what did they do? Why, they let him! They let this man, who had already displayed an unhealthy fixation on Jan, to share her bed with her 4-6 nights a week. FOR MONTHS. B would give Jan her "allergy pill" before bed on the nights he stayed over, and she would fall asleep/pass out next to him. Guess what? Jan didn't have any allergies.
The morning of October 17, 1974, B asked Mary Ann if he could take Jan horseback riding after school. Mary Ann was initially hesitant because it was a school night (AND HE WOULD BE ALONE WITH HER DAUGHTER AND THEY ALREADY HAD CONCERNS). But he was persistent, so okey dokey, sounds fine, B! Jan left with him on the afternoon of October 17, and just ... didn't come back. He gave Jan another "allergy pill", staged a fake kidnapping so it looked like they'd both been taken, and ran off to Mexico with the 12-year-old girl. She woke up in the back of a moving motor home, bound to the bed in the back.
If you thought Abducted in Plain Sight was messed up until this point, your mind is about to explode. Bob and Mary Ann did nothing for FIVE WHOLE DAYS after their daughter didn't come home. Remember, this was the 70's, so no cell phones. No pagers. They had no communication with B and their daughter, had no idea where she was or when she was coming back. They made a whole lot of excuses, like maybe they lost track of time (for five days?), were in an accident, or had met with foul play. It was a full five days after she left with B before they finally reached out to the local FBI field office.
After the Brobergs contacted the FBI, the search was on for Jan and B. They were eventually tracked to Mexico, and B contacted the Brobergs to tell them that they would return, but only if they gave him permission to marry their 12-year-old daughter legally in the US. To their credit, the Brobergs refused and flew down to Mexico to get. It was LITERALLY the only time they did something right. B was arrested for kidnapping and brought back to the country. Jan went home with her parents, but the damage had been done obviously. She was brainwashed into believing she loved B, and demanded that they be allowed to get married.
This is really where Abducted in Plain Sight jumps the shark. And gets very, very sad for Jan. She's a genuine victim in all of this, and it's hard to keep sight of that with her parents being as awful as they were. But when Jan was in Mexico with B, he put his plan in place. He would play audio of "aliens" talking to her, telling her that she has been chosen to save the alien race. How would she do that? By having a baby with B by the time she turns 16.
She was alone in a strange place, she was being brainwashed by these tapes, and B was telling her they had to do this to save the alien race. The "aliens" threatened her family, which scared Jan so much that she felt she had no choice. B began sexually abusing her on a regular basis after that.
Jan and Bob took Jan to the doctor, who told them her hymen was intact (eyeroll), so they took that to mean no abuse occurred. So they just ... didn't ask her about it. They didn't get her into therapy. They tried to make everything go back to normal, even though their daughter spent 5 weeks in Mexico with a man who wanted to marry her, GOT MARRIED IN MEXICO, and was now claiming she loved B and wanted to be with him. To add insult to injury, the brainwashing continued, she was still allowed to see B, and he continued to abuse her. Eventually, the Brobergs agreed to drop their case against him. Our brains hurt.
Abducted in Plain Sight really isn't the right name for this documentary. Because these parents basically served their kid up on a silver platter. Following the first abduction, Mary Ann started having a sexual affair with Robert 'B' Berchtold, the man who kidnapped and raped her 12-year-old daughter. Yes. AFTER HE KIDNAPPED HER. The affair lasted for a year, and was used to blackmail the Brobergs into dropping the charges against him. Mary Ann and Bob also allowed B to take Jan to Seattle for two weeks, in a vacation. AFTER HE HAD ALREADY KIDNAPPED HER. It's like they decided, at every single turn, to try to be even more stupid and neglectful than they'd already been.
This is the point in Abducted in Plain Sight where we were pretty sure we were going to have a rage stroke. So, to recap: Robert Berchtold convinced this man to give him a handy. He slept with his daughter, in her bed in their home, for months. He KIDNAPPED his daughter, sexually abused, and married her in Mexico. But for Bob Broberg, the final straw was his wife having an affair with this monster. That was it! That was when he was like, THIS WILL NOT STAND. He filed for divorce from Mary Ann and had her served with papers, and called it the worst day of his life. There is not enough side-eye in the world for these people. THAT is the worst day of your life?! Get some perspective, you dumbass.
Jan ran away from home, but the FBI was pretty sure Berchtold was hiding her somewhere (he denied knowing her whereabouts and there were several taped phone conversations between Mary Ann and B that were friendly and so gross). The FBI put B under surveillance, and lo and behold! He had kidnapped her in late August and enrolled her in a Catholic girls school in Pasadena, California. The FBI was eventually able to convince the school that Berchtold had lied on the enrollment forms, and Jan was rescued and returned, once again, to her family in Idaho. B was arrested and charged, once again, with kidnapping.
OK, pay attention, because there's a lot going on after Jan is returned home for the second time. She still thinks she's on a mission to save the alien race, and is distraught that she can't be with B. She's sullen and troubled and in desperate need of therapy, which her parents don't provide. Berchtold hires two goons to burn down Broberg;s flower shop, but investigators are unable to pin it on him. B eventually brought to trial on the kidnapping charges and was sentenced to a mental illness facility, but only served six months. It wasn't until Jan turned 16 that she realized the entire alien race thing was a lie. Nothing happened to her sisters or parents, and she began to process how deeply brainwashed she'd been the last four years.
It was on a nationwide speaking tour for the book that they encountered Robert Berchtold again, for the first time in years. Apparently, as Jan got older, he began to lose interest in her and their communication ceased. But during several speaking engagements, Berchtold showed up to contest their version of events. Jan filed for a restraining order against him, and instead of the customary three months, was granted a lifetime order of protection against him. He showed up at another event and got into a physical altercation with some biker dudes, and was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm and aggravated assault.
The ending of Abducted in Plain Sight rushes through wrapping up a lot of the loose ends. Maybe the filmmakers knew we would have been mentally and emotionally wrecked by this point? But they do mention the death of Robert Berchtold. Before he could be sentenced for the weapons and assault charges, he killed himself by taking a large quantity of heart medication. What they don't mention is that he had, by that point, divorced Gail and remarried another woman who had two young daughters. Lord only knows what horrors he inflicted on those poor girls. Monsters like Berchtold don't just stop being monsters.
So, we know that Robert Berchtold killed himself, may he burn in hell for all eternity. The filmmakers never really mention what happened to Gail and their kids, and there's virtually no information about them online. We imagine they went far underground for a while to get away from him and the public scrutiny. Bob Broberg died last November, a couple of months before Abducted in Plain Sight was released on Netflix. We suppose it's good that he isn't around to hear the criticisms about his parenting and the role he played in what happened. But at the same time, maybe he should have been forced to hear it, because wow did he do literally everything wrong.
Mary Ann still accompanies Jan on speaking engagements for the book they wrote together. And Jan is doing remarkably well. Like, we're surprised she's doing so well. She's a working actress with roles on stage and screen. And she works as an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse. We have to say, she seems pretty chummy with her parents after all that's happened and we ... don't get it. But we sincerely hope they entire family did, at some point, undergo some very intensive therapy together. Somehow Jan was able to heal and build a wonderful like for herself, and that's commendable after all she's been through.