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BLIND TRUST: How grooming led to Jan Broberg’s abductions ‘in plain sight’

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SANTA CLARA, Utah (ABC4 News) – Jan Broberg does not blame her parents for her abductions and rape at the hands of trusted family friend Robert Berchtold- even though many who watched the explosive documentary “Abducted in Plain Sight” on Netflix do blame them. 

Instead, she blames small-town naïveté and meticulous grooming on the part of her abductor for an episode in her family’s life that has raised eyebrows and blood pressures for people across America – even the world. 

“I have an extreme case,” Broberg told ABC4 News. 

In 1974, Broberg says she was abducted by Robert Berchtold – a friend, neighbor, and fellow Latter-day Saint church congregation member. 

As explained in Skye Borgman’s documentary, Robert Berchtold – who had a family of his own – befriended the Broberg family in Pocatello, Idaho in 1972. Broberg said he always had a special interest in her. As a 10-year-old, she was flattered and loved the extra attention given her by this man, affectionately known by the family as “B.”

“The times that he would want to go out boating…it was only if Jan could go as well,” said Mary Ann Broberg, Jan’s mother. 

When she was 12, “B” took her horseback riding. Her mother was hesitant to let her go alone with Berchtold. After they left, Jan Broberg said Berchtold drugged her. She awoke in what she later learned to be his motor home, with a little audio box next to her. She was shackled to a bed, and the sound coming from the audio box was two voices chanting “female companion.” 

She later found “B” in the motor home, bloody and in distress – just like her. He convinced her that they had been abducted by aliens and that the extra-terrestrials told him the two had to produce a child that would help save the human race from destruction. Berchtold also convinced Jan Broberg that she was half-alien. 

“You can almost get a person to believe anything because you’re controlling their environment completely,” said Broberg.  

“He had set it up so that the aliens were watching us at all times – so that if we did not complete ‘the mission’ by the time I was sixteen that could save this dying planet…there would be repercussions,” Broberg recalled. 

Then, she said he raped her multiple times during the 39 days the two were missing. 

As shown in the documentary, the Broberg family failed to alert authorities immediately for fear of upsetting anyone. Broberg said her parents were completely oblivious to the possibility of their daughter being kidnapped. 

“You’re talking a different time period, they were worried sick, but they were not looking for a daughter who had been kidnapped at all…and there was no plausible way that this man could be a child molester,” Broberg told ABC4 News. 

THE GROOMING

Berchtold groomed the entire family for this abduction, said Broberg. 

“He would say things like ‘Can you believe this? There has been another UFO sighting. I wonder if this is like the Gathering of Israel? You know, like they’re coming from the four corners of the universe!,” Broberg said. Latter-day Saints believe the “gathering” of the Twelve Tribes of Israel will occur before Christ’s Second Coming. It’s a concept taught frequently in Latter-day Saint wards and branches. 

“As a little 11-year-old, I’m listening to the conversation and thinking ‘Oh, I’ve heard that term, ‘the gathering of Israel.'”

Berchtold would also take Broberg and her sisters to see science fiction movies, Jan Broberg told ABC4 News. She now believes that was all in an effort to condition her mind to accept the alien abduction story when he kidnapped her. 

A virgin, a divine calling, a child that would save the human race; all of these concepts resonated with her religious upbringing, Broberg said (think the story of the Nativity). 

GROOMING THE PARENTS

Robert Berchtold acted out sexually with both of Jan’s parents, the family admitted in the documentary and to ABC4 News. Broberg believes by seducing them with his charm, he was able to control them. 

Mary Ann Broberg said her husband, the late Bob Broberg, first admitted to committing an act of masturbation with Robert Berchtold in the Netflix documentary. Before the doc was produced, the family never knew this part of the story. 

“My husband was ashamed…he didn’t want others to know,” Mary Ann Broberg said. “It was very surprising when he opened up in the documentary….because he never talked about it. I was just shocked. I told him I would have understood and I would have felt much better and closer, and been able to give him a little more empathy.”

Mary Ann Broberg admits to having a brief love affair with Berchtold (even after the kidnapping), which she admits facilitated Jan’s second kidnapping. Jan Broberg, then a headstrong teenager who was convinced she was in love with Robert Berchtold because she had no choice than to be in love with him (or the aliens would destroy the planet and her family), disappeared again Aug. 10, telling her parents she wanted to marry Berchtold. 

The shocking details which led up to the second kidnapping can be seen in the documentary. The reaction has been swift among viewers, many blaming the parents for facilitating the second kidnapping by not cutting Berchtold out of their lives and insisting on harsh prosecution.

Jan Broberg said while she was angry with her parents for a long time, she considers them victims of grooming as much as she was. 

“I had to come to terms with why didn’t my parents see it sooner…why didn’t they do more? And really, I educated myself about brainwashing and about manipulation and how grooming works,” she said. “I was angry with my parents – but, see, I had the kind of parents who had given us unconditional love our entire lives. The idea that my parents were somehow complicit is completely erroneous. They did not know what a pedophile was…they did not believe that he could be that.”

Broberg said the entire family blindly trusted Berchtold, even though there were red flags along the way. 

Mary Ann Broberg admits she was duped. 

“I believe that many people are honest in their feelings; there are those that are not, and we happened to live close to one that was not,” she said. 

Bob Berchtold died in 2005 after committing suicide, according to the documentary. He served minimal time in 1976 for felony kidnapping and was later convicted of child rape for another case. He never was charged with rape of a child in Broberg’s case. 

Bob Broberg, who died in November 2018 before the documentary dropped on Netflix, did not want any more details of what transpired between the Brobergs and the Berchtolds made public. But Mary Ann and Jan are updating their 2003 memoir “Stolen Innocence,” which will contain more potentially embarrassing family secrets – but cautionary tales about the grooming process for other families. 

“All I am asking people to do is to raise the antenna…their personal gut antenna…so that when they see something is off, that they notice and they don’t just brush it aside or under the rug or refuse to look at it…that they actually look at something they do not want to see,” said Broberg, who believes there are predators hiding “in plain sight” in many neighborhoods, churches, schools and daycares. “Look at it…wonder…keep a log. I felt this on this day at this time…this is what happened that made me feel like something’s off or uncomfortable …for my child..for myself. And then maybe we can tune that antenna to the point where we actually will see what we right now are so unwilling to see.”

“There are plenty of good people to trust and to have great relationships with, and that’s important, but there are also many predators that hide among the good guys…and the good ladies…it’s right there and so this really is the final frontier,” said Broberg.

She and experts warn predators could also be hiding in plain sight within families, as evidenced statistics that 9 out of 10 child sex abuse cases occur in situations where the victim knows the perpetrator. She said families have to start noticing odd behavior and not ignoring it.

“People don’t want to put their brother-in-law in jail, they’d rather just stay away and keep their kids away,” said Jan Broberg. “But the brother-in-law is going to perpetrate on some other child.”

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