Peacock’s drama miniseries “A Friend of the Family” is indeed based on shockingly frightening true incidents that took place in the 1970s with the Broberg family. This fictionalized retelling actually happens to be the third time that this case is being presented in popular media, preceded by Skye Borgman’s 2017 Netflix documentary “Abducted in Plain Sight” and even before that by Jan and Mary Ann Broberg’s own book on the matter titled “Stolen Innocence: The Jan Broberg Story.” “A Friend of the Family” is almost entirely in adherence with the true events that had actually taken place, and Jan, who went on to become a professional actress later on, also makes an appearance before the first episode starts. Just like with the book, Jan wants to spread awareness about ways to prevent such horrific acts from taking place in anyone else’s life and also to help others afflicted by similar incidents and memories of trauma.
How Did Jan Know Robert Berchtold? How Was She Kidnapped The First Time?
During her childhood days spent in Pocatello, Idaho, Jan Broberg knew Robert Berchtold well enough to call him her best friend. The Brobergs and Berchtolds had been very good friends ever since they had first met in 1972 at their local church. Both were extremely religious families, and Robert and his wife Gail were warmly welcomed to the neighborhood by Bob and Mary Ann Broberg. The Brobergs had three daughters, Jan, Susan, and Karen, and they, too, loved to spend time over at the Berchtolds with their children who were around their age. Over time, though, it was specifically Robert, or Bob, as he preferred calling himself, who grew close to the Brobergs, and he soon became the three young girls’ favorite “brother B,” or just “B.” Robert would drive the girls to school every day, along with his boys, who attended the same local school, and he would spend time with Bob Broberg too, at times going over to the latter’s flower shop to hang out. The man had become extremely friendly with Mary Ann as well and had discussed his failing marriage with the couple. The two families became such friends that apparent red flags and breaking of healthy boundaries were gradually ignored, as Robert started to increasingly spend time alone with Jan, who was around eleven or twelve at the time. The Brobergs had even allowed Robert to lie down beside the girl on the same bed as part of Robert’s therapy for depression. However, they never thought that their best friend and neighbor had any ill intentions for their daughter or any of them and even continued to believe so following the events of an evening in October 1974. Robert had taken Jan, who was twelve years old at the time, for horse-riding lessons, and she had been missing for days since then. While Bob and Mary Ann did get concerned when their daughter did not return home, they called the police only to inquire about any car accidents that might have taken place. Still having no doubts about Robert, they did not report their daughter missing. However, a few days later, their concern naturally grew, and the FBI got involved soon.
The missing duo of Robert and Jan was finally found in a town in Mexico, where the former had driven the young girl, and they even got a marriage certificate made with their names. During all this time, Jan was kept in Robert’s motorhome, inside which she was sexually assaulted and groomed for the same. The girl was made to believe, through speakers in her room inside the van, that she had been abducted by aliens who wanted her to have a baby with their other hostage, Robert, in order to save their planet. She had also been threatened that if she did not go ahead with this mission or told anyone else about it, then her younger sister would be taken instead of her and made to go through the same ordeal. Young Jan was convinced by this scary situation and continued to believe it over the next four years when Robert continued to groom her for more incidents to come. After the two were found in Mexico and brought back to the USA by officials, Robert was charged with a kidnapping case, but the man used his sly and manipulative ways to carve out a means of escape or at least reduced charges. Before the incident of the first kidnapping, Robert had established intimate and sexual relations with both Bob and Mary Ann Broberg, and he now made use of this. He threatened to reveal Bob’s homosexual desires in court and in the community, which would make Bob and his family’s life in the religious and conservative-minded community extremely difficult. The Brobergs were coerced into signing an affidavit, which stated that they knew Robert would take Jan to Mexico and had given him their consent for it. Both this affidavit and knowledge of the parents’ intimate relationship with Robert led to a very reduced prison sentence for Robert Berchtold, who had agreed to a plea for federal kidnapping and had to spend only 10 days in prison.
How Was Jan Kidnapped Again A Second Time?
Ever since Jan returned to her house in 1974 and Robert returned to Pocatello shortly after, the man kept in touch with the young girl indirectly, even though her parents tried to stay away from the Berchtolds. Robert used to leave items and notes for Jan in her room at their house, and the girl was also often reminded of the mission that she still needed to complete in order to save her younger sister. Before she had been brought back from Mexico, Robert had convinced her not to reveal anything that had happened during the time they had spent together, and the girl was too terrified of the consequences of saying anything to her parents or to the authorities. Robert also managed to convince Mary Ann during this time that he loved her and expressed his desire to marry her and settle down with her in some other part of the country. In August of 1976, a now fourteen-year-old Jan was taken away once again by Robert Berchtold, and this time he made the kidnapping seem like Jan had left the house of her own free will. It was due to this that the Brobergs informed the FBI of their daughter being missing only two weeks after the incident. This time around, Robert took Jan to California and enrolled her in a Catholic school and hostel in Pasadena. He had carefully changed Jan’s name to Janice Tobler in the school’s records and had convinced the authorities of the institution that he was a CIA agent, for which information about him or Jan (who he claimed was his daughter) needed to be kept a secret. While the girl was hidden away at the school, Robert kept contacting the Brobergs, saying that he was in contact with their daughter over the phone. He demanded that they sign an agreement to let their daughter marry the man, saying that this was the only way that Jan would return to her home in Idaho.
However, the FBI was also in search of the man by now and finally was able to track down Jan in the California school and Robert in Salt Lake City, Utah. The man was arrested a second time, while Jan was returned to her house and family. Young Jan did not actually reveal what had happened to her even now, and it was only after she grew up some more that she started to question what all she had gone through. She gradually told her sister and then her parents about the whole incident, and she also realized that the “alien” story was something the evil Robert had used to essentially rape her. According to her own words, this revelation and the healing that followed became the most difficult parts of the entire matter, and understandably so.
What Ultimately Happened To Robert And Jan?
Even after the second kidnapping, though, Robert Berchtold was ultimately sentenced to only six months to be spent in a mental institution, following which the man was out and free. Jan Broberg grew up dealing with her trauma and the hopes of becoming an actor, and decades later, in 2003, she and her mother, Mary Ann, published a book on the incidents. The two women, both of whom had been manipulated and cheated by the sexual predator, wanted to let the world know about their ordeal in order to prevent any more such occurrences and to essentially make others aware of such truths. Robert started to take notice of this, and he started stalking the women once again, following them around on their book tour. Jan had to file a restraining order against Robert to stop him, and he was ordered by the court to stay away from her for the rest of their lives. At this time, Jan had also sought help from a biker group called “Bikers Against Child Abuse,” hiring them to provide security, and Robert eventually got into a fight with one of them. He was ultimately found guilty of this crime, but the man committed suicide in 2005 before he could be given any prison sentence.
Jan and Mary Ann continue to spread awareness with their unusually sad and shocking story and are also executive producers of “A Friend of the Family.” To Jan, the main concern is to make people think of the possibilities of such incidents and to ensure these things remain in the conversation, irrespective of how people perceive them to be.