When she was 9, Jan Broberg’s close, loving, religious family in Pocatello, Idaho, became close friends with another family, the Berchtolds.
Both families’ fathers, leaders in their local chapters of the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS), were named Bob. To avoid confusion, Bob Berchtold asked the Brobergs to call him “B.” Both families liked picnics, talent shows, music and crafts; with so much in common, they became super close.
Seen as a fun dad, B would take the Berchtold girls for ice cream with his own kids, and entertain them with stories of UFOs and alien abductions.
Then, when Jan was 12, B kidnapped and brainwashed her. By the time she was 14, he had raped her over 200 times.
He also managed to seduce her mother and manipulate her father into a sex act, according to Broberg’s own memoir.
In 2019, the Brobergs made headlines when a Netflix documentary, “Abducted in Plain Sight,” told the story of their victimization by Berchtold, a charismatic sociopath who — despite pleading guilty to kidnapping Jan and eventually being convicted for the rape of another child — never spent more than a year in prison.
The Brobergs’ story is now explored in a new book, “The Jan Broberg Story: The True Crime Story of a Young Girl Abducted and Brainwashed by a Friend of the Family,” co-written by Jan and her mother MaryAnn Broberg, and in the new TV drama “A Friend of the Family” on Peacock. Starring Mckenna Grace as Jan and Jake Lacy as her neighbor, it tells the bizarre story of the Brobergs’ torment at the hands of Berchtold, who ultimately killed himself in 2005.
According to Jan, now 60, the Brobergs were unprepared for the attacks that came their way after the 2019 Netflix documentary went viral. Many viewers blamed her parents — questioning how they could buy the idea, for instance, that a grown man, B, was lying in bed many nights with his friends’ preteen daughter for innocent reasons.
Jan spoke with The Post about how she and her mother, MaryAnn, wrote their book and served as co-producers of the new series to raise awareness about how to better spot molesters, who are often known to their victims.
She also wants to help people understand that B also victimized her parents — whom she does not blame, despite their mistakes.
Jan believes her parents failed to protect her because B groomed and manipulated them. They had never even heard the word “pedophile.”
“Think of any community of like-minded people — say, at church, the YMCA, a neighborhood gathering,” she said. “You trust them.”
The Brobergs considered B almost a second father, so much so that, when he drove 12-year-old Jan to a horseback riding lesson one fall day in 1974 and didn’t return that night, the family, though worried, didn’t even consider he could be abusing her.
“I knew B would not hurt Jan,” writes MaryAnn, whose reflections on events are juxtaposed with those of Jan in the book. “He always talked about our girls being like his own and he had always treated them with extreme kindness.”
For more than two days, the Brobergs did not notify law enforcement, as they claim they were persuaded by B’s wife Gail, a long-suffering mother of five who begged them not to call the police and blamed her husband’s disappearance with Jan on his manic depression. By then, B had spirited Jan off to Mexico, where he had indoctrinated her into believing that the survival of an alien race depended on her engaging in sex acts with him and having a baby before she turned 16. (Berchtold drugged the girl, tied her up and threatened her, in the voice of an “alien,” saying that if she didn’t cooperate in sexual activity she would be “vaporized,” her “sister Karen would go blind, and [her] father would die”).
So terrorized was the 12-year-old late bloomer that, although she hadn’t started menstruating and knew that meant she couldn’t have a baby, she wondered if the rules of conception “were different with aliens.”
The book recounts the Brobergs’ frantic efforts to get Jan back, including allowing B to legally marry the 12-year-old in Mexico — his demand in exchange for returning her to her family. Other shocking decisions followed.
After they went to Mexico to retrieve Jan, the Brobergs signed an affidavit stating they had allowed B to take her there — which undermined the FBI’s case against him. This decision was made under duress, according to Jan and her sister Susan Broberg, 56, an attorney, who claimed last week that Berchtold’s lawyer threatened their parents with the possibility that, if the case went to trial, the Brobergs could be ruled unfit parents and their children could be taken away.
“Our family were not savvy New Yorkers,” said Jan. B played mind games on MaryAnn, persuading her that he was in love with her, and that he’d only kidnapped Jan innocently. (Jan told her parents B had not hurt her; he had threatened that terrible things would happen if she said otherwise).
This manipulation paved the way for events that occurred after B re-insinuated himself into their lives and began abusing Jan during a second period, which are covered in the book and series.
“He would call my mother several times a day and tell her, ‘I want you to know why I took Jan. It had everything to do with you.’ People who have never encountered a true sociopath have trouble understanding how others can be manipulated by one,” Jan said.
Now a divorced mother of one son and several stepdaughters, Jan is a full-time advocate for abused children after having acted and done theater work. She believes it’s important that families and institutions identify and prosecute predators and not handle them “in house.”
Jane thinks that, despite her regard for the LDS Church, the fact that B was a respected leader in their Mormon community helped shield him.
“Whether it’s ‘Our church is the way to God,’ or, in the case of USA gymnastics, ‘It’s our path to the Olympics,’ people want to keep their institutions sacrosanct,” said Jan, referencing Olympic team doctor Larry Nassar’s rampant abuse of young female gymnasts. “But the wellbeing of a child is more important than protecting any institution.”
MaryAnn, now 84, told the Post she still feels “ashamed” of falling for a “master con” like Berchtold. “I never want to see him … I hope he’s not in heaven or I’m not going.”
Proceeds from the book will go to the Jan Broberg Foundation (Janbrobergfoundation.org) which provides resources to sexual abuse survivors and their families.
After the Netflix documentary came out, thousands of people attacked the Brobergs on social media, calling the parents “stupid” and negligent toward their daughter, and asking how she could forgive them.
“For anyone to misunderstand my parents just about killed me,” Jan said. “We have brave parents who talked with vulnerability and honesty … I felt I had nothing to forgive.” She added that of the 30,000-40,000 messages she received, however, most were positive.
“If people are so much smarter today, why is it that so many girls and boys are still getting sexually abused?” asked Broberg. Her beloved father passed away in 2018. She wants to stick up for both of her parents.
“Our mother took on the burden of shame and blame, but she was groomed,” said Jan. “There is one person to blame, and it was Robert Berchtold.”