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Robert Berchtold allegedly committed horrendous crimes — and supposedly no one stopped him, despite a seeming plethora of evidence against him. The almost unbelievable, surreal story of his kidnapping of Jan Broberg is dramatized in the Peacock limited series "A Friend of the Family,” streaming now.
In the series, Berchtold deceives the Broberg family time and time again. He kidnaps their daughter, not once but twice, and even has an affair with both Robert and Mary Ann Broberg. But what happened to to the real life Berchtold after the events portrayed in “A Friend of The Family”?
Berchtold, a close friend of the Brobergs, had allegedly charmed his way into a favorable position with the family in the early 1970s. The children in the clan considered Berchtold a second father, so much so that when he fled to Mexico with a 12-year-old Jan by his side in August 1974, the family was initially unwilling to consider it a kidnapping.
What’s more, during their stay south of the border, Berchtold convinced the girl that she was the scion of an ancient alien race, tasked with saving the species by procreating with him. She was told that should she ever stray from her task, she would face punishment.
“Basically I had all these rules that I was supposed to follow that had been given to me from the aliens," Jan told the BBC in June 2019. "I couldn't have anything to do with boys. If I did, my family would die."
Berchtold was eventually forced to return Jan but avoided charges after convincing the Berchtolds sign an affidavit stating they had given him permission to travel with their daughter. Berchtold had even managed to manipulate the Brobergs so thoroughly that he was able to temporarily abscond with Jan once again in August 1976. When Jan was finally returned to her family, Berchtold managed to beat several kidnapping charges by arguing he had a mental defect, landing him in a mental institution — for less than six months, according to Deseret News.
While Jan was reluctant to discuss her alleged kidnapping the first time it happened, she told investigators what Berchtold allegedly did to her the second time around. “I wasn't able to talk definitively or explicitly about the sexual abuse. It was really hard for me to do,” Jan told the BBC.
Jan said that, since sharing her story, six women contacted her to allege that they, too, were molested by Berchtold. In 1986, Berchtold was found guilty of the rape a child and spent one year in jail, according to Deseret News.
In adulthood, Jan and her mother, Mary Ann Broberg, would go on to write a book titled "Stolen Innocence" about the family's harrowing experiences. Jan and Mary Ann went on a nationwide speaking tour in the hopes of raising awareness about the prevalence of sexual abuse but were repeatedly interrupted by none other than Berchtold himself, who publicly denied several of the claims made against him.
Jan eventually filed for a restraining order against Berchtold, who continued to assert her story was filled with lies created to sell books. When questioned by Berchtold about her motives in a hearing for a restraining order against him in 2004—which, according to the documentary “Abducted in Plain Sight,” was their first direct encounter in almost three decades—Jan responded by saying, "My goal, Mr. Berchtold, is to educate the public about predators like you."
Jan would go on to explain to "Good Morning America" what she believed were Berchtold's motives at the time.
"I think he's desperate because he knows our story has come out," she said, according to ABC News.
"They're trying to make a buck," Berchtold countered to the news network.
Berchtold was later found guilty of simple assault, criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct after getting into an altercation with a BACA (Bikers Against Child Abuse) demonstrator, who was protesting his appearance at Jan’s events, according to ABC News. Fearing prison and rejected by the object of his obsession, Berchtold died by suicide in November 2005, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, just before he was due to be sentenced.
"Bob had gone to court that day and been found guilty," explained Berchtold's brother, Joe, in the documentary “Abducted in Plain Sight.” "He says, 'If it's one day in prison, it's going to kill me. I'm not going there.' He had taken all his heart medicine and drank Kahlua and milk. He drank that and died."
Jan serves as an executive producer on “A Friend of the Family,” explaining at the start of episode one that she hopes her story serves as a warning to other families.
“A Friend of the Family” is available to stream on Peacock Oct. 6.
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