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An upcoming miniseries is not only based on the harrowing story of a young Jan Broberg, who was kidnapped twice by a trusted family friend — it also focuses on her parents, who likewise fell under the spell of that very same man.
Mary Ann and Bob Broberg received backlash for how they responded to the first of the two alleged kidnappings of their daughter, Jan Broberg, in the 1970s, as dramatized in the Peacock original series “A Friend of the Family.” Starring Academy Award winner Anna Paquin ("The Piano," "X-Men") as Mary Ann and Colin Hanks ("Fargo," "The Offer") as Bob, the scripted seriesoffers a new perspective on Mary Ann and Bob’s reaction, showing how the parents were also victims allegedly groomed and manipulated by a cunning predator.
Neighbor and family friend Robert Berchtold — endearingly referred to as “Brother B” by the Brobergs — was accused of spending years manipulating the tight-knit family with the hope of marrying their then-12-year-old daughter, Jan, allegedly kidnapping her once in 1974 and again in 1976, all while sexually abusing her over several years.
Jan, along with her mother, Mary Ann, both serve as producers on the series.
“We were a loving, trusting, educated family,” said Jan in the show’s media release. “We were not careless or stupid. So how could this happen in our neighborhood, where we knew everyone, and everyone was a friend?”
Bob and Mary Ann married in 1961 and were life-long members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The pair raised their three daughters — Jan, Karen, and Susan — in Bob’s hometown of Pocatello, Idaho, where Bob spent his life as a florist.
The Brobergs met the Berchtolds — a family seemingly not much different than their own — at a local church in 1972, and their bond was immediate. For years, the children played and went to school together, spending months filled with picnics, barbecues and fun family vacations.
Then, in 1974, Berchtold allegedly abducted Jan and took her to Mexico for 37 days, convincing her that aliens from another planet chose Jan to “mate” with Berchtold and that the survival of the foreign planet depended on their consummation. He also convinced her she couldn’t tell her family or police about the abuse, as it could compromise their mission.
However, when Jan first went missing, her parents Mary Ann and Bob would not report the kidnapping for days. “They called the sheriff's department that night that we did not come back from horseback riding, or at least that's where they thought we had gone. But they weren't looking for a kidnapped or missing child. They were looking for a car accident," Jan told the BBC in 2019.
More than that, Mary Ann and Bob were reluctant to believe Brother B would harm Jan. “I really felt he manipulated me in so many ways, and the whole family too,” Mary Ann told People in 2019. “If I could go back and erase anything of my life, it would be him. He was a master at making everybody feel he was their number one priority.”
The Peacock original series includes not only Berchtold's alleged abuse of Jan but also the reported sexual affairs he secretly had with Jan's parents, which the Brobergs say helped him maintain control over their family.
This control would allegedly aid Berchtold in evading charges and kidnapping Jan for a second time two years later. Following the second alleged kidnapping, Berchtold was arrested, but evaded serious charges by arguing he had a mental defect, according to Deseret News. He ultimately spent less than six months in a psychiatric facility.
According to the Peacock media release, the Brobergs were “utterly unprepared” for Robert Berchtold’s “sophisticated tactics” against their vulnerability, as well as Berchtold’s ability to turn Jan against her parents as a teenager.
“It’s easy to judge the Broberg family’s story from the outside,” said showrunner Nick Antosca in the media release. “Sometimes, when people first hear it, they get defensive. ‘How could these parents have let this happen? I’m not like them.’”
Antosca explained he wanted to show audiences the “bizarre web” between the two families and make them relatable to people who’d lived in the era.
“They made terrible mistakes, but they loved their kids,” said Antosca. “And a master manipulator took advantage of them.”
Mary Ann Broberg told People that it took years to heal from Berchtold’s wounds, which included Jan expressing her feelings of betrayal and anger, especially throughout her adolescent years.
“My parents didn’t deny or downplay what they’d done,” Jan told People. “They said, ‘we made the most terrible mistakes.’ They took responsibility for it. They listened to me, and they didn’t try to defend themselves.”
“A Friend of the Family” may include the ups and downs in Bob and Mary Ann's marriage, but despite it all, they remained married, selling Bob’s floral business in 1999 and moving to St. George, Utah.
They remained in Utah until Bob passed away on Nov. 5, 2018, at 80 years old, according to his obituary.
Although Bob Broberg wouldn’t live to see “A Friend of the Family,” the family’s story made waves when Netflix aired the documentary “Abducted in Plain Sight” in 2017. Director Skye Borgman told Vanity Fair that Bob Broberg was appreciative that their cautionary tale could reach the public.
“Bob said that he was just so grateful that we had told their story in such a sensitive way," said Borgman. "It was really shocking to me and, I think, speaks more to the Brobergs’ capacity for truth and forgiveness and just wanting to get that story out there.”
Jan and Mary Ann hope that making a series based on their story will help others be mindful of predators and their ability to prey on the vulnerable.
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