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Why Didn’t Robert Berchtold Of 'A Friend Of The Family' Serve Significant Jail Time?
Robert Berchtold was accused of grooming a tight-knit Idaho family with the aim of marrying Jan Broberg, a 12-year-child he allegedly spent years brainwashing.
Cunning child predator Robert Berchtold would be accused of sexually abusing Jan Broberg over several years, but he would see little time behind bars for a multitude of reasons.
Peacock’s original series, “A Friend of the Family,” is based on the stranger-than-fiction story of the Broberg family, whose young daughter was twice kidnapped by trusted family friend Robert Berchtold. As portrayed by Jake Lacy ("The White Lotus," "The Office"), Berchtold would allegedly embark on a years-long campaign to woo and manipulate the Brobergs in the 1970s with his sights set on then-12-year-old Jan Broberg, whom he allegedly first kidnapped from Pocatello, Idaho in 1974.
According to victim Jan Broberg and her mother, Mary Ann — who both serve as producers on the scripted miniseries — Berchtold took the preteen to Mexico, allegedly convincing Jan during her 37 days in captivity that the survival of an alien planet depended on them having sexual relations.
Berchtold would eventually return Jan to Idaho, but several factors, as highlighted in “A Friend of the Family,” would prevent Berchtold from facing serious time behind bars.
First, Jan’s parents, Mary Ann and Bob Broberg, who were also allegedly groomed into having sexual relationships with Berchtold, signed affidavits, withdrawing the most serious of the criminal charges against Berchtold, including the kidnapping, as reported by The Atlantic. In the series, the parents feared that by not doing so, they would subject Jan to the trauma of a trial.
But that, perhaps, wasn’t the only thing that might have prevented the Brobergs from continuing with courtroom proceedings. Both Mary Ann and Bob faced ex-communication from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, especially at the threat of Berchtold exposing their respective sexual relationships.
Mary Ann’s extramarital relationship with Berchtold, coupled with a homosexual encounter between Bob and Berchtold, went against the beliefs of the conservative Mormon family.
Jan also refused to testify against her alleged abuser as a child, having been told that if she shared details of their so-called mission, her family would die. “I wasn't able to talk definitively or explicitly about the sexual abuse. It was really hard for me to do,” she told the BBC in 2019.
A doctor who’d performed a pelvic exam on Jan also stated her virginity was still intact, as depicted in the series.
In August 1976, Berchtold allegedly kidnapped then 14-year-old Jan again, this time reportedly taking her to California and enrolling her in Catholic school, posing as both her father and a CIA agent, according to ABC News.
Jan came to believe that she loved her abuser, who the family referred to as "Brother B," while remaining convinced that a dying alien planet depended on her and Berchtold continuing to have sex.
“I was supposed to have a baby by age 16 to save my family and the planet,” Jan Broberg told Vulture in 2019. “I thought that was all real. I thought they were watching me. I was completely convinced. I wanted to have a baby. I wanted to marry him. It felt real.”
The FBI caught up with Broberg and Berchtold four months later and returned the teen to Idaho.
According to the Brobergs, Berchtold evaded charges (once again) by claiming he had a mental defect, which landed him 19 days in jail and a five-month stint at a mental health facility, according to Deseret News.
“This story will make you talk, shout, cry — and it will make you angry,” Jan Broberg said in the show’s media release. “Good.”
In 1986, Berchtold pleaded guilty to two counts of child rape in a case separate from Brobergs’ and served one year in prison, according to Deseret News.
Berchtold would counter Jan’s accusations in comments to ABC News, accusing her of “trying to make a buck” from the book, though six other women would allegedly come forward to accuse him of raping them as children.
In 2005, one year after Jan filed a restraining order against her kidnapper and alleged rapist, Berchtold became involved in a violent altercation with members of BACA (Bikers Against Child Abuse), who’d held a demonstration for one of Jan Broberg’s events.
He was found guilty of possession of a firearm and aggravated assault, but, once again, Berchtold would avoid jail time, this time by taking his own life in November 2005, according to ABC News.
Bechtold’s brother, who is also portrayed in “A Friend of the Family,” said in the Netflix documentary "Abducted In Plain Sight" that Berchtold died after taking a concoction of heart medicine and alcohol before he could be sentenced.