Abducted in Plain Sight filmmaker Skye Borgman understands why audiences might want to scream at their televisions while streaming her true-crime documentary. The 91-minute film, originally released in 2017, has captivated an entirely new audience since premiering on Netflix this month. It chronicles the peculiar kidnapping case of Jan Broberg, an Idaho teenager who was abducted by her decades-older neighbor Robert Berchtold in the 1970s. But Berchtold—known as “B”—did not just kidnap Broberg once; he entrapped Jan’s religious parents in such a web of trust, shame, and complicity that he managed to convince the family to drop the most serious kidnapping charges against him, continue letting him spend disturbing amounts of time with their young daughter, and—in the most shocking twist of all—he eventually kidnapped her a second time.
“It is incredibly challenging to understand why and how these people went through this, but that’s part of the story,”explained Borgman to Vanity Fair, before admitting that even she became so incensed that she eventually had to take a break during the editing process.
“We spent so much time with them on the computer, going through what they had said, and [editing] things together,” Borgman continued. “There were times when the family was just so frustrating to me.” At one point, Borgman and her editor hit pause on the project for a solid six weeks. “It was the best thing that we could’ve done, because we were able to come back and feel everything we were supposed to feel,” she said.
It is important to remember that Jan’s kidnappings took place in a small town, decades before the Internet and true-crime television franchises turned Americans into armchair experts on such seedy subjects as pedophilia, Stockholm syndrome, and grooming. Borgman explained that the Broberg family’s faith, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also gave them an extraordinary capacity for forgiveness—a subject Borgman would like to explore if she is able to pull together funding for a sequel to Abducted in Plain Sight.
Until then, Borgman shared even more shocking revelations about the Broberg family; Robert Berchtold’s alien-abduction grooming technique; and the effects the kidnapping has had on Jan as an adult.
Spoilers ahead for those who have not yet seen Abducted in Plain Sight.
This documentary was the first time Jan’s father, Bob, publicly confessed to having his own romantic entanglement with his daughter’s kidnapper.
Borgman first learned of Jan’s kidnapping through Stolen Innocence, a memoir Jan wrote with her mother, Mary Ann. But the first edition of the book left out several very pertinent details, such as the affairs both Jan’s mother and father had with Berchtold.
During the preliminary discussions the filmmaker had with Jan, Jan was “pretty forthcoming” about the affair her mother had with Berchtold. But the filmmaker didn’t know about Bob’s own “indiscretion” until she got ahold of F.B.I. documents and court transcripts.
“When we were going into the interview, I really wasn’t sure if I was going to ask him about it,” said Borgman, explaining that Bob volunteered details about the sexual act he performed on Berchtold. “I think Bob realized that it was a critical element to the story, and how [Berchtold] was able to get into their family this way so seamlessly,” said Borgman.
The “indiscretions” will be detailed in a new edition of the Brobergs’ memoir now that, according to Borgman, the family “really understand[s] the importance of how those two instances led to [Jan’s parents’] denial” of Berchtold’s relationship with Jan. Borgman explained that both Bob and Mary Ann were “so consumed with their own actions and their own trauma that they just didn’t pay attention [to their daughter’s relationship with Berchtold] the way that they were supposed to.”
Berchtold allegedly used his convoluted “alien-abduction” grooming narrative on multiple victims.
One jaw-dropping twist in Abducted in Plain Sight occurs during the first kidnapping, when Jan says that Berchtold used a cassette player to trick her—just 12 years old at the time—into believing that she had been kidnapped by aliens and that she could save her family only if she accepted a secret mission to procreate with Berchtold. During Vanity Fair’s conversation with Borgman, the filmmaker confessed that she initially had a hard time believing this element to Jan’s story.
“I constantly questioned if this had really happened,” said Borgman. “If this little box was next to Jan and if these alien voices were really playing through. I got to one point where I was like, ‘Well, maybe it doesn’t matter if it’s real. Maybe this is what Jan has had to tell herself to cope with the situation and get through it.’”
“Then, while we were working on the film, one of Berchtold’s other alleged victims reached out to us and told us a story about him using this alien psychology and saying, ‘You’re a princess from a different planet.’ He used this whole alien story on her, and that was the moment for me when I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s real. He did it.’” (Neither this accuser nor the other alleged Berchtold victims that came forward wanted to revisit their ordeal on camera.)
Asked how Berchtold came up with this extravagant deception plan, Borgman said her only theory is that inspiration struck from the 70s zeitgeist. “This whole idea of science fiction was popular, and tape recorders had just come out. There were also a lot of newspaper articles about U.F.O.s and whether or not they were real.”
Even though Berchtold’s brother Joe was aware of his brother’s inappropriate behavior, he felt the need to participate in the documentary on Berchtold’s behalf.
Borgman interviewed multiple members of Jan’s family, but when it came time to reach out to Berchtold’s immediate family members—who lived next door to Jan’s family growing up—“nobody really wanted to do an interview.” Explained the filmmaker, “They weren’t interested in dredging up the past.”
Because Berchtold committed suicide in 2005—after coming face-to-face with Jan in a courtroom, a bizarre meeting included in the documentary—and is not able to defend himself, Berchtold’s brother Joe felt the need to participate in Borgman’s film.
“I don’t know that he trusted us completely, but he wanted to give his brother a voice,” said Borgman. “It’s something I think about a lot—that sibling love and how strong that is. I think that comes out a lot with Joe, that he loves his brother, even though his brother was a pedophile, and I think those two things really are conflicts in him. He still loved his brother.”
Some crazy details were left on the cutting-room floor.
To streamline the documentary, Borgman ended up leaving out several story elements—including a meet-up that Mary Ann had with Berchtold in a parking lot, allegedly involving a gun and Mary Ann’s brother. Borgman also consulted with a forensic psychologist, providing her with court transcripts and other evidence of Berchtold’s fixation with Jan to help her get a professional read on “B.”
“She explained how much work it takes to actually kidnap somebody,” Borgman said. “That’s why it doesn’t happen more often, because there’s so much planning involved, and there’s so much deceit that goes into it. To be able to actually kidnap somebody is incredibly difficult. Then to be able to maintain this ruse for years and years really takes somebody who has very little empathy for anybody else. It really does take a sociopath.”
Borgman is hopeful that she can one day make a sequel to this film, “to explore the different topics that we didn’t have time to really dive deep into, like the role that faith plays—maybe not even just L.D.S.—but the role that faith plays in sheltering communities,” said the filmmaker. “Also grooming and brainwashing—there are really interesting, intricate things that happen, and we touch on both of those topics in the documentary, but I’d love to explore those more. I guess in a perfect world, it’d be sort of a trilogy of films.”
Jan still sees Berchtold as her benchmark for love.
After her trauma, Jan went on to get married, have a son, and get divorced. As Borgman explained, Jan’s relationship with Berchtold, understandably, had lasting effects on her adult life. “It had a huge, huge impact on her relationship with men,” said the filmmaker. “I remember talking to her at one point, and she said that she still looks at her relationships, and she’s never felt as in love with any of the men that she’s been in relationships with as the kind of love she felt with Berchtold. That speaks huge volumes to how impressionable children are—12-year-old kids, especially. To this day, Jan struggles with how to love and how not to associate that love with the love she felt for Berchtold when she was 12 and 13 years old.”
Bob and Mary Ann stayed married until Bob’s death in 2018.
In spite of the trauma of the kidnapping, and the separate “indiscretions” husband and wife had with their daughter’s kidnapper, Bob and Mary Ann stayed married until Bob died last November. Asked whether Bob’s affair with Berchtold continued beyond the car incident, Broberg said she isn’t sure.
“We certainly couldn’t find any indication that it continued,” said Borgman. “It has been a question that a lot of people have asked or posed, and I also find it curious. I’m not sure that it matters if there was or if there wasn’t, because it was this one indiscretion that really gave Berchtold the ammunition he needed to blackmail the head of the household. One time or more than that, the deed was done, and the ramifications of that were set in motion.”
Jan is now a working actress who has appeared on over 30 episodes of the WB series Everwood.
Jan has gone on to have a successful acting career, appearing in more than 45 film and television projects according to her IMDb page. “She still auditions, but she started running a theater company in Utah and it’s been wonderful for her,” explained Borgman. “The press that she’s getting has been a lot, but she’s doing really well. . . . She says that you can choose how to live your life. 90 percent of her life is amazing and wonderful, and 10 percent is not, and she chooses to live in the 90 percent. I do give her a lot of respect and a lot of props for doing this documentary and for telling this story, because it’s easy to let that 10 percent creep back in. She just doesn’t allow that to happen.”
It has, however, been hard for Jan—and her siblings—to see their parents criticized in response to the documentary. After the film premiered, however, Jan’s father Bob approached the filmmaker with genuine appreciation. “Bob said that he was just so grateful that we had told their story in such a sensitive way,” said the filmmaker. “It was really quite 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.”
Now, in the Internet Age especially, Borgman and the Brobergs want to make audiences “aware of how people can enter our lives, and we need to protect our children a little bit more . . . I think that’s something that Jan and her sisters have all been advocates for—getting the word out there that it can happen to somebody close to you, by somebody you know. Don’t trust everybody. Don’t trust anybody, almost.”