A Friend of the Family’s true story — Jan Broberg’s abductions detailed


Jan Broberg’s shocking abductions and the manipulation of her family by Robert Berchtold form the basis of the upcoming Peacock miniseries A Friend of the FamilyThe show’s synopsis reads:

“The Broberg’s – devoted to their faith, family, and community – were utterly unprepared for the sophisticated tactics their neighbor used to exploit their vulnerabilities, drive them apart and turn their daughter against them. This is the story of how their lives were permanently altered – and how they survived.”

Robert Berchtold was a skilled puppet master who manipulated the Broberg family into facilitating their daughter’s kidnapping and sexual assault.

Robert brainwashed Jan with claims of an alien invasion

Robert Berchtold and Jan Broberg
Robert Berchtold and Jan Broberg | Top Knot Films

The Brobergs met Robert Berchtold after he and his family moved into their neighborhood. The families had a lot in common, including their shared faith, which aided their interactions and brought them closer. 

Unbeknownst to the Brobergs, Robert had already set his sights on Jan. He grew close to Jan, almost becoming something like her second father. Robert took Jan to see movies about UFOs and aliens to instill in Jan the idea of an imminent extraterrestrial invasion. 

Robert kidnapped Jan for the first time in October 1974. He’d told her parents that the pair had gone horse riding; however, he’d taken Jan to Mexico. Jan said she woke up to the sound of tape recordings telling her to have sex with a man for the sake of the planet. She told The BBC:

“The message said ‘You will go to the front of the motorhome and meet the male companion.’ They’d been calling me ‘the female companion’ this whole time. I get up, and who’s lying on the little sofa of the motorhome? Robert Berchtold.”

When Robert and Jan failed to return, Jan’s father called the sheriff’s office. Nobody theorized that Jan may have been abducted. “They were looking for a car accident,” Jan told Entertainment Tonight. “Kidnapping had not even entered anybody’s mind… you’re looking at this person as someone who would never hurt your child.”

Mexican authorities found Jan and Berchtold five weeks after her disappearance. By then, Berchtold had married Jan. You would think the marriage would have sent multiple alarm bells ringing. However, Berchtold presented a plausible explanation. Jan said:

“He said because we wanted to come home, ‘They would not let me come back across the border if I did not have her married to me. I didn’t want to marry her.’ He had a story for everything.”

Jan gradually realized that Berchtold’s claims were made up

Jan Broberg
TEDx Talks/YouTube

Jan didn’t tell anyone about the sexual assault or the claims about an alien invasion. Berchtold spent several days in jail for the kidnapping. 

Broberg said that her father didn’t let Berchtold back into his life; however, reports allege Berchtold had sexual relationships with Jan’s parents. He used the sexual relationships to blackmail the parents into signing affidavits showing her had consent to take Jan to Mexico. 

Berchtold continued manipulating Jan into doing his bidding. “Basically I had all these rules that I was supposed to follow that had been given to me from the aliens,” Jan said. “I couldn’t have anything to do with boys. If I did, my family would die.”

By the time Berchtold kidnapped Jan a second time, his family life was in shambles. His wife had filed for divorce and custody of the two children. Berchtold took Jan to a Catholic girls school in Pasadena, California, where she was rescued by the FBI. 

For a long time, Jan knew that contact with boys would lead to catastrophic consequences. Berchtold had informed her that her family would die if she started relations with boys. Therefore, when a boy bought her ice cream at summer camp, she panicked and called home. She found out that everyone was okay. 

“It was enough for me to start testing the waters,” Jan said. Gradually, she realized Berchtold’s allegations about an alien abduction were false. Jan continued:

“I knew if I came home from that date and my dad wasn’t dead and my sister wasn’t kidnapped or missing and my other sister Karen wasn’t blind, and Mom and I weren’t evaporated, then it wasn’t real. And that’s what happened.”

Jan eventually opened up about the torment Berchtold put her through; however, she left out the sexual abuse. She said: “I wasn’t able to talk definitively or explicitly about the sexual abuse. It was really hard for me to do.”

Berchtold denied sexually abusing Jan and died via suicide

Jan Broberg and Robert Berchtold
Jan Broberg and Robert Berchtold | Top Knot Films

Jan told ABC News that Berchtold reappeared after she opened up about her story. “I think he’s desperate because he knows our story has come out,” Jan said on Good Morning America.

Robert appeared at a conference Jan and her mother, Mary Ann Broberg, were hosting in St. George, Utah. Berchtold told ABC News that he didn’t attend the event to speak to the Brobergs; he allegedly wanted to talk to Bikers Against Child Abuse members. 

He claimed he’d seen members of the group around his Nevada home after Jan started promoting the book Stolen Innocence: The Jan Broberg Story. Police arrested Berchtold on charges of disorderly conduct, criminal trespassing, and simple assault. 

Berchtold refuted some of Jan’s claims, saying the pair didn’t talk about UFOs or aliens. He claimed he only tried to take care of Jan and later realized it was wrong to have a close relationship with a young child. 

Robert said therapy had helped him figure out why he pursued a relationship with Jan. He said:

“My mom got sick when I was a teenager and I had to take care of my little sister. I was very happy at the time, because my stepfather finally liked me and everything was good. Later, I had reverted back to taking care of a little girl.”

Jan brought stalking charges against Robert. However, he committed suicide before his sentencing. 

Jan has urged fans not to blame her parents for her experiences

Jan Broberg parents
Jan Broberg’s family | Top Knot Films

Whenever Jan Broberg’s story surfaces, people wonder why her parents were oblivious to Berchtold’s actions. Some netizens opine that their inaction facilitated Robert’s behavior. Jan has insisted severally that her parents weren’t to blame. She tweeted:

“It happened to my whole family. This man was a master and my parents saved my life. They’re the bravest people I know, willing to try to help the rest of you see what they didn’t. That is the only reason we told our story.”

She also told The BBC: “I don’t think they had any inkling at all. I mean literally, that was just not at all possible, because of the amount of love he had showered on the family.”

Perhaps anticipating an avalanche of comments about her parents, Jan released a statement urging fans not to see them as stupid or careless. She said:

“A Friend of the Family tells our family’s story and my story. We were a loving, trusting, educated family. We were not stupid or careless. So how could this happen in our neighborhood, where we knew everyone, and everyone was a friend?”