What’s the premise?
The story follows the Broberg family, whose 12-year-old daughter Jan was abducted in 1974 by their neighbour and close friend, Robert Berchtold. It’s not a Netflix original but the rights were bought by the streaming service for this film, which was originally released in 2017. The name of the film says it all, and it’s what makes this documentary so wild – Jan was taken in plain sight, right in front of her all-too-trusting parents, not once, but twice.
How did that happen?
Without wanting to spoil the biggest WTF moments of the doc, during the first couple of years living next to Berchtold and his wife, Berchtold – or ‘B’, as they called him – managed to gain the trust of every member of the Broberg family. Even to the point where Jan’s parents, Mary Ann and Bob Broberg, let him sleep in Jan’s bed, with Jan, for therapeutic reasons. And no one suspected a thing.
Furthermore, Berchtold somehow managed to manipulate Jan’s parents, seducing Mary Ann into a full- on affair and even engaging in sexual acts with Bob, too. On the day of the first abduction, Berchtold said he was taking Jan horseback riding, but instead drugged her as soon as she got into the car. He staged a fake kidnapping and took Jan to Mexico, where he married her.
When Jan came regained consciousness, Berchtold brainwashed her and told her they’d be given a mission: to save an alien race by having a baby with Berchtold. If she didn’t do this by 16, her family members would die, and so Jan had sex with him.
What makes this documentary particularly controversial?
What happens after they return from Mexico gets even crazier. Eventually, Berchtold tried to return to the US with Jan, but needed the Brobergs to agree to the wedding in order to cross the border, which the Brobergs refused. They flew to Mexico to pick up Jan themselves and Berchtold was arrested for kidnapping upon returning to America.
Jan was convinced that she was in love with Berchtold and that they needed to complete the mission. Although they weren’t supposed to be together, they would still write love letters. Somehow, the brainwashing tape recorder used by Berchtold would be played to Jan at night, which eventually led to them having sex multiple times.
And if that wasn’t mad enough, Mary Ann started an affair with Berchtold, too. His wife, Gail, (that’s right – Berchtold still had a wife) then used the affair to blackmail the Brobergs into dropping the charges against him. As such, the five years he was due to spend in jail was later dropped, and he spend just 10 days locked up for the kidnapping.
In August 1976, Berchtold abducted Jan again, and enrolled her in an all-girls Catholic school in California, telling the nuns that he was CIA and they were on the run. If anyone came looking for Jan, he told them that “they were the bad people”, so when the FBI did contact the school, they didn’t give them any information. But eventually they located Jan, and brought her back to her parents in Idaho, charging Berchtold with kidnapping a second time.
Will I like it?
Anyone who enjoys a true crime doc is going to enjoy Abducted in Plain Sight. It’s unlike any other documentary you’ve ever seen. Rolling Stone called it “Stranger than fiction”, while Vulture wrote: “Think of the wildest story you’ve ever heard. Now square it, multiply it by 50, and maybe you’ll have a sense of how nuts Abducted in Plain Sight is.”
And for those worried about Jan, it comes with a happier ending – she realises the mission is a myth, and when she is a fully-grown adult, she and her mother start writing a book on their experiences. As they embark on a book tour Berchtold begins to turn up and dismiss the book as lies, but soon Jan requests an injunction and is granted a lifelong restraining order against him.
Where can I watch it?
The documentary is now showing on Netflix. And really, it is truly the maddest thing you’ve ever seen