A cautionary tale or the epitome of human idiocy? “Abducted in Plain Sight” is a roller coaster of unbelievably mortifying and absurd events surrounding the twice-abduction and brainwashing of Jan Broberg by family friend Robert “B” Berchtold.
The documentary opens with a voiceover by Berchtold talking about Jan. The actual narrative begins in June 1972 when the Brobergs met Berchtold and his family at church. The families quickly bonded and became inseparable, which gave Berchtold access to the then-twelve-year-old Jan. Over a reality television style confessional, Jan and her family members — her mother, father and two sisters — recount their own recollections of the time.
I don’t think viewers know what to make of the documentary when they finish watching it. The level of trust and naivete displayed by the Broberg parents surpasses idiocy. They allowed Berchtold to sleep in Jan's bed four times a week for six months right up until she was taken because Berchtold, after going away for therapy under counsel from high church officials, told them it was part of his treatment.
Both parents also engaged in sexual relationships with Berchtold, which gave him the leverage to force them to not press kidnapping charges after the first abduction. Berchtold had consecrated himself as such a “good guy” in the minds of the Brobergs that they did not believe Jan had been abducted and five days before alerting the authorities.
The documentary makes the Brobergs look like the most inept parents in the world, and truthfully, I am inclined to agree. They allowed Berchtold to manipulate them, communicate with them and even allowed him access to Jan after the first abduction, which led to the second one. Bertchtold's disturbing behavior is almost overshadowed by the ineptitude of the parents.
In the most distressing moment, Jan recounts how Berchtold utilized a recording to manipulate her, again a mere twelve-year-old, into believing she was part alien and had been chosen to bear a child that would save her home planet. The aliens in the recording, Zeta and Zethra, told her a male companion had been chosen (Berchtold) to assist her in the mission. If she failed to produce a child by the time she turned sixteen, her youngest sister would be taken in her stead.
This created great distress for Jan, who believed the recording wholeheartedly. The ruse, in turn, gave Berchtold the perfect pretense to begin raping Jan. Unbeknownst to Jan and her family, and most frightening, Berchtold had already been molesting Jan, slipping her sleeping pills he claimed were vitamins and allergy pills.
The documentary is a sobering reminder of the danger that lurks outside doors and windows. Berchtold inserted himself into the Broberg family as a friend, gaining everyone’s trust and placing himself in the ideal position to abuse the young Jan.
The ever-trusting Broberg parents, unexposed to such situations and lacking the knowledge now available to parents and people everywhere, did not suspect anything, and when they did, still allowed it to happen. Their minds quite literally couldn’t fathom the idea that they were, for years, in the close proximity of a predator. The FBI agent had to drill it into their minds that their daughter had been abducted by Berchtold.
The documentary has a major flaw that detracts too much from the should-be focus of the story. Placing the focus on the parents, especially on their unrestrained confessionals, really detracts from what should be the focus — the brainwashing, abuse and rape of Jan Broberg at the hands of a known predator.
It’s hardly surprising that many viewers have expressed more outrage at the parents' behavior than at the actions of Berchtold, who committed suicide in 2005 in order to avoid serving time. The only thing I can say for certain is that it will leave you wondering what-the-Netflix you’ve just watched.