A documentary about a sexual predator who kidnaps a family’s 12 year old daughter, brainwashes her into wanting to marry him and taking her all the way to Mexico would be horrifying in itself, but no screenwriter could make a story this ridiculous up to go along with it.
Even in the unenlightened 70s in a church community in Middle America I had a hard time believing any adult could be this breathtakingly stupid, but when you look at the history of charismatic psychopaths from Charles Manson to Jim Jones, I suppose this kind of Stockholm Syndrome is possible.
As director Skye Borgman recounts the (I presume) little-known account of paedophile Robert Berchtold and his predation of the Broberg family, interview footage and dramatisations of what Berchtold did to them gradually reveals a tale even the director acknowledged makes you want to yell at the screen.
If you don’t know the story, prepare to gape in astonishment and say ‘what?’ out loud more than once. After The Broberg and Berchtold families befriend each other, the husband of the Berchtold clan takes a shine to Jan, the precocious 12 year old Broberg daughter.
You’d think any right minded parent would draw the line far in advance of anything Berchtold did to Jan, but when the film talks about how he laid in her bed with her playing music while she slept – with her parents consent – it raises as much of a red flags about the Broberg parents’ suitability to care for children as the creep in their house.
That he kidnapped her and went on the run for weeks on end – psychologically and sexually abusing her the whole time – would be poetic justice for what idiots the Broberg adults were if not for the damage it caused the young girl.
Jan recounts finding herself tied up in a motor home where Berchtold tells her a race of aliens have commanded them have a child together, playing weird voices from a cassette player he says are their communications, convincing her he loves her (and her him) and turning her against every chance of normality in her life.
But the real jaw drops start when he returns her home. He’s already had an affair with Jan’s mother – all while trying to sleep with her daughter – and after convincing her father to jerk him off in his car one day while out for a drive after claiming he gets no sexual satisfaction from his wife, he plays the Broberg parents for the morons they are.
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He tells them if they talk or try to prosecute their infidelity and homosexuality will come out and destroy their family’s standing in the strict religious community, using the leverage for continued access to Jan and then kidnapping her again, this time taking her to Mexico to marry her at barely 14.
Jan returns to her home and family hateful and sullen, convinced she wants to be with Berchtold and continue the alien-appointed mission, and if it wasn’t the heartbreaking story of a childhood destroyed it’d be hilarious. As the now-adult Jan says in interview footage, she grew up with no idea there was anything wrong with a story about aliens commanding a man in his 40s to have a child with her.
If you’re frustrated by the incredulity of these people, take heart – the director and writers who worked with the Broberg family to put it all together had to take time off as well because of the disbelief of what they were hearing.
Berchtold poisoned himself to death in 2005 to avoid trial, but the two idiots in the care of three prepubescent girls should have gone to jail and should still be there (except the father died in 2018). It’s partly the story of how cloistered and small minded religion makes you, partly the story of the monsters in our midst, and you’ve never seen a story like it.
Abducted In Plain Sight is available on Netflix now.
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