They say truth is stranger than fiction and that is certainly the case with the real life story of actress/writer Jan Broberg as told in the shocking documentary ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT, which premiered at the Toronto True Crime Film Festival June 8th. Through candid interviews with Jan, family members and family friends, director Skye Borgman tells the bizarre tale of Robert Berchtold, a neighbor of the Broberg family whose sick obsession with Jan began when she was a child in the seventies. This film serves as an intimate portrait of a family ripped apart by a man who stole their little girl’s innocence in the most disgusting ways imaginable.
Unaware that Berchtold was known by some to be a pedophile, even his own brother nonchalantly describes him as a pervert who was attracted to little girls, the Brobergs didn’t think it was odd that their neighbor wanted to spend excessive amounts of time alone with their daughter. The family even affectionately referred to him as “B” and the original title of ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT was Forever B. Berchtold frequently drugged the young girl and devised increasingly creative ways to spend time with Jan, until he finally kidnapped her. In fact, he kidnapped her not once, but twice and this isn’t even the strangest part of the story. Unknown to her family, he also convinced Jan that aliens were responsible for his vile behavior, but in an effort to avoid spoilers, I’m not going to get into the details of the UFO abduction story he used to manipulate her.
It is mind-boggling, not only that Berchtold was able to sexually abuse and brainwash Jan, but also that he successfully seduced each of her parents in attempts to have easier access to her. ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT is at times, extremely difficult to watch. It is almost impossible not to think of the Brobergs as gullible when you learn of all the horrific things Berchtold got away with, but in reality the judicial system is to blame for what happened to Jan Broberg because they were very much aware of exactly what Berchtold was and he was not locked away like he deserved, but instead was free to continue acting on his disturbing impulses without consequences.
Director Skye Borgman does an extraordinary job presenting the sensitive subject matter in a way that never feels sensational or intrusive. The family members’ integrity is evident during the interviews and listening to their stories made me feel sick to my stomach while my heart broke for them, especially Jan. As an adult, she wrote a book about the abuse she suffered at the hands of Berchtold, and while giving a speech and participating in a book signing in 2004, he tried to attack her. When a member of security attempted to stop Berchtold and protect Jan, he hit the man with his van. Charges were filed against Berchtold, but afraid he would finally have to spend time in jail for his actions, he took his own life. In the end, ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT is an excellent documentary that proves truth absolutely can be stranger than fiction and it’s even more terrifying to know people can get away with awful things that change someone else’s life forever.