The new limited series, A Friend of the Family, is a dramatized version of the Jan Broberg case that has stunned true-crime fans for decades. The series stars McKenna Grace as Jan, along with Jake Lacy as Robert “B” Berchtold, and Anna Paquin and Colin Hanks as Mary Ann and Bob Broberg. The story has also been told in a 2003 memoir by Jan and her mother, entitled Stolen Innocence: The Jan Bromberg Story, as well as the 2019 documentary, Abducted in Plain Sight. According to the reviews, this series stays pretty true to the narrative, but what is the real story of Jan Broberg? And how in the world could this be real?
The Brobergs and The Berchtolds
In 1972 in Pocatello, Idaho, when the Broberg family met the Berchtold family at church, immediately the two families became inseparable. Bob Broberg and his wife Mary Ann, along with their three daughters, Jan, Susan, and Karen, instantly became like family to Bob Berchtold, who they lovingly referred to as “B”, his wife Gail and their five kids. B becomes very attached to Jan and begins to spend more and more time with her alone. B justified this to Bob and Mary Ann by confessing to them that he had been sexually abused as a child and part of his church-approved therapy was to spend time with Bob and Mary Ann’s daughters.
B revealed to Bob that he was in an unhappy and unsatisfying marriage with Gail, and he needed help with sexual release and persuaded Bob to help him “relieve himself.” B also continuously flirted with Mary Ann, eventually resulting in a long affair. Upon discovering the affair, Bob served Mary Ann with divorce papers and moved the kids out of the house, Mary Ann eventually ended her affair with B and reconciled with Bob. The FBI agent who investigated the crimes pointed out that this was a long con drawn out by B to disengage the family from each other, which made it easier to manipulate Jan into believing he was the only one she could trust.
The First Abduction
In 1974, B asked Mary Ann for permission to take Jan horseback riding. They were gone for two days and even though worried, the Brobergs did not involve the law enforcement due to Gail’s pleading. Finally, five days later, they involved the FBI. The parents refused to believe B kidnapped Jan, and had to be convinced by agents that something wasn’t right. The FBI put out a national APB on B’s motor home after they located B’s car with a broken window and blood inside.
Jan recalled waking up in the bed in the back of the motor home strapped down and listening to a cassette tape with creepy voices. The voices told her that they were aliens, and she too was part alien. Her mission to save the planet was to procreate with the selected male companion to have a baby. She was told if she did not complete the mission, they would kill her and make her sister, Susan do the mission. B informed her he is the male companion and used the story to continuously rape and brainwash her for over five weeks.
B called his brother Joe and told him that he married Jan in Mexico, and he needs him to call Mary Ann and get a written letter of permission to marry Jan in the U.S., and then they will come home. Jan is only 12 at this time, and they are legally married in Mexico, but the age in the U.S. is 16 without parental consent.
Thankfully, Joe involved the FBI, who were able to trace the call to Mazatlán in Mexico and were able to arrest him over a month later. B dictates a story to Jan that he wanted her to tell her family and warns her that she can never tell them about the aliens, the alien mission, the pills, or the sex. He warns her to stay away from all men and if she doesn’t, her sister Susan would be taken, her sister Karen would go blind, and her father would be murdered. Gail then blackmailed the Brobergs by telling them to drop the charges otherwise she and B would reveal all their dirty laundry about Mary Ann’s affairs with him. They agree and B is set free. Needless to say, the community and the FBI was not thrilled with their decision. Jan informed her parents that she wanted to marry B and have kids. B continued to come into Jan’s room at night to sleep with her as he had done for about six months before the kidnapping.
At B’s trial, he agreed to a plea deal for federal kidnapping. He was sentenced to five years, but the Judge reduced it to 45 days. In the end when he reported for jail, he served only 10 of the 45 days on account of good behavior.
The Second Abduction
In August 1976, when Jan was 14, she disappeared again. She left her parents a note that she had gone to be with B, and they should leave her alone, so she could be herself. And once again, Bob and Mary Ann waited about two weeks before notifying the FBI. B continuously called to torture the Brobergs by telling them horror stories of what Jan was doing to make money. The FBI finally located Bob in Salt Lake City, but Jan was not with him.
After an exhaustive search, the FBI located a Catholic school in Pasadena, California where Jan was enrolled under the alias, Janice Tobler. B had laid the groundwork with the nuns at the school that he was a CIA agent, Jan was his daughter, and they were both refugees from the Lebanon conflict in the late ’70s.
B is arrested again and sent back to Idaho. Jan returned home and 40 days later Bob’s business was burned to the ground. It was later discovered that B had hired two of his cellmates to burn Bob’s business down. However, they never had sufficient evidence to pin the crime on him. Once again, B was acquitted at trial of kidnapping, arson, and CIA impersonation and was sentenced to six months in a mental health facility.
Jan, meanwhile, was getting older and started to wonder about the validity of the alien mission. She finally told the whole story to her best friend and her sister, who begged her to tell her parents who were able to get her some professional help.
28 years later, Jan and her mom, Mary Ann, wrote a book together about the traumatic events, which turned out to be therapeutic for the both of them. The two decided to speak out about sexual abuse and go on tour to talk to victim groups. B was less than thrilled that his name was being dragged through the mud. He distributed literature detailing all the dirty laundry on the family and their lies while trying to clear his name. Jan filed a stalking injunction, which he contested, meaning they would have to face him in court.
B decided to cross-examine Jan himself and tried his best to make her look like a gold digger. Thankfully, the judge saw through it this time and gave Jan a lifelong injunction to force him to stay away from her. He still pushed boundaries and showed up at her speaking engagements. Jan hired a group called “Bikers Against Child Abuse” to be her security. B was finally arrested when he hurt one of her security team and at long last was convicted. However, he took his own life before he can be sentenced.
In the aftermath, Jan was contacted by six women who had also been sexually abused by B. He had been convicted for the rape of one of those girls and sentenced to one year in jail. Since then Jan began an acting career and has appeared in such feature films as We Are Your Friends, At the Devil’s Door, and Iron Man 3 as well as a recurring role on the TV show, Everwood. Jan has spoken out about her trauma through her book, the documentary, Dateline, and serves along with her mother, Mary Ann, as producer on A Friend of the Family.
You can watch the first four episodes of A Friend of the Family starting October 6 on Peacock with the remaining five episodes released weekly.