Netflix has been churning out some exceptional docs recently and true crime has never been hotter (bolstered in part by the massive response to Netflix’s series Making a Murderer), so when the latest to land on the streaming service prompted shock from viewers, with critics calling it the darkest true crime show yet, it seemed sensible to approach Abducted in Plain Sight with care.
Packed with increasingly strange spiralling twists, with a highly manipulative paedophile at the centre of a story that’s almost too weird to be believed, Abducted in Plain Sight is certainly full of surprises. The darkest yet? Not for our money (but then we watched a bomb go off round someone’s neck in Evil Genius, so, you know, it’s not a competition…) though this is certainly a crazy-compelling story, that for once does have a bit of redemption at the end.
Comprised mostly of talking heads, old photos, voice recordings and reconstructions with actors, Abducted in Plain Sight tells the story of the Broberg family – Mom, Dad and three girls, all of whom appear on the doc. In the ‘70s their neighbor Robert Berchtold insidiously insinuated himself into the family with his sights set on the Broberg’s oldest daughter Jan who was at that point 12 years old. A pedophile who (we discover in the doc) had previous form for raping little girls, Berchtold didn’t just abduct Jan (he abducted her twice in fact) but he also managed to seduce both her parents as a means of getting to Jan.
Throughout the doc there are WTF moments and we wouldn’t want to spoil anything by giving too much away – suffice it to say if you think you know what’s coming next, you probably don’t. What’s striking, and touching at points, is how candid and brave the family are. On the one hand it seems like absolute insanity that any parent would let their daughter be abducted by the same man, twice, right in front of their noses, but on the other the whole family is clearly so guilty and devastated about what went down, frequently breaking down in tears during the interviews and expressing how unable to forgive themselves they are, that it’s impossible not to feel enormous compassion for them. What comes across is a kind, loving and incredibly naive family who made some bad choices because of the coersions of a single-minded, charismatic sociopath.
Grown up Jan is an impressive figure too. Recalling decades later how Berchtold managed to convince her that she was half alien, that she had to get pregnant with his baby before her 16th birthday so her child could save her alien planet and that if she told anyone about ‘the mission’ then her sister would go blind and her dad would be killed (and this isn’t the weirdest thing that happens in the doc by far), it’s remarkable how together Jan Broberg is now. She speaks publicly at events about child abuse, is a successful stage and screen actor (we recognised her from her role opposite Elijah Wood in the remake of Maniac) and her mother has written a book about her abductions called Stolen Innocence: The Jan Broberg Story as something of a cautionary tale. Crucially Jan doesn’t seem angry with her parents and appears to have found a level of peace, if not perhaps closure.
A truly bizarre and shocking story that shines an odd light on how much things have changed in terms of our reactions and understanding of pedophilia (that Berchtold was found guilty of rape of another child and was only sentenced to one year in prison indicates how bad things were) Abducted in Plain Sight is disturbing but not irredeemably horrible. More it’s a fascinating story of misplaced trust and single minded obsession that’s a must-watch for true crime nerds and documentary fiends.