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Culture Documentary

Wolf tactics

Bob Berchtold with Jan Broberg in 1974 (Top Knot Films)

Documentary

Wolf tactics

Abducted in Plain Sight recounts the disturbing kidnapping of Jan Broberg

Thanks to the trail podcasts have blazed, true-crime tales have become a major trend in entertainment. One of the most buzzed-about current examples is Abducted in Plain Sight, a documentary that debuted on Netflix in January. Though Netflix rarely releases ratings information, media coverage suggests the film is drawing plenty of viewers.

Drawing on interviews, old recordings, and court and FBI records, director Skye Borgman recounts the 1974 kidnapping and sexual assault of 12-year-old Jan Broberg by 40-year-old family friend Bob Berchtold.

Though it steers clear of profanity and salacious images, the film doesn’t make for pleasant viewing, and parents should take the TV-14 rating seriously. Not only does the now-adult Jan Broberg describe the rapes she suffered with clinical specificity, we also hear from both of her parents about their individual sexual encounters with Berchtold.

While prurient interest in such shocking twists no doubt accounts for some of the movie’s viral status, Borgman handles these confessions responsibly. A lot of painful truth—about the escalating nature of sin, for example—comes from watching Bob and Mary Ann Broberg crumple into tears as they recount their guilt.

After the Brobergs betray their marriage vows, Berchtold has an easy job manipulating their shame to gain further access to Jan. While their first responsibility should be protecting their children, again and again the Brobergs make the cowardly choice to instead prioritize their own reputations as good churchgoing Mormons.

As do other pedophilia scandals in the Catholic Church and the entertainment industry, Abducted in Plain Sight sounds strong warning notes about grooming tactics. Long before he committed his crimes, Berchtold ingratiated himself to the entire Broberg family. It’s easy to scream in outrage at Bob and Mary Ann Broberg’s negligent naiveté, but then we remember how many similar stories are still playing out today. A friend you see every week at church, a trusted pastor—the wolves know the best places to hide among the sheep. Especially when the sheep are so often willing to cover their tracks for them.