If you’re watching Peacock’s new limited series “A Friend of the Family,” you’re undoubtedly doing so in disbelief. Following the lives of the Brobergs, an Idaho family whose eldest daughter, Jan, is twice kidnapped by a family friend, the series is heartbreaking and wild. So wild, in fact, that the real-life Jan Broberg introduces the premiere episode, seemingly in part to dispel claims the story is heavily fictionalized. It’s easy to see why if you’re familiar with the 2017 documentary “Abducted in Plain Sight,” which detailed the same story.
“Abducted in Plain Sight” tells the story in a far more matter-of-fact manner than the Peacock series, which ends each episode with a disclaimer that some events are included for dramatic effect (though it’s unclear how the story could become more dramatic). So what has been added? Let’s look at what “A Friend of the Family” gets right and what it doesn’t.
Editor’s Note: Because this is based on true events, spoilers for “A Friend of the Family” are included.
Did Mary Ann Broberg Have an Affair with Robert Berchtold? FACT.
In “Abducted in Plain Sight,” Mary Ann Broberg is frank about her romantic relationship with Berchtold and how her actions damaged her daughter and family. Two years before the kidnapping, Berchtold and Mary Ann took a church trip to Utah, where a romantic relationship developed. Mary Ann’s affair with Berchtold lasted eight months, and during that time Berchtold visited Jan nine times and spent two nights alone with her.
Did Jan Voluntarily Get On a Plane to Meet Berchtold? FACT(ish)
The series depicts Jan’s second kidnapping as her own action, with the teenage girl getting on a plane for Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This is in dispute. Mary Ann, in the documentary, says she drove Jan to the airport and put her on the plane. However, Karen Broberg, who was in the car that day, says Mary Ann did not drive Jan to the airport, but instead drove after her and melted down after she got there too late to stop Jan from leaving (as depicted in the show).
Was Robert Berchtold a Child Molester? FACT
The series doesn’t show any scenes of child abuse, though the documentary baldly states that Berchtold was a child molester who sexually assaulted Jan when she was around 12. Several of Berchtold’s therapy tapes are played—his therapist wasn’t licensed, by the way—where he mentions engaging in physical affection with Jan from the first minute he saw her.
The tapes are filled with florid and poetic language that’s gross as hell to listen to. The concept of Berchtold needing to spend time with Jan as part of a therapy regime was fairly involved, as the doc says. Berchtold told Jan’s father that he had sex with his aunt at the age of four and needed to see the girl to reprogram his brain. He slept in her bed with her four times a week for six months.
Was Robert Berchtold’s Brother Hesitant to Work with the FBI? FICTION
In “Abducted in Plain Sight,” Berchtold’s brother says he wasn’t hesitant to help the FBI, despite what the Peacock series shows. In transcripts he made it known that he had complicated feelings about it. According to transcripts, he was worried about the FBI taping him, and what the FBI had told him to do if he got information about where his brother was. He admits that everyone on their side of the family knew Berchtold was a pedophile. Allegedly, Berchtold assaulted his sister when she was 6 and previously tried to groom and molest two other children. In fact, the LDS Church that the Brobergs and Berchtolds were part of had heard about Berchtold’s previous relationships with two other girls, so this was apparently a fairly open secret.
Did Bob Broberg Have a Gun When He Picked Up Jan? FICTION
Berchtold eventually moved to Ogden, Utah, and worked for his brother as a car salesman. When he first kidnapped Jan, he was convinced to return her. There was never a meeting arranged between Bob Broberg and Berchtold. Bob Broberg never said in the documentary that he contemplated shooting Berchtold with a gun he’d purchased. Though according to Broberg’s unpublished book, there was an encounter between Bob and B similar to what’s depicted in the show.
Did Robert Berchtold Kidnap Jan a Second Time? FACT
The second kidnapping is where things get incredibly weird. Berchtold tried to hide Jan by posing as a CIA agent and enrolling her in a California Catholic school, telling administrators that Jan was his daughter and anyone searching for her was probably a terrorist. The FBI eventually found and returned Jan, though it’s said Berchtold retaliated against the family, allegedly paying people to burn down Jan’s father’s business. Berchtold was acquitted of first-degree kidnapping due to mental disease and sent to a mental facility for six months. He continued to show up at Jan Broberg’s promotional events for her book before his death in 2005.
Was Jan Told UFOs Wanted Her to Have Sex With Bob Berchtold? FACT.
Jan is open about the abuse she endured from Robert Berchtold. The intercom and alien/UFO “plot” Berchtold told Jan about was true, and the real Jan saw herself as the Mary in some kind of Nativity story. The mission was she needed to have a child to “save the alien planet” by the time she turned 16. The motor home where she was held was filled with sex manuals, and Berchtold did assault her that first day. At 12, Jan told her mother that she wanted to marry Berchtold. The pair wrote love letters regularly to each other, though Jan said in the doc that she responded out of politeness and because the mission dictated they keep in contact.
“A Friend of the Family” is streaming now on Peacock.