It was supposed to be a fun day of horseback riding on a warm autumn day in 1974.
Instead, 12-year-old Jan Broberg said she found herself with her arms and legs strapped to a bed, fading in and out of consciousness. She later found out that she had been drugged.
Sometimes, the young Pocatello native would wake up and find that she was unrestrained. During those occasions, a small intercom device next to her pillow would report that her favorite foods were in a nearby refrigerator. However, the door leading out of the room was always locked.
The intercom would also explain to Broberg was what was going on. But the explanations made her even more confused.
“They identified themselves as aliens from a dying planet,” she recalls. “They said that they had been watching me since I was born and I had been chosen to be impregnated with a child who would save their planet. They called me the ‘female companion,’ not knowing what they meant by that, and I would be given further instructions when I met the ‘male companion.’”
For the few times Broberg was awake, she tried to make sense of her surroundings by looking out a nearby window. She surmised she was in some kind of moving vehicle.
“All I could see was desert, with cactus-looking plants,” she said. “I would just go in and out of a very deep sleep.”
Then, after about three days, Broberg awoke to find the vehicle was no longer moving. The intercom instructed her to go to the front of the vehicle.
She opened the now-open door leading out of the room to discover she had been in a motor home over the past few days.
As the confused and terrified young girl maneuvered around the vehicle, trying to make sense of her surroundings, she discovered a horrifying sight. Her adult companion on the proposed horseback riding trip from a few days earlier was lying on the motor home’s couch with his eyes closed, covered in blood.
His name was Robert Berchtold, and he was a best friend of Broberg's parents.
She shook and woke Berchtold, who appeared dazed and confused about the whole situation as well. Soon afterward, the intercom in the front of the motor home revealed more information about the "mission." Berchtold was advised by the aliens that he was the “male companion,” and that he needed to impregnate the 12-year-old Broberg, so the baby could be born and save their dying planet.
The eerie voice coming through the device didn’t mince words about the seriousness of the “mission,” as the so-called aliens called it.
“I was told to do whatever I was told to do, no matter how awful it was,” Broberg said. “They said if I didn’t do this, my father and I would be killed, my sister Karen would go blind and my sister Susan would be kidnapped and take my place as the ‘female companion.’ The only thing I was thinking about was protecting my family."
That’s when the rape and molestation began — and it went on over the course of the next month.
What the young Broberg did not know at the time was that this whole bizarre situation — from the intercom with the pre-recorded messages to the motor home to the story about the aliens and their dying planet — was all just a sophisticated ruse for Berchtold to brainwash the young girl and sexually abuse her.
As Broberg, who now lives in Los Angeles, watched the results of the most recent Academy Awards telecast earlier this year, she was overwhelmingly pleased at what she was watching. The film “Spotlight,” which chronicled the Boston Globe’s investigation into the child sexual abuse committed by multiple Catholic priests in Massachusetts, took home the Best Picture Oscar.
Another film, “Room,” which featured a plot similar to Broberg’s harrowing experience as a child, snagged a Best Actress Oscar for its star, Brie Larson. This film chronicles how a mother and her young son adjust to the outside world after being held captive in an enclosed space for seven years.
For Broberg, this year’s Oscars ceremony was a promising sign that the United States is ready for a frank and honest discussion about the sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
“I really think now is the time,” she said. “There’s a lot of signs out there. We as a nation are ready to look at the realities about the pervasiveness and familiarity of this type of abuse.”
For much of her adult life, Broberg has been open and honest about the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of Berchtold. Her story has been featured on “Good Morning America” and ABCNews in the past.
Now she is looking to tell her story in a feature-length documentary. Currently called “Forever 'B,'” the film’s Kickstarter campaign raised over $29,000 last month to help ultimately finish the project. Jan’s mother, Mary Ann, who now lives in St. George, Utah, published a book about her daughter’s case and its impact on the family and the community in 2003. The book is currently available for purchase at Amazon.com.
Skye Borgman, the documentary’s director, said the film is currently in post-production and she expects the film to done in the next few months.
“I read the book and all the circumstances seemed so unbelievable,” Borgman said. “Even though the story happened over 40 years ago, it’s still very relevant today.”
Ozzie and Harriet
Up until her kidnapping at the age of 12, Broberg describes her childhood in Pocatello as wonderful and idyllic.
Her dad owned Atkin Florist, while her mother was a homemaker. Jan had two younger siblings named Karen and Susan, who she jokingly said she'd boss around like any big sister would. The sisters would often ride their bikes to the Bi-Lo Market and buy penny candy. Then they'd head out to the old racquet club to go swimming. They would talk about anything and everything.
“It was pretty much like 'Ozzie and Harriet' or ‘Leave it to Beaver,’” Jan said.
Then one day at their Mormon church, Jan’s parents befriended a man who had moved into a neighborhood about two blocks away from the Broberg household. The man was Berchtold, who, like Jan’s father, was a small business owner who was also named Robert. Berchtold had a wife and multiple young children of his own.
Before long the two families were inseparable.
“They had all the fun toys we didn’t have, like a boat, snowmobiles, a trampoline,” Jan recalls. “A close friendship ensued.”
Jan became particularly close to Berchtold, who she describes as a second father. She and the other children affectionately called him by his nickname, “Brother B.”
“There was this tremendous amount of trust,” Jan said, noting that Berchtold was well-loved and well-respected by many members in the community at that time. “Never in our wildest dreams did we think he was planning the perfect crime.”
On Oct. 17, 1974, Berchtold asked Broberg if she wanted to go horseback riding with him. Not too long after that, Broberg found herself tied to the bed of the motor home.
It was in the middle of the night on Nov. 23, 1974, when police officers stormed the motor home and arrested Berchtold. At that point, Jan had been missing from Pocatello for over a month. It took the FBI, in conjunction with police in Mexico, to locate her. During their investigation, authorities learned that Berchtold had taken her to the small Mexican resort town of Mazatlan along the Pacific coast.
Mexican authorities took both Jan and Berchtold to a nearby prison — he was put into a prison cell and she was put in a small interrogation room.
“I didn’t know what was happening,” Jan recalls. “I didn’t speak Spanish at the time.”
Luckily, a couple of LDS missionaries serving in the area were able to translate. They notified Jan that her parents were coming to pick her up within the next 24 hours. And as they spoke to the terrified young girl, she gobbled down food from McDonald’s that the missionaries had brought to her. It was the only food she had eaten in more than a day.
While Jan was taken back to Southeast Idaho by her parents, Berchtold remained at the prison until he was extradited back to the U.S. to face kidnapping charges. However, Jan said his punishment was not severe.
“Basically, he pleaded that he had a mental deficiency and had some sort of mental breakdown,” Jan said. “Robert spent a few months in a mental hospital, and that was it.”
If he had been charged with any sexual crimes against Jan, he most certainly would have faced a much stiffer penalty, including a long sentence in prison.
However, the young girl was not going to reveal to anybody the details of the sexual abuse she had been subjected to. That’s because the “aliens” who spoke to her through the intercom knew how to keep her quiet.
“The aliens told me that my family would be harmed if I ever told anybody about my ‘mission,’” Jan said. “They also said my family would be harmed if I didn’t save myself for the ‘male companion.’”
Unfortunately, Jan wouldn’t have to wait long for the "male companion" to return.
The Second Kidnapping
For obvious reasons, once Robert Berchtold was released from the hospital, he was not allowed anywhere near the Broberg household in Pocatello.
But that didn't stop him from making contact with Jan Broberg.
On multiple occasions over the next year and a half, she would receive handwritten notes from other children while attending her junior high school. The notes featured instructions telling her to go to a specific payphone at a certain time after school and wait for a phone call.
The obedient young teenager followed the orders.
"When I would pick up the phone, it was always either Berchtold or the 'aliens' on the other end, always reminding me about completing my 'mission,'" Jan said.
Jan said the handwritten notes were written by Berchtold, who would then bribe one of her classmates to pass it on to her.
Then one night in August 1976, Berchtold appeared at Jan's bedroom window and told her to put her belongings in a backpack and write a note indicating she was running away. Then they entered his Lincoln Continental and left Idaho and traveled to California.
To keep her away from her parents, he then enrolled her in a Catholic boarding school in Pasadena. According to Jan, he had a manipulative way of keeping any inquiring authorities away from the school, even forging numerous convincing papers indicating that he was his daughter.
“He told the nuns that he was a CIA agent who barely escaped from Lebanon with me, and that my mother had been killed,” she said. “He also said that people were looking for him and that he needed the nuns to protect me. He would come back on the weekends to take me away from the boarding school and do his dirty work to me.”
However, the FBI did eventually find Jan. Despite some resistance at first from the school's administrators, who were unaware of Berchtold's true identity, she was taken back to Pocatello by the authorities. At that point, she had been kept in the boarding school for over three months.
However, because she was listed as a runaway, she was booked into the Bannock County Jail for one night upon her return.
Jan’s eventual reunion with her mom at the end of 1976 was far from loving.
“It was the worst day of my mother’s life,” Jan recalls. “Instead of hugs and kisses and crying, I just walked through the back door and saw my mother standing at the kitchen sink, and without a word, I walked past her and down the stairs to my bedroom. It was as far away from family as I could get."
Mary Ann, Jan's mother, later remarked that there was nothing left of her daughter after the second kidnapping. The vivacious, happy and adoring girl she once knew was gone.
With Berchtold now removed from the Brobergs’ lives for good, the only thing Jan could think of was how the aliens were going to harm her family members for failing to complete her "mission."
Brainwashing techniques and psychological manipulation are tools often used by abusers to keep their victims quiet and obedient. The abusers will often craft a bogus storyline that is familiar to the victim.
For example, the story about aliens that Berchtold crafted to manipulate Broberg would seem absolutely ludicrous to most people. But it struck a chord with the young girl.
That’s because the idea of a special baby born to save a world and its inhabitants paralleled the story of the birth of Jesus Christ, which was commonly taught to Broberg throughout her entire adolescence.
Even the word “mission” was extremely familiar to the young girl, who was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members of the church are strongly encouraged to go on missionary services across the world once they reach adulthood.
Plus, before the first kidnapping, Berchtold often regaled the young Broberg with stories about UFOs and extraterrestrial life, a topic he was fascinated with.
“When you add threats and rewards with a story that sounds familiar on some level, you can get a child or even an adult to believe anything,” Jan said.
The wild story about aliens didn’t leave Jan after she settled back into her normal life in 1976. In fact, she fell into a state of depression.
Fearing for her family’s safety due to the threats from the "aliens," she developed absolutely no relationships with any other males, shunning Pocatello High School dances and other normal activities for teenagers.
Even her relationship with her father became very limited.
“I really was a robot at that point,” she said. “I still believed that the aliens were watching me to see if I would accomplish my ‘mission.’”
It wasn’t until the summer of her 16th birthday in 1978 that Jan discovered a way to cope. It was at theater camp, a place where she could tell other peoples’ stories, even though she couldn’t tell her own.
“It’s where I could express emotions as another character,” she said.
It was also where she began to question her "mission."
Ice Cream Miracle
Jan calls it the “Ice Cream Miracle.”
One day at theater camp, a boy with a crush on Jan bought her an ice cream cone. While most 16-year-old girls would be excited by such a gesture, Jan was in a panic. By accepting a gift from a boy who was not the "male companion," she now believed that the aliens were going to do something terrible to her family.
Jan admits that she considered committing suicide at that point.
However, nothing bad happened the following day. It was the first time she questioned the story about the "mission" and the aliens.
“From that moment on, even though I continued to believe it, I tested the story to see what would happen,” she said.
The biggest test came when she accepted a date to Pocatello High School’s homecoming dance. Though she was scared out of her mind, she felt she had to know the truth.
“When I came home from that dance, and everything was fine, that’s when I knew,” she said.
While Jan still couldn’t speak about the sexual abuse at that point of her life, bits and pieces of the whole story started to come out. It took years for her to discuss everything that happened during the kidnappings.
Her best friend Caroline and her sister Karen were the ones who encouraged her to ultimately break the ice, and it was traumatic to verbally express what she had buried for so long.
“I was crying and clawing at the carpet, but Caroline kept questioning me and she dragged it out of me,” she said.
Not a Scary Stranger
Despite the sexual abuse she suffered in her youth, Jan Broberg has used the training she received in theater camp to make a name for herself as an actress in Hollywood.
With a resume going back to the early 1990s, she appeared in a small role in the blockbuster film “Iron Man 3,” as well as having a recurring role on the TV show “Everwood” from 2002 to 2006. Recently, she appeared on an episode of “Criminal Minds,” ironically portraying the mother of a boy missing for three years.
But she is incredibly excited about the upcoming documentary detailing her troubled past. She believes the film, called "Forever 'B,'" can help educate parents on how to protect their children from pedophiles, particularly if that person is close to the family.
“There were over 700,000 children reported missing in the U.S. last year, and many were believed to have be taken by somebody they know and love and trust,” she said. “Many of those children are sexually assaulted. It’s a disservice to think that it’s always some scary stranger.”
Like in Broberg’s case, the children are often brainwashed and manipulated by their abuser to keep quiet. But once the victim eventually comes to terms with what happened and starts talking about it, the family will often fail to file a police report or press charges.
“What happens is the family doesn’t know what to do,” Jan said. “They want to move on and don’t want to deal with the scary monster anymore. So people don’t really go after that person, so that person goes on to the next community and the next congregation and a new family and continues molesting children.”
This is exactly what happened to Robert Berchtold.
Berchtold was never charged for sexually abusing Broberg. However, in a separate incident, he pleaded guilty to one count of rape of a child in Salt Lake City in 1986, approximately 10 years after Broberg’s second kidnapping.
Jan and Berchtold would eventually cross paths one last time. This time, she would not be victimized.
On March 6, 2004, Jan was giving a speech at a women's conference being held at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah. It was around this time that Broberg started going public with her story.
However, she soon learned that an uninvited guest had also shown up, and he reportedly had a gun.
Berchtold, who was now 68 years old, came to the conference to interrupt Jan's speech and distribute fliers that protested his innocence. According to press reports at the time, a volunteer security guard asked to see the fliers, but Berchtold threatened him.
Then, as the security guard walked away, Berchtold struck him with his white minivan. The guard was flipped onto the top of the vehicle and dragged for approximately 110 yards. Berchtold then drove away.
Over 40 people witnessed the attack, and police later arrested Berchtold at a McDonald's restaurant. Jan said he was later convicted of multiple felonies stemming from the incident in St. George.
Luckily, Jan never saw Berchtold at the conference because she was shielded by supportive family and friends. But the whole incident was so terrifying that she decided to get a restraining order against the abuser from her childhood.
However, Berchtold fought the restraining order, something Jan didn't know he had to legal ability to do. She soon found herself in a courtroom, sitting across from the man who had kidnapped and abused her during multiple occasions as a child. It had been almost 30 years since she had last seen him, and she was startled by his presence.
With numerous family, friends and supporters sitting in the courtroom, Jan explained her case to the judge. When it was time for Berchtold to defend himself, Jan said he told the judge that his accuser was only doing all this because she was just an actress looking for her 15 minutes of fame.
As her heart pounded and she started to shake, Jan stood up and yelled, "No, I'm doing this because I want to protect families from monsters like you."
After the judge deliberated, he awarded Jan's request for a restraining order against Berchtold. The judge advised Berchtold that he was not allowed anywhere near Jan for the rest of his natural life, which didn't last much longer from that point. Berchtold died in 2005.
After almost 30 years of living with the trauma caused by the sexual abuse she suffered as a child, Jan finally got her day in court — and won.
Broberg said that parents need to look out for a number of signs, many of which could have alerted her parents that something was wrong about her relationship with Berchtold, even before the first kidnapping in 1974.
For one, parents need to recognize when an adult shows too much interest in their children, even if it appears innocuous on the surface.
“Be on the lookout if your child is ever asked to be alone with that person, even if it’s not in a direct way,” she said, noting that parents should always be willing to accompany their kids on fun activities arranged by others. “There’s always a red flag if they are invited to be alone with a family member, a neighbor or older cousin.”
Second, parents should always notice how a child responds to a certain person.
“If they don’t want to be around them or if they get a stomachache every time they are asked to sleep over at so-and-so’s house, those are signs to pay attention to,” she said.
Third, Jan said it's important to make sure that parents recognize there are boundaries between a parent and their child that should never be compromised by another adult. A major problem with Jan’s relationship with Berchtold before the first kidnapping was that he worked his way into the Broberg family as a sort of surrogate father, often crossing boundaries regarding the stewardship of Jan and her sisters.
Fourth, parents should always question their children about their whereabouts. Parents need to press for clarification if their kids’ give them answers that are vague, misleading or don’t make a lot of sense.
To show how easy it is for a parent to miss the signs of child sexual exploitation, Jan noted that the mother of the child at the center of the 1986 Salt Lake City case that sent Berchtold to prison was a psychiatric nurse, a profession where the practitioners are trained to identify signs of abuse.
"The smartest people you know right now could have a child who is suffering at the hands of somebody who the parents know, love and trust," Jan said. "That's because those parents don’t see what’s in front of them. And these kids don’t tell."