By Michal Shvimer


While some parents tuck their kids in with nursery rhymes or fairy tales, my grandma brought me up on real-life horror stories. She instilled in me a hyper-awareness of stranger danger, an awareness that has been exacerbated by increased coverage of online catfishing, pedophilia, kidnapping and human trafficking.

The documentary “Abducted in Plain Sight” presented a time that lacked this general awareness and the consequences one family suffered because of it.

Recounting a very true tale, “Abducted in Plain Sight” tells the harrowing story of the continued abduction of a 12-year-old girl by a close family friend before the term “pedophile” was thoroughly researched.

Much more personal and twisted than a run-of-the-mill stranger danger kidnapping, the Brobergs’ story shows how an entire family could be manipulated and abused in a time that society was perhaps too trusting for its own good.

There are two main questions viewers should be grappling with after watching this documentary: would the abductor Robert Berchtold be successful in his kidnappings present-day, and did Jan Broberg’s parents safeguard their daughter’s well-being?

Going back and forth between these questions, I want to analyze certain conditions within the story’s context to arrive at conclusive takeaways from this tragedy.

Would Bob Berchtold be successful in his kidnappings present-day?

Bob Berchtold abducted Jan Broberg for the first time in 1974, a time when pedophilia was not a well-covered crime. When Bob Berchtold began to develop a close bond with Jan Broberg, the Brobergs never suspected it to be anything other than a family friend growing close to another family friend’s daughter. This factor connects to the second question.

Did Jan Broberg’s parents safeguard their daughter’s well-being?

The Brobergs never limited Bob Berchtold’s interactions with their daughter pre-abduction, allowing him to spend alone-time with Jan, even in her bedroom. After the first abduction — yes, I said first — they took few additional precautions, but this is partially due to blackmail and manipulation on Bob Berchtold’s behalf, which we will get into.

Would Bob Berchtold be successful in his kidnappings present-day?

In 1974, there was limited technology that many parents use to safeguard their children. Nowadays, however, parents practically keep their children on an indefinite virtual leash with technologies such as location sharing, Find My Friends, and Snapchat’s Snap Map, and those are only the cost-free examples. Part of the reason such advances exist is precisely because of stories like Jan Broberg’s.

When Berchtold first abducted Broberg, he claimed to be taking her horseback riding, but Broberg’s parents did not hear from either of them in weeks and had no way of discovering their location. Another factor that prevented a successful search was the Brobergs parents’ personal experiences with Berchtold.

Did Jan Broberg’s parents safeguard their daughter’s well-being?

Both of Jan Broberg’s parents had sexual relations with Berchtold around the time of the kidnapping. They felt too close and intimate with him to believe he would do anything to their daughter, let alone be sexually attracted to her, given their own sexual experiences with him.

After Jan Broberg was returned to them, they did take initiative and press charges, but dropped them once Berchtold’s wife threatened to reveal the homosexual affair between Berchtold and Mr. Broberg. To salvage their own reputation, the Brobergs bought into the blackmail.

Besides just being too trusting and easily pushed around, this was an inexcusable mistake by the Brobergs. Good parents should prioritize their children’s welfare over their reputations, and that means ensuring that reparations be served to their daughter’s perpetrator, who in 2019, may be faced with a different fate than he was in the 1970s.

Would Bob Berchtold be successful in his kidnappings present-day?

Later in the documentary, we find out that Bob Berchtold had actually been previously charged for the molestation of a female minor. The Brobergs had no way of knowing his criminal past at the time and perhaps would have thought differently about befriending him.

Nowadays, we have resources such as the FBI’s Sex Offender Registry that lets families know the safest parts of town to live in and who to stay away from. Nevertheless, Berchtold’s twisted manipulation of the entire Broberg family can’t be dismissed as a key to his success in “infiltrating” the family and continuing to stay in contact.

However, perhaps his contact could have been limited in the modern-day with contemporary cellular devices that allow us to block calls and texts from unwanted numbers.

Did Jan Broberg’s parents safeguard their daughter’s well-being?

Whether or not the Brobergs could block Berchtold’s insistent calls or not, they should have pursued a restraining order much earlier than they did.

Additionally, they should have pursued the truth more aggressively. The Brobergs could sense that their daughter was not herself and should have sought therapy.