Whatever Happened To Robert Berchtold From Abducted In Plain Sight?

The number of children abducted in the United States annually is difficult to nail down, partly because estimates are all over the place. For example, The Committee for Missing Children estimates that about half a million children are missing each year in the U.S., but that doesn't mean they were all abducted. Child Find of America found that approximately 260,000 children were abducted in the U.S. in 1999. But according to Reuters, the FBI says that from 2010 to 2019, fewer than 350 people younger than 21 were abducted by strangers. There are two takeaways from this. The first is that, according to the Committee for Missing Children, 97.8% of missing children are eventually found. The second is that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, according to the Department of Justice, most children are abducted by a family member, usually a parent. For a child to be kidnapped by a stranger is extremely rare.

In one of the strangest cases of child abduction in U.S. history, a young girl was kidnapped twice by the same man over the course of a couple of years and endured sexual assaults following both of those kidnappings. In neither case was her family particularly invested in reporting her missing since the man was a close family friend, and her parents were disinclined to think he was up to no good. The alleged kidnapper was named Robert Berchtold, and he was never once called before a court to account for what he allegedly did to his underage victim, Jan Broberg (sometimes referred to as Jan Broberg Felt, according to ABC News).

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

A Family Friend

Before Robert Berchtold became a part of it, Jan Broberg's life was largely idyllic, according to the Idaho State Journal. Her father was a business owner who ran a local florist shop, and her mother was a homemaker. She and her younger sisters, Karen and Susan, would do all of the things that girls did in those days, such as ride bikes around the neighborhood or buy candy from a local grocery store. "It was pretty much like 'Ozzie and Harriet' or 'Leave it to Beaver,'" Broberg told the outlet, although this was the 1970s and not the 1950s.

However, at some point, the families' lives were upended when Berchtold moved into a home down the street. He, too, was a business owner with a wife and children, and he attended the same church as the Brobergs. The two families became fast friends. "They had all the fun toys we didn't have, like a boat, snowmobiles, a trampoline. A close friendship ensued," Broberg told the Idaho State Journal.

Berchtold took a particular interest in Broberg, and she would later say that he became a sort of second father to her.

The First Abduction

On October 17, 1974, Robert Berchtold allegedly abducted Jan Broberg. Specifically, according to the Idaho State Journal, he asked her if he wanted to go horseback riding with her. The next thing she remembered, she was drugged and tied to the bed in a motor home. Oxygen — which also claims that the date of her first (alleged) kidnapping was in August 1974 as opposed to October — says that Berchtold used audio recordings to convince her that an ancient alien race had taken an interest in her and that she was to obey or face punishment. And that "obedience" allegedly consisted of him being allowed to sexually assault her.

Eventually, the pair made their way to Mexico. Mexican authorities and the FBI found her and returned her home. Her family "would not consider him [Berchtold] a criminal," according to Oxygen, and instead of getting a long prison sentence for kidnapping, he was instead put into a mental institution for a few months. Broberg did not tell her family about the sexual abuse she allegedly endured during that time because the "aliens" had told her to keep quiet about it, as Berchtold convinced her. If she had revealed Berchtold's abuse, he would have likely gotten a much more severe prison sentence.

The Second Abduction

Robert Berchtold allegedly managed to abduct Jan Broberg again a year or so later. As the Idaho State Journal reports, though he was forbidden from having any contact with Broberg or her family, he showed up at her bedroom window and told her to come with him. This time, he allegedly took her to California and even enrolled her in a Catholic school under a fake name to keep her hidden from her parents. "He told the nuns that he was a CIA agent who barely escaped from Lebanon with me, and that my mother had been killed," Broberg told the outlet.

Once again, the FBI caught up to her to bring her home, even though they were met with "some resistance" from officials at her school who weren't fully aware of who was who or what was what. When she eventually returned to Pocatello, Broberg was a changed person. She was withdrawn and sullen, her relationship with her parents toxic. Further, she was so brainwashed that she believed that the "aliens" were still going to punish her family at some point.

The Aftermath

According to Newsweek, Jan Broberg grew up to become an actress and an advocate for victims of childhood sexual abuse. With her mother, she wrote a book, "Stolen Innocence," about her experiences. However, the family still wasn't rid of Robert Berchtold. Once Jan Broberg's story started getting traction, Berchtold came out of the woodwork to harass her and her family. Berchtold filed a lawsuit, claiming the book contained lies. But then his behavior got even worse. For example, when Broberg went on a speaking tour, Berchtold would often be there to interrupt. According to Oxygen, she was eventually forced to get a restraining order against him, but he continued to harass the family via media appearances, in which he claimed that the two were simply "trying to make a buck."

A group of motorcycle riders calling themselves "Bikers Against Child Abuse" began showing up at Broberg's events in order to protect her from Berchtold. At one particular event, he got into a physical altercation with the group and wound up being charged with aggravated assault and possession of a firearm.

Robert Berchtold Today

The confrontation between Robert Berchtold and the motorcyclists would finally be his undoing. As Oxygen reports, six other women came forward and said that Berchtold had sexually assaulted them, and he ended up doing a year behind bars. However, following his confrontation with the bikers, he was now facing serious prison time. And he wasn't about to brook that. "He says, 'If it's one day in prison, it's going to kill me. I'm not going there.' He had taken all his heart medicine and drank Kahlua and milk. He drank that and died," said his brother, Joe (via Oxygen). Berchtold died on November 11, 2005, at the age of 69.

A Las Vegas Review-Journal obituary for Berchtold (archived via Legacy.com) mentions his Army service during the Vietnam War and his surviving family members, which included a wife, three sons, a daughter, and his mother, who was still living at the time of his death. It makes no mention of his alleged crimes.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).