With the release of the Peacock series A Friend of the Family, we explore what happened next to Robert Berchtold. Explore with us as we deep dive into this incredible true crime story.
In an era of an increasing number of true crime documentaries being released nearly every other week on Netflix, podcasts, and even television channels themselves being devoted to a large part of the darker and more violent side of life (Crime & Investigation, Sky Crime, a large chunk of Discovery+), the names of the perpetrators of such violent and distressing crimes sometimes become more prominent and famous than the victims themselves, a weirdly perverse balance to these things if one thinks about it for even a microsecond.
Some of this can sometimes come down to victims, or their families, having very little agency when it comes to their stories being told, and in a cynical way, many directors and producers want to grab the audience’s attention with either the name of the criminal, or their tabloid-friendly nickname. Think of recent Netflix productions such as The Night Stalker or The Ripper (although the latter, to its credit, never lost sight of the bigger picture in detailing the infamous Yorkshire Ripper case from the 1970s).
A Friend of the Family remarkably knows not to place too much emphasis on Robert Berchtold himself. He is a prominent piece of the storytelling of the series, and Jake Lacey puts in a memorably disturbing performance, but he is kept at arm’s length emotionally and instead is depicted as being a horrifying recurring factor in the lives of the Broberg family, manipulating Bob and Mary Ann into intimate encounters and grooming Jan across the ages of twelve-to-fourteen in scenes that are truly skin-crawlingly creepy.
The series itself elegantly and subtly captures in a vivid way the crimes of Berchtold but also the naive air of the 1970s and the seeming inability to comprehend the disturbing nature of such predatory crimes.
Truth is, you don’t really want to know what happens to Robert Berchtold after the events of the series. He is a presence that is best forgotten about and left to the side. The story belongs to Jan Broberg and her family, and yet like with Jan herself, Berchtold’s story does continue beyond the periphery of the final episode of A Friend of the Family and takes turns itself that are not featured in the scripted series depicting his crimes.
What happened next to Robert Berchtold?
The story of Berchtold’s abduction of Jan and the impact he had on her family was first documented in Mary Ann Broberg’s book Stolen Innocence: The Jan Broberg Story. By this stage, Jan had launched herself as a successful actress, having already appeared in several Mormon-associated productions such as Mobsters and Mormons and had a recurring role in Greg Belanti’s WB television series Everwood.
Berchtold himself only did scant prison time in relation to Jan’s abduction in one of the most powerfully angry scenes in A Friend of the Family, but he also did spend one year in prison for sexual assault against a child. Upon the publication of Mary Ann’s book, Jan and Mary Ann took out a restraining order against Berchtold that was to be in place for the rest of Berchtold’s life. Despite that, he did file an injunction against the family and the publication of the book, declaring that none of what was depicted in their account was in any way true.
Despite the restraining order against him, Berchtold did continue to try and remain a constant presence in their lives and kept showing up at talks and events that Jan Broberg was holding in relation to her mother’s publication. It was at one of these events that Berchtold found himself on the wrong end of a biker gang called Bikers Against Child Abuse and was caught up in a physical altercation with its members.
In November of 2005, he would once again find himself facing criminal charges, this time in relation to the crimes of aggravated assault and possession of a firearm. He was found guilty of these charges, but before he was sentenced, he took his own life. His bother Joe claimed that he did so because he could not face having to go to prison. In the eyes of many, it is felt he never truly faced justice for the crimes he committed against Jan.
Those crimes have been explored in both Skye Borgman’s Adbucted in Plain Sight and Nick Antosca’s television drama A Friend of the Family, the latter in which he is played by Jake Lacey. Both series put their focus firmly on the Brobergs, with A Friend of the Family itself being produced and having been given the blessing of Jan and Mary Ann Broberg.