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Smart saga helped set Utahn free

It gave her strength to tell of captivity and brainwashing

Jan Broberg Felt was kidnapped twice as a girl. Seeing Elizabeth Smart home gave her the strength to tell her story.
Jan Broberg Felt was kidnapped twice as a girl. Seeing Elizabeth Smart home gave her the strength to tell her story.
Dan Lund, for the Deseret Morning News

PROVO — It was a typical spring day. Jan Broberg Felt sat in her living room, paying the bills and soaking in some advice from TV guru Dr. Phil.

But a special report interrupted her daily therapy session — Elizabeth Smart had been found.

"Immediately a flood of emotions flushed over me," said Broberg Felt, who was kidnapped twice as a child. "When I saw those photos of her and how she was dressed, I knew immediately what happened to her."

Broberg Felt said she, like Smart, was brainwashed while she was in captivity. She kept her secret for years, slowly revealing bits of information to family members.

Seeing Smart back in her family's arms gave her the strength to tell her story.

"That was really the pivotal moment for me," said an emotional Broberg Felt, who spoke in front of about 60 Provo emergency dispatchers Thursday. "They say timing is everything, and that was when I was ready to share my story in a public way."

It all started in June 1972, when the Berchtold family moved a few blocks away from the Broberg home in Pocatello.

The Berchtold family had it all — nice clothes, a snowmobile, a trampoline. Anything and everything a child could dream of. Robert Berchtold was the charismatic, loving father described as a religious and business leader, a family man and someone the community loved.

"He used to come to the back door of our home," said Broberg Felt, who was only 9 years old when Berchtold moved his family to the small Idaho town. "He'd open the door and say, 'Time to wake up. It's a great day!' He was our own personal alarm clock."

Berchtold fancied Broberg Felt after he saw her sing during their Sunday church services. But it took more than two years for him to act on his feelings, Broberg Felt said.

They took trips to Salt Lake City together. They went horseback riding. He bought her things every little girl would love. He slowly gained her trust, and Berchtold became like a second father to the young girl.

Broberg Felt religiously wrote in her diary about the fun times she had with "Brother B." On April 9, 1973, she wrote, "Today I am sick. Brother B brought me over a cute paint set and some sampler chocolates. He said he would do anything for me, and he would, too."

Berchtold was fascinated by stories of alien life, and would come over to the Broberg home to talk about UFO sightings.

"To a 10-year-old, that all sounds plausible," Broberg Felt said. "There was enough of a basis of trust that pretty much anything he said you kind of believed."

Life changed for Broberg Felt on Oct. 17, 1974. Berchtold was supposed to pick her up from her piano lesson and take her to his father's ranch to go horseback riding. As Broberg Felt got into the car, Berchtold handed her what she thought was her allergy pill and a glass of water.

Taking that pill was the last thing she could remember. Broberg Felt woke from her drug-induced sleep trapped in the back of a motor home. She was isolated and confused.

A small white box, something that would become her biggest fear, sat in the room with her. Soon, high-pitched monotone voices echoed from the box, repeating, "Female companion. You have been chosen. It is time for your mission to begin."

She was then brainwashed to believe her mission was to have a child with her male companion and save an alien planet from destruction, Broberg Felt said. Her chosen companion — Robert Berchtold.

"I'm 12 years old, what did I know?" Broberg Felt said. "The thing I never doubted was I was now in the hands of these aliens, that I had a mission to fulfill and they could see me, read my mind."

If Broberg Felt failed to complete her mission, the voices from the box said her younger sister would be taken to finish the job for her.

What Broberg Felt didn't know was Berchtold was behind the whole thing. He had set up the entire scenario. Once he gained her trust, Berchtold went for what he wanted — to accomplish "the mission," Broberg Felt said.

Five weeks after the initial abduction, the police in Mazatlan, Mexico stormed the RV. Berchtold was thrown into a Mexican prison, and Broberg Felt was on her way home. But being home didn't change anything. Broberg Felt believed she had a mission to accomplish.

"A brainwashed person does not know he's brainwashed," Broberg Felt said. "Sometimes the experiences we have in real life are more fantastic and unbelievable than the experiences we even see in the movies and television, and mine is one of those."

Broberg Felt's parents never pressed any charges, because they really didn't know anything had happened.

"I was telling no one what had happened, absolutely not," Broberg Felt said. "I said, 'No Brother B did not hurt me.' At age 12 I was a pretty good actress."

Berchtold coerced her to run away again to accomplish their mission. She obliged, fearing the consequences. After an intense search, FBI agents and police officers brought Broberg Felt home again for good after four months away from her family. Berchtold had been hiding her at a Catholic school for girls in Pasadena, Calif.

Berchtold only served 19 days in jail, and another five months in a mental hospital. In 1986 he was charged with two counts of rape of a child in Salt Lake City. He pleaded guilty to one count, and served one year in prison.

At 16 years old, Broberg Felt had never doubted the wild alien tale. She was manipulated to believe she had a mission to accomplish. It wasn't until she started testing the waters, seeing if the aliens would really punish her for breaking the rules, that Broberg Felt questioned the story she had believed for so many years.

Broberg Felt's story is a long, twisted tale of deception. But she survived, and Broberg Felt said she would love to serve as a mentor to people like Elizabeth Smart who have endured the same atrocities she has. Without a doubt, Smart was brainwashed, Broberg Felt said.

"I am certain that if her mother would have been standing behind her at a grocery store, she would not have turned around and told her, 'It's me, Elizabeth,' because I understand the powerful effects of mind manipulation," she said.

Although our society is much more open to talk about abusive situations, brainwashing is still a mystery to the public, Broberg Felt said. It took 30 years for Broberg Felt to tell her story to the public. She is now a well-known speaker at conferences around the nation. But Broberg Felt said she feels for Smart, whose story has been plastered on newspapers across the globe.

"I feel sorry for her. She has had so much press and so much publicity and so much sharing of things already," Broberg Felt said. "It's taken me almost 30 years to be at this point. I certainly hope she'll be given the opportunity to heal in time for her story to really come out in her own time frame."


E-MAIL: ldethman@desnews.com