What if the world’s greatest con man wasn’t after money? What if he already had money, and instead all his considerable talent for manipulation was devoted entirely to seducing a 12-year-old girl? That’s roughly the plot of the new Netflix documentary your friends have probably been telling you to watch, Abducted In Plain Sight, which starts as the lurid but straightforward tale of a 12-year-old girl who was kidnapped by her neighbor in 1970s Idaho. It zooms out to explain the how, and in the process spreads the culpability around, getting more outlandish every second.
Hunter S. Thompson famously wrote in his eulogy for Richard Nixon, “Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism — which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place.”
In the same way, Abducted In Plain Sight is about a con-man who seems to thrive in every built-in blind spot of Mormonism, 1970s America, and circumscribed suburban existence in general — preying on their preternatural optimism, their hospitality, their magical thinking, their intensely familial nature, their core of abiding loneliness, and the general sexual ignorance of the time — all so he could sleep with a child. It’s fascinating, and gross.
The Brobergs are a happy family with three young daughters living in Pocatillo, Idaho when, some time in the early ’70s, the Berchtolds move to the neighborhood. The Berchtolds and the Broburgs seem to have everything in common — the same church, about the same number of kids, all about the same age, dads both named Bob. Which doesn’t actually seem that much of a coincidence in a community that prizes the traditional family as much as theirs does, and with such a narrow conception of what that looks like.
“We were both in business, and we both had families, so we would talk about that a lot,” Bob Broburg says, as if finding another dad to talk “family” and “business” with was like meeting a separated-at-birth identical twin.