‘Dirty John’ Season 2 True Story

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‘Dirty John’ Season 2 True Story

Even a true crime novice knows the genre’s number one cliché: The spouse did it. It’s such a well-worn trope that most of the hit dramas and docu-series of the true-crime boom, shows from The Act to Tiger King, have focused on stories that aren’t that straightforward. And the tale that inspired Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story really is that simple. In 1989, California divorcée Betty Broderick shot and killed her ex-husband and his new wife. There was no mystery; she quickly confessed. But the story became massive news, for all the ways it both confirmed and subverted stereotypes: a middle-aged lawyer marrying his much-younger assistant, a wealthy white housewife who commits a double murder. Here’s the true story that inspired the new USA Network show.

Who is Betty Broderick?

Betty Broderick was born Elizebeth Anne Bisceglia to a Catholic New York family in 1947. She met Daniel Broderick III, who hailed from a more working-class Catholic clan in Pittsburgh, during a football weekend to Notre Dame when she was 17 and poised to begin college at a local Catholic women’s school. Dan, newly accepted to medical school at Cornell, introduced himself as “M.D.A”—”medical doctor, almost.”

They married in 1969, and Betty supported the family by babysitting and teaching elementary school while Dan attended first medical school and then Harvard Law School. After he graduated, the family moved to the prosperous seaside community of La Jolla California when Dan was offered a job as a medical malpractice attorney at Gray, Cary, Ames, & Frye, a major San Diego firm.

After living modestly during Dan’s student years, the family became wealthy. Dan became well-known and respected in the local legal community, and eventually earned more than a million dollars a year, the equivalent of more than $2.5 million today. “He always looked straight from Polo,” a local society columnist told the L.A. Times. “She always had very pretty clothes—Oscar de la Renta and the like.” They had two maids; Dan bought a red Corvette. The family had memberships to two country clubs, a boat, and a ski condo in Colorado.

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But all wasn’t well in the family’s marriage. During a weekend of Catholic marriage counseling, Dan described his drive for professional success as getting in the way of his being the ideal father and husband. He was pursuing “financial security now so that I can get on with the important things in life,” he wrote in notes at the time, and once achieving “certain necessary possessions,” he promised to “indulge the luxury of being an attentive, thoughtful person.”

The couple’s four children would later report that family life was volatile. One of them recalled their mother throwing a stereo at their father during a fight, and said that she spanked her children with enough force to leave bruises.

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What happened during the Brodericks’ divorce?

By 1983, Betty began to suspect that her husband was having an affair with his new legal assistant, Linda Kolkena. Dan had promoted his law firm’s receptionist to the more prestigious position, despite the fact that Kolkena, a 22-year-old former paralegal and stewardess hadn’t attended college and couldn’t type. Betty’s suspicions were strengthened when she arrived at her husband’s office to surprise him for his birthday, only to find wine glasses as evidence of an earlier celebration, and that he and Linda had left early for the day. In response, Betty burned Dan’s clothing in their backyard.

The following year, Dan moved the family out of its home to have cracks in the house’s foundation repaired. Months later, he moved back to the home, leaving Linda and the kids in a rental house. It was the start of an incredibly bitter divorce. Betty trashed Dan’s home on more than one occasion, spray painting his bedroom walls, smearing cream pies all over the kitchen, and throwing wine bottles through windows. Dan got a restraining order, which Betty violated by breaking a window of his home with an umbrella. After he sold the house, Betty drove her car into the front door of Dan’s new home. She’d brought a large knife, and had to be taken away from the scene in a straight jacket, to be placed on a 72-hour hold at a local psychiatric hospital.

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The divorce was finalized in 1986. Dan won custody of the kids, while Betty received more than $9,000 a month in spousal support. She was still enraged, and harassed Linda and Dan with vulgar phone calls. Dan responded by deducting money from her monthly payments for each perceived offense, from $100 for each swear word Betty uttered to $1,000 for taking the kids without his authorization. One month, Dan told Betty that she owed him more than $1,000. The court battles continued, with Betty’s support payments eventually being increased to more than $16,000 a month. With Dan serving as the president of the San Diego Bar Association, Betty said she struggled to find a lawyer willing to represent her.

Linda and Dan married in 1989, and hired undercover security for their wedding. Dan refused Linda’s request to wear a bulletproof vest during the ceremony. Betty felt that her world had crumbled. She said her own parents were distant. They’d been in town for a visit when Betty drove her car into Dan’s house, and left once they found out she was in a mental hospital. They never returned, refusing to attend the eventual criminal trial. “Their darling daughter got the big D word,” Betty told the L.A. Times. “All my life, I tried so hard to be a good daughter, a good wife, a good neighbor… My husband unzips his fly and screws the bimbo, and I lose all that.”

But while Betty painted herself as a victim in the divorce, friends and family told the press stories of her cruelty and suggested that she’d moved on from the split better than she cared to admit. According to her kids, she had found a longterm boyfriend after the divorce.

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In early 1989, Betty bought a revolver. On November 5th of that year, she used her daughter’s keys to enter Dan and Linda’s home, and shot them both to death.

She confessed to the crime, but insisted that she’d gone to the house in order to commit suicide in front of the couple, not to murder them. At the trial, she described herself as an emotionally and physically abused wife pushed to the breaking point. But the jury also heard recording of a taped phone call between her and 11-year-old son in which she said she wished Dan “would just die” and that Linda would drive off of a cliff. The first trial ended in a hung jury, but Betty was convicted of second-degree murder at a retrial in 1991.

Where is Betty Broderick now?

Betty is still in jail, at the California institute for women, having twice been denied parole due to her lack of repentance for the murders.

“She has no remorse and zero insight into the killings,” Deputy District Attorney Richard Sachs told the San Diego Tribune in 2017. “She just basically said they drove me to do this.”

But the case has taken on a life of its own. While the American divorce rate was near its all-time peak, the nation was transfixed by the story of an ugly break-up ending in murder. And despite the brutal killings, Betty had her supporters. “My soul, mind and heart go out to Betty Broderick,” one woman wrote the L.A. Times in 1990. “No one knows or understands this kind of situation until they have been through it. I am totally 100% in Betty Broderick’s corner.”

Gabrielle Bruney is a writer and editor for Esquire, where she focuses on politics and culture.

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