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A love story, a bitter divorce, and two brutal murders don't just make for an enticing television show — they are also the basis for the real-life trial of Betty Broderick.
The second installment of the "Dirty John" franchise, premiering on June 2 at 9/8c on USA, is inspired by the true story of how Betty's marriage to Dan Broderick went from sweet bliss to a messy divorce, eventually culminating in a gruesome double homicide in November 1989.
Betty (portrayed in the series by Tiera Skovbye and Amanda Peet) and Dan (played by Chris Mason and Christian Slater) had a seemingly perfect life. Both born into large, Catholic families, the two met one weekend in 1965 at the University of Notre Dame, according to a 1990 feature by the Los Angeles Times. Betty and her friend had traveled from New York to attend a football game, and Dan was beginning his senior year.
While Betty thought he was a "nerd" at the time, Dan kept in touch, sending letters to her home in Bronxville. She eventually became interested in the hopeful medical student, and by 1969, the two were married.
“He was very ambitious, very intelligent, and very funny. And I am those three things. We were from the same kind of background. We both wanted the same things in the future,” Betty told the Los Angeles Times in 1990.
While raising their four children, Betty helped support her husband as he worked his way through medical school and law school until he became a successful lawyer, according to a 2019 retrospective piece on the case by California CBS affiliate KFMB-TV.
In southern California, Dan specialized in medical malpractice suits, and his income made for a comfortable living situation. The couple, however, was not without their problems, and Betty became increasingly aggressive toward both her husband and children.
"Mom would get mad at Dad all the time. Once Mom picked up the stereo and threw it at him," their eldest daughter, Kim, told the Los Angeles Times. She also recalled Betty spanking Lee, the Brodericks' second daughter, with a fly swatter so hard that she developed "big welts all over her legs."
"I'd grab [my brother] Danny and hide in the closet," Kim said.
In September 1983, Dan hired Linda Kolkena (portrayed in the series by Rachel Heller), a 22-year-old receptionist in his office building, to be his legal assistant. While Betty suspected Dan was having an affair with Kolkena, he denied anything was going on between them.
“This was just a phase, a bad time — too stupid to be true,” Betty wrote in an unpublished account of her marriage titled “What’s a Nice Girl to Do? A Story of White Collar Domestic Violence in America,” which was obtained by the Los Angeles Times. “That girl had nothing on me. I am prettier, smarter, classier; she is a dumb, uneducated tramp with no background or education or talent. He’ll definitely get over it.”
Betty's suspicions were confirmed, however, on Dan's 39th birthday, when she went to surprise him at the office and learned that Dan and Kolkena had been gone for most of the day. His desk was covered with champagne, cake, and balloons. Betty returned home and took a pile of Dan's custom-made clothing and set it on fire in the backyard while her children watched, reported the Los Angeles Times in 1990.
By September 1985, Dan filed for divorce, and Betty began to harass him and his new girlfriend.
"There were these stories about this woman who'd driven her car into her ex's house and she burned his clothes in the street, she left obscene messages on their phone machine," said former KFMB-TV anchor Lorraine Kimel-Hennessy, who covered the case at the time and knew Dan and Kolkena through mutual friends.
And the stories, it seemed, were true: In court records obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Dan declared she trashed his house, spray-painting the walls and smearing a cream pie all over the master bedroom. She also threw bottles of wine through the windows, smashing a sliding glass door.
The harassment was so severe that when Dan and Kolkena married in the spring of 1989, he hired undercover security guards in case Betty decided to crash the wedding. Although Kolkena urged Dan to wear a bullet-proof vest, he refused, telling a friend he didn't believe Betty would kill her “golden goose," the man who paid her more than $16,000 a month in alimony, reported the Los Angeles Times in 1990.
But in the early morning hours of Nov. 5, 1989, Betty took her daughter Kim's house key and let herself into Dan and Kolkena's home. She then walked upstairs to their bedroom with a gun and unloaded five shots into the newlyweds.
After being hit, Dan's last words were, "OK, you shot me. I’m dead.”
When he fell to the floor and landed near the telephone, Betty told the Los Angeles Times she thought, “Oh my God! He is going to be on that phone before I’m down the stairs." Betty then disconnected the phone from the wall and fled the scene.
She soon surrendered to police and was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. During court proceedings, Betty presented herself as the victim of spousal abuse in a legal system that was rigged against her. The trial ended in a hung jury, and during her second trial, she was found guilty of two counts of second-degree murder, reported the Los Angeles Times.
In February 1992, Betty was handed the maximum sentence of 32 years to life behind bars.
Now 72 years old, she is serving her sentence at the California Institution for Women. She applied for parole in both 2010 and 2017, and the California parole board denied the requests, citing that she did not show remorse or admit to wrongdoing, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Betty will not be eligible for parole until January 2032, when she is 84.
Although Betty is still behind bars, her story is making its way back to television in "Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story."
"The first season of 'Dirty John' was a story of twisted love and coercive control — and both these insidious elements are also present in and integral to the story of Betty Broderick, whom I have wanted to write about since I became a writer," series creator and showrunner Alexandra Cunningham told The Hollywood Reporter. "I can't wait to see Amanda and Christian bring it to life."
"Dirty John" season two premieres June 2 at 9/8c on USA with two back-to-back episodes.
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