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Everything In ‘Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story’ That Really Happened — And What Didn’t
The second season of “Dirty John” tells the story of an infamous divorce that ended in a double homicide.
In the early morning hours of Nov. 5, 1989, Elisabeth “Betty” Broderick entered the San Diego home of her ex-husband Daniel “Dan” Broderick III, and his new wife, Linda Kolkena Broderick, and shot them to death with a .38-caliber revolver as they slept.
The second installment of the "Dirty John" franchise, streaming now on USA, was inspired by the Broderick divorce case and looks back on what led Betty to carry out the brutal double homicide.
Starring Tiera Skovbye and Amanda Peet as Betty and Chris Mason and Christian Slater as Dan, “Dirty John” was influenced by “Until the Twelfth of Never: The Deadly Divorce of Dan and Betty Broderick,” an in-depth, 546-page account of the case written by Bella Stumbo, who spoke with friends, family, lawyers, journalists, and even Betty herself for the book.
So, how well does the series match up to the real-life case? Below, we’ve pulled apart fact from fiction in “The Betty Broderick Story.”
Betty Drove Her Car Into Dan's House
In the premiere of “Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story,” we watch Betty grapple with her impending divorce. After learning that Dan sold their previous family home — the Coral Reef property — without her blessing, Betty drives her car into Dan’s house.
He immediately runs outside and pulls Betty from the car, telling his daughters to call 911. Dan and Betty struggle, and he throws her on the front lawn, pinning her arms by her side.
When police arrive, he recommends they take Betty in for medical observation.
“She’s clearly not in control of herself. I think she should be under someone’s care,” Dan says.
The two officers put Betty in a straitjacket and drive her to the hospital, where she is placed on a 72-hour hold.
This car crash did, in fact, happen, and Betty said she had no regrets about ramming her car into Dan’s front door in an interview with the San Diego Reader in 1989.
“I’d do it again, only I’d do it better. I was mad! He had just stolen everything from me,” Betty said, adding that “there was nothing loony” about her behavior.
There was minimal damage to the house, she said, but she was arrested and spent several days in a mental-health facility.
"She's Just So Beautiful."
Near the end of episode three, Betty catches Dan telling a work colleague, "She's just so beautiful," presumably about another woman. Betty later confronts Dan about the comment, and he explains there is "some new girl in the office" whom his friend "has a thing for."
"She's in the lobby at reception," Dan says, adding that her name is "something with an L. Laura, maybe."
We ultimately learn, of course, that Dan was speaking about Linda Kolkena (played by Rachel Keller in the USA series), and Betty's suspicions quickly grow from there.
The real-life Betty recalled that Dan's remark about Kolkena’s looks was a crucial moment in the dissolution of their marriage.
“I have lots of friends who are real pretty. One is a former Miss America. I mean, she gets out of the shower beautiful. And yet I’d never heard Dan say, ‘Wow, she’s pretty’ about anybody,” she told the San Diego Reader.
Betty let the incident blow over, but once she learned Dan had hired Kolkena as his legal assistant, she confronted him about their relationship. He denied they were having an affair and Betty said she "sort of believed it. But it got to the point where you had to be blind, stupid, and everything else in order to believe it.”
Later in the episode, Betty gives Dan an ultimatum, one that mirrored what happened to the real couple — fire Kolkena, or move out of the house. As in "Dirty John," it was a threat that Dan ignored, calling Betty "crazy" for thinking he was having an affair, according to the San Diego Reader.
Betty Lost A Child
During episode two, we see a young Betty and Dan arguing about whether to abort their third child. Betty tells Dan her body cannot handle the difficult pregnancy and that they cannot afford another baby, to which Dan replies, “Just because it is legal does not make it right.”
Betty goes through with the pregnancy, but the baby — a boy — dies shortly after she gives birth.
The couple goes on to have two more children, both boys, and Betty eventually undergoes tubal ligation. In episode four, however, they consult with a doctor to possibly have it reversed.
During their first 10 years of marriage, Betty experienced two miscarriages, two abortions, and one child who died after birth, according to “Until the Twelfth of Never.”
In her self-published memoir, “Betty Broderick: Telling On Myself,” Betty wrote that she got the first of two abortions in 1975, two years after the death of her firstborn son, which “badly traumatized” her.
While Betty did have her tubes tied, the Brodericks tried to have the procedure reversed in 1984, one year after Dan began his affair with Kolkena, reported the Los Angeles Times.
The Birthday Surprise
Worried their relationship is deteriorating, Betty decides to surprise Dan at work for his birthday in episode four. She gets dolled up in a new dress and arrives with a bouquet of roses and champagne, only to find his office empty. On his desk are the remnants of a celebration — bottles of a wine, a birthday hat, balloons, and a cake.
She also notices that Kolkena's office is vacant, and a receptionist informs Betty that Dan has been gone since lunch.
Infuriated, Betty returns home, rips Dan's clothes out of their closet, and sets them on fire in their yard. When Dan sees the burned pile, Betty tells him, "You want out? I move you out. Poof, you son of a bitch!"
Dan claims that Linda took him out to lunch with two other co-workers, and then he went to a hearing.
"I have no idea where [Kolkena] went," he says, insisting that they're not having an affair. The two reconcile, and we see Dan and Kolkena continue their relationship.
This also had basis in real life. Betty told the San Diego Reader this incident cemented her suspicions that Dan was cheating on her.
“I waited [at the office] till like five,” Betty said. “They never came back. And that’s when I saw the refrigerator and my wedding crystal and all this imported wine. And the stereo. And his picture on her desk. Only it was a picture that was taken of him before we were married.”
Dan admitted that he and Linda did go to lunch, but he denied the celebration involved wedding crystal, and imported wine, or that there was a portrait of himself on Linda’s desk.
Asked about burning her husband's clothes, Betty said, "Would I do it again? You bet. I don’t know what I could have done more dramatic, more emphatic, more serious, short of killing him."
Dan refused to move out and simply "ordered all new, tailor-made clothes. His tailor loved me,” Betty said.
Betty Vandalized Dan's House
Near the end of episode four, Dan moves out of their new home in La Jolla and back into their previous family property on Coral Reef Avenue. The couple begin sharing custody of their four children, and when Betty goes to pick up them up one afternoon, she notices a pie on the kitchen counter.
"Boston Cream pie? What's the occasion?" she asks her youngest daughter. "Someone just made Dad's favorite for no reason?"
Betty then takes the dessert upstairs and smears frosting all over his clothing and bedding, leading Dan to get a court order barring her from the house without his permission.
We see even more of Betty's destruction in the next episode, when she spray-paints the house's interior and uses a hammer to strike holes in the walls, breaking glass vases and other decor.
When Dan was interviewed about his divorce in real life, he said Betty ignored the stay-away orders: "I remember a Boston cream pie that my girlfriend [Linda Kolkena] made for us. She [Betty] came and just took it and smeared it all over the bedroom and my clothes and my drawers. I mean — crazy stuff! Absolutely crazy stuff."
"[She started] throwing stuff through the windows and breaking mirrors and spray-painting the walls," Dan told the San Diego Reader in 1988, adding that on one occasion, he came home and found "hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars in damage. I mean, windows broken, and chandeliers cracked, and a stereo smashed."
In December 1985, Dan said Betty tore the wrapping paper off the children’s Christmas presents, gouged a wall, broke a mirror, and “slammed the front door open with such force that it pulled loose from its hinges and the doorknob punched a hole two inches in diameter in the wall,” reported the Los Angeles Times in 1989.
The Voicemails And Fines
By episode five, we learn Betty has a penchant for leaving innumerable obscene messages on Dan’s answering machine that he shares with Kolkena, whom Betty continually calls "the whore." Dan has the voicemails transcribed, firing back at Betty with a fine for her offensive language.
For each vulgar word she uses, $100 will be taken out from her monthly support checks. Dan also begins charging Betty $250 for each time she goes to his house, $500 for stepping over the property threshold, and $1,000 for every time she tries to spend time with their sons without clearing it with him.
Speaking with her friends over lunch, Betty says she can't stop herself from leaving the voicemails — it is all she has left of her family.
"That answering machine is my therapy, my primal scream," Betty explains.
All these fines did actually happen and were outlined in Betty's 1990 interview with the Los Angeles Times. She claimed that during one month, Dan charged her so much that her allowance totaled “minus $1,300." This incident is mirrored in "Dirty John," and when Betty drives to his house to confront him about the monthly statement, he calls the police to have Betty arrested.
The same happened in real life.
“And he went to the Blackstone Ball that same night with his girlfriend. As president of the bar. With his top hat and cane,” Betty told the San Diego Reader.
Betty's Painful Phone Conversation With Her Son
After Dan decides to keep the kids for Easter in episode five, Betty calls the house yet again, and her eldest son answers the phone.
"Don't you even care about your family?" he says. "Besides the stupid money?"
When Betty says that she cares "perfectly about her family," he asks her, "Then how come you won't shut your mouth so we can come over there?"
He begs her to stop using "bad words" so he and his brother can live with her. The conversation ends in tears for them both, and Betty hangs up the phone. Dan has the call recorded, and it is saved for future court proceedings.
The painful conversation was based on a real call between Betty and her son, Danny, and the recording was played during Betty's first and second murder trials.
“All you care about is your stupid money. You want everything. You want all the kids, all the money, to get rid of Linda — and it’s not going to work, Mom. You’ve been mad long enough,” Danny said.
“No, I haven’t,” Betty responded, just like in "Dirty John."
Near the end of the conversation, Broderick said, “I wish [Dan] would just die” and that Kolkena would “get drunk and drive her car off a cliff,” reported the Los Angeles Times.
The Taunting Photo
In episode six, Betty opens her mail to find an envelope containing a newspaper clipping announcing Dan and Kolkena's engagement. In red marker, someone wrote, "Eat your heart out bitch!"
Betty shows the clipping to her friends, who express doubts that Kolkena would have sent it and question if it's even Kolkena's handwriting.
"If it wasn't the whore, who was it?" Betty asks.
Near the end of the episode, it flashes back to Betty opening the announcement clean of writing, and we then see her gaze focus on a red felt-tip pen, suggesting it was actually Betty who wrote the crude message.
The real-life Betty does claim to have gotten this photo. Speaking with the Los Angeles Times, Betty said she was sure Kolkena sent her the photo of her and Dan and the anonymous note. She also claimed that she received a separate envelope containing advertisements for wrinkle cream and weight-loss products.
Betty Didn’t Harass Kolkena at Her Daughter's Graduation — According To Her
At her eldest daughter’s high school graduation in episode six, Betty becomes enraged when she finds out Dan brought Kolkena, dubbing her the “tacky office slut.” After the ceremony, Betty follows Dan and Kolkena around the school and begins taking photos of them with her camera.
At one point, she makes eye contact with Kolkena and motions for her to smile.
Dan later tries to comfort Kolkena, saying that Betty probably didn’t even have any film in the camera and that his ex was just trying to mess with them.
When Betty gets her prints back, however, we see she captured various shots of Kolkena.
So, did this happen? Unclear — during her trial testimony, Betty claimed she never harassed Dan and Kolkena by snapping pictures of them at her daughter Kim’s graduation, reported the Los Angeles Times.
Dan Hired Security For His Wedding
While planning their wedding in episode seven, Dan and Kolkena hire security to potentially stop Betty from disturbing the ceremony. Although Dan says she hasn’t made specific threats about derailing their big day, Kolkena adds that the former Mrs. Broderick has “joked about shooting” them with multiple people.
At Dan’s bachelor party, we see him reassure a friend that Betty only “cares about money” and she needs him alive for financial support.
“Without me, there isn’t any [money]. She’s not gonna kill the golden goose,” Dan says.
This is all true — at their real wedding on April 22, 1989, Dan hired undercover security guards in case Betty decided to crash. Kolkena also urged Dan to wear a bullet-proof vest, but he refused, telling a friend he didn't believe Betty would gun down her “golden goose," the man who paid her more than $16,000 a month in alimony.
Linda Kolkena Broke Into Betty's Home
At the suggestion of her friends in episode five, Betty decides to keep a diary as a safe place to let out her frustrations about Dan, Kolkena, and the end of her marriage. As the series goes on, Betty fills the pages with ominous passages, often resorting to using vulgar nicknames for the young couple.
In one entry, Betty even seems to foreshadow killing Dan and Kolkena.
“I have nowhere to turn. I am desperate. If this is the way domestic disputes are settled in the courts, is there any wonder there are so many murders?” she writes.
The same notebook is stolen in episode seven, when Kolkena sneaks into Betty’s home to retrieve their list of wedding guests that Betty had previously swiped from Dan’s house.
Instead of finding the list, however, Kolkena comes across the journal, and she hides it in her purse right as Betty’s cleaning woman arrives. Claiming to be one of Betty’s friends, Kolkena tells her she was “just picking something up” and darts out the front door.
When Kolkena shows Dan the diary, he chastises her for trespassing and urges her to return it, and Kolkena later drops off the notebook on Betty’s front steps.
At a court hearing that same day, a judge orders Dan to withhold financial support from Betty until she produces the list or a plausible explanation for its whereabouts. Livid, Betty opens her purse and delivers the list to the court.
A similar exchange happened in real life. During Betty’s murder trial, her former housekeeper, Maria Montez, testified that twice in one day, Kolkena had entered Betty’s La Jolla home “without permission” and taken personal documents from her bedroom, reported the Los Angeles Times.
Kolkena told her she was a friend of Betty’s and that she had come “to see the house,” Montez said. She then returned “four to five hours later” with the documents in hand.
Defense attorney Jack Earley said Kolkena had gone “to retrieve a wedding list but took some of Betty’s materials and diaries. We don’t know if she copied them or what she did … She did bring them back.”
In addition to her journal, Betty also penned an unpublished account of her marriage titled, “What’s a Nice Girl to Do? A Story of White Collar Domestic Violence in America.”
Betty Didn’t Stay Single After The Divorce
Throughout “Dirty John,” Betty remains single after her divorce from Dan, but in real life, she began dating someone named Bradley T. Wright, a fence-construction businessman.
While Wright said the two were in an intimate relationship, Betty denied the claim, telling the Los Angeles Times she was “not the kind of person to be with someone and not be married.” Her daughter Kim, however, corroborated the relationship and said that she and her sister, Lee, often confronted their mother about it.
One time, Lee walked in on the couple, and Kim later questioned how she could be upset with Dan and Kolkena when she was dating Brad.
“How can you equate the two? Brad doesn’t support me,” Betty reportedly said.
“Mom could never admit that she’d ever have a happy life,” Kim told the Los Angeles Times. “That would be admitting that she could get on with herself and that Dad didn’t ruin her life.”
The morning of the murders, Wright was in bed at Betty’s house. Around 7:30 a.m., he woke up to the telephone ringing — it was Betty’s friend, Diane Black. Black told Wright that Betty had just called her and said she shot Dan. Betty thought about shooting herself but ran out of bullets, said Black.
Wright rushed over to Dan’s house with a neighbor and found Dan and Kolkena’s bodies in the bedroom.
At trial, Wright testified that Betty later admitted to gunning down the couple, reported the Los Angeles Times. Betty also said “the medical community owed her thanks” for killing her ex-husband, who was a malpractice attorney.
In an interview with Oxygen podcast “Martinis & Murder,” Alexandra Cunningham, the showrunner of “Dirty John,” explained that Wright’s character was not included in the series mostly because of how Betty viewed the relationship.
"When we started out, I actually wanted to include him, and we had him included in a lot of the pitches in the middle episodes. But the reason that I chose not to do that had a lot to do with how Betty herself talked about him and regarded him," Cunningham said.
Check back here each week as we update what happened and what didn’t in “Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story.”