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On the morning of Nov. 5, 1989, the affluent Hillcrest area in San Diego, California was shocked to learn of the gruesome double homicide of prominent medical malpractice lawyer Daniel "Dan" Broderick III, 44, and his second wife, Linda Kolkena Broderick, 28.
Later that day, Dan's ex-wife, Betty Broderick, turned herself in to police, and she was ultimately charged with two counts of first-degree murder.
But what led Betty to commit such a crime in the first place? "Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story," which premieres June 2 at 9/8c on USA, is inspired by the couple's sordid past of love, adultery, and divorce laid the groundwork for a brutal double homicide.
Elisabeth "Betty" Anne Bisceglia (portrayed in the USA series by Tiera Skovbye and Amanda Peet) was the third of six children born in November 1947. She was raised in a fairly affluent household — her family was part of the local country club, and the children were privy to private Catholic schooling, reported the Los Angeles Times in 1990.
In 1965, Betty, then a 17-year-old freshman at the College of Mount St. Vincent in the Bronx, first met Dan (played by Chris Mason and Christian Slater), a senior at the University of Notre Dame, The New York Times reported in 1991. While it wasn't love at first sight for Betty, he continued to pursue her.
“I’m real tall and used to go out with athletic guys,” Betty said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “He had long skinny sideburns, round tortoise-shell glasses. You’re talking geek city.”
A year later, when Dan enrolled at Cornell University as a medical student, Betty decided to give him a chance.
By April 1969, the two married in a lavish ceremony at the Immaculate Conception Church. While there was some family drama relating to wedding details, Betty's parents ultimately were supportive of the couple.
"After all, I was marrying a doctor. What else does any mother want?" Betty recalled in an interview with the San Diego Reader in 1989. "He was 99 percent already a doctor, and he was from a Catholic family, and he wasn't from a divorced family. And he went to Notre Dame, and I went to Mount St. Vincent, so everything kind of fit in."
Shortly after the honeymoon, Betty became pregnant with their first of four children, Kimberly Broderick, but the couple was already dealing with marital issues in Dan's small medical school dormitory they shared. Betty managed to hide her pregnancy from her co-workers at the elementary school she worked in, and once Kim was born, she spent her first months in a dresser drawer instead of a crib, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Dan eventually decided to pursue a career in medical malpractice, and he went on to graduate from Harvard Law School. He soon landed a job at a San Diego law firm, and all the while, Betty stayed home to take care of the family amid periods of both financial distress and economic luxury.
They had three more children — Kathy Lee, Danny, and Rhett — but the marriage was almost never peaceful, according to Dan.
"She was never happy with me," he said in a 1988 interview, according to the San Diego Reader, before amending his statement: "That is an exaggeration ... But on a regular basis, she expressed extreme unhappiness with me, and my dedication to my work, and my profession, and my attitude toward her and our children."
In the early 1980s, Dan hired Linda Kolkena (portrayed in the series by Rachel Heller), then 22, as his legal assistant. Betty suspected the two were having an affair, which was confirmed when she went to Dan's office to surprise him on his birthday and found the two had been gone most of the day, reported CNN in 2010. Betty responded by throwing his clothes in the yard and setting them on fire in a fit of rage.
The divorce proceedings dragged on for four years — in no small part because of Betty's behavior. She balked at the sale of their La Jolla home in early 1986, and later purposely misspelled her name on legal documents for a divorce mediation, the San Diego Reader reported.
Betty became increasingly more violent and aggressive toward Dan, especially after he was awarded full custody of the children. She left Dan obscene voicemails on his answering machine, smeared a Boston cream pie all over his bedroom and clothing, and drove her car into his front door.
"My daughters Kim and Lee and I were in the kitchen fixing dinner when we heard a loud crash, almost like an explosion, and a racing engine at the front of the house," Dan said in a December 1986 court declaration, according to the Los Angeles Times. "We ran to the front door to see what it was and found that Elisabeth had crashed her Chevrolet Suburban into the house, knocking the front door off its hinges and out of the frame and causing extensive damage to the brickwork on the outside and to the walls on the inside of the entry."
Dan responded with a letter urging Betty to end the harassment.
"I know your first impulse upon reading this letter will be a violent one ... You better think twice about that. If you make any attack on me or my property, you will never again get a red cent out of me without a court order," Dan wrote, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Once the divorce was finalized, Dan and Linda wed in April 1989, and he hired undercover security guards in case Betty decided to crash the ceremony. Although Linda 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.
Seven months later, Betty entered the couple's home using a key she stole from her daughter and shot Dan and Linda five times as they slept in their bedroom. Using a .38-caliber revolver, she fired with "no hesitation at all," killing Linda instantly and fatally wounding Dan, reported Los Angeles Magazine in 2009.
After being hit, Dan's last words were, "OK, you shot me. I’m dead.”
When her ex-husband fell to the floor and landed near the telephone, Betty said 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 had purchased the weapon one month before Dan remarried, CNN reported.
Betty surrendered to police that day and later confessed to the murders, claiming they were a "desperate act of self-defense" against Dan, whose goal was "to control me totally," the Los Angeles Times reported in 1990.
Betty was first tried for the double homicide in 1990, but the trial ended in a hung jury. The following year, she was retried and found guilty of two counts of second-degree murder, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Betty took the stand to testify that she, not Dan, was the victim, claiming he was abusive during both their marriage and divorce proceedings. While each member of the jury "had some sympathy for her," they could not look past her "aberrant behavior," George Lawrence McAlister, the jury foreman, told the Los Angeles Times in 1991.
She was sentenced to 32 years to life in prison for the murders. She was denied parole in both 2010 and 2017, and she will have to wait 15 years until she can petition again, according to San Diego NBC affiliate KNSD. She will be 84 years old.
The case was a public spectacle both then and now. In addition to several books and TV specials that explored the Broderick story, USA Network's second season of "Dirty John" will center on Dan and Betty's tumultuous relationship, Oxygen.com reported.
"Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story" premieres June 2 at 9/8c on USA with two back-to-back episodes.
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