Linda Kolkena Broderick was just 28 years old when she was shot to death by her new husband’s first wife.
The sensational case — which inspired USA’s “Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story” series — once captivated a nation, and viewers found themselves torn between the Brodericks.
There were those who felt sympathy for the scorned wife, Betty Broderick (portrayed in the USA series by Amanda Peet), who claimed to have suffered years of emotional abuse at the hands of her ex-husband, Daniel Broderick (Christian Slater), and those who saw Betty’s actions as nothing more than a brutal execution.
After two dramatic trials, Betty was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 32 years to life behind bars for shooting her one-time love and his new wife on the morning of Nov. 5, 1989.
She remains in a California prison to this day, and she will not be eligible for parole until January 2032, when she is 84.
But just who was the other, much younger “Mrs. Broderick"?
When Linda (portrayed by Rachel Keller) was 21 years old, she was working as a pool receptionist in the same building where Dan had his successful law practice, according to the book “Until the Twelfth of Never” by Bella Stumbo.
Linda soon caught the eye of 38-year-old Mr. Broderick, who later hired her to become his legal assistant, and a romance flourished between the two.
Betty, who became suspicious they were having an affair, was furious.
“I asked him how the hell he could be hiring Linda Kolkena to be his assistant — she wasn’t a paralegal, she didn’t have a college education, she didn’t even know how to type!” Betty would later tell Stumbo, a former Los Angeles Times reporter.
A Strict Upbringing
Linda, the youngest of four children, grew up in Salt Lake City after her Dutch parents immigrated to the United States in the 1950s, according to Stumbo’s book. Her father, Arnoldus Johanes, had worked as a freight handler for a trucking company for 30 years before his lung collapsed and he was forced to leave the job.
As devout Roman Catholics, her parents worked hard to send their children to private schools until the family could no longer afford the additional cost, and the children were transferred to public schools. But even then, religion remained an integral aspect of the family’s life. Linda’s older sister, Maggie Seats, said the family recited four prayers at every meal and strictly observed holidays, according to the book.
Linda’s mother, Everdina Bernadetta Kolkena, died when Linda was 11 years old after a two-year battle with breast cancer. Johanes remarried a short time later to a fellow widow he met in their Dutch community.
Although Linda graduated from high school, she never wanted to pursue a college education.
“Our expectation was to grow up and have children,” Seats told Stumbo. “You worked to work, not to have a career. We weren’t cultured that way. The man would always be the breadwinner.”
Seats said that all her sister “ever really wanted to be was a wife and a mother.”
Instead of attending college, she became a Delta Airlines flight attendant, but the job was short-lived. Less than a year after she took up the position, she was fired in 1982 for “conduct unbecoming a Delta employee,” stemming from an incident on a plane when Linda and some friends were off-duty.
The group of four women were flying from Atlanta to Salt Lake City for a ski weekend when they reportedly met two drunken male passengers. One of the on-duty attendants, who later filed a complaint against Linda, said at the time that Linda was sitting on the lap of one of the men, using vulgar language and talking loudly.
The attendant said Linda snuck off to the bathroom with one of the men and openly kissed him in her seat. When confronted by airline personnel, she provided a false name, according to the book.
Linda herself would later admit in her appeal to Delta to using a false name and offensive language, but she maintained she never went to the bathroom with the man.
After leaving her post at Delta, Linda worked briefly for an Atlanta attorney before following a boyfriend to San Diego, where she would meet Dan.
The spark between the young secretary and Dan had been undeniable. One of Linda’s friends later told Stumbo that Linda had thought Dan was “a god,” and Betty recalled overhearing Dan tell a friend that his new co-worker was “beautiful” at a party in 1983.
Shortly after Dan hired the former stewardess as his legal assistant, Betty gave him an ultimatum: “Get rid” of Linda by October 1, or “get out.”
But the deadline came and went without Dan ever making a move to fire Linda. He repeatedly denied having an affair with the beautiful blonde, who many believed resembled a younger version of Betty herself.
Speaking with Stumbo, Betty said Dan told her that “it was his practice, his decision, and his house. He said that if anybody was going to move out, it would be me.”
Betty tried to cast her suspicions aside (preferring to believe her husband was just going through a mid-life crisis), but the marriage finally crumbled in 1985, when Dan moved out and filed for divorce.
A secretary at Dan’s law firm later told defense investigators that the affair between Dan and Linda had become common knowledge in the office by late 1983. The pair often went on long lunches and left empty wine bottles and food containers strewn across Dan’s office.
Betty did not take the news of her imploding marriage well, and she repeatedly vandalized the home she had once shared with her husband — even smearing a Boston cream pie that Linda had made all over Dan’s clothes and belongings.
“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,” Dan told the San Diego Reader in 1988. “My little kids would watch this, and they’d be crying when I’d come home. They couldn’t control it. I couldn’t control it. She kept saying, ‘This is my house. I can come in whether you like it or not. I don’t have to listen to the court order. The court can’t keep me out of my own house.’”
By 1985, Betty’s retaliation showed no signs of slowing down. Linda began referring to Betty a “wild woman,” claiming she had “tormented Dan for all of their marriage,” according to the book.
“Linda may have been just a woman in love — but she was evidently also one without compassion for an older woman she had never met, whose life was going down the drain,” Stumbo wrote. “All Linda knew about Betty Broderick was what Dan had told her — here was a harpy asking for all that she got — and she accepted that.”
Although Linda’s friends say she had urged Dan to be honest with Betty that the marriage was over, other accounts suggest that Linda wasn't so innocent.
One day, Betty received an anonymous letter in the mail containing a photo of Dan and Linda with the words, “Eat your heart out, bitch." She suspected Linda had sent it as well as other taunting advertisements for wrinkle cream and weight-loss products, reported the Los Angeles Times in 1990.
Friends of Dan and Linda, however, told the news outlet that the couple wasn’t capable of such cruelty, and that they were too busy enjoying each other to pay attention to Betty.
Dan and Linda weren't shy about their relationship, and Linda was even the voice of the family's answering machine, which enraged Betty, who often left the couple vulgar and obscene messages.
By multiple accounts, Betty repeatedly asked the couple if she could have her wedding china, but Linda had refused, Stumbo wrote.
“It was childish, I suppose,” Linda’s friend, Sharon Blanchet, would later tell Stumbo. “But Betty didn’t want it before — and then she did want it. Linda just got mad. It was the principle of the thing. It was the same with the answering machine. She said, ‘How long do we let her rule our lives?’”
A Couple In Love
Friends described Linda as a natural comedian who used to get laughs by reciting the airline instructions she had memorized as a stewardess. Other friends later said the couple breathed new life into one another.
“Linda offered a new life, a second chance,” paralegal Laurel Summers said at their funeral, according to the book. “She gave him the optimism to marry again and to hope for a second family. Together, they were such a delight with their broad smiles, twinkling eyes, rich laughter, and sweet terms of endearment.”
The couple told friends they wanted to have children and planned on starting a large family of their own.
Dan proposed to Linda in 1988 after dropping to one knee in front of a crowd of attorneys, paralegals, and legal secretaries at the popular Dobson’s Bar.
But as their April 1989 wedding in the yard of their new Marston Hills home approached, Linda voiced concerns about the couple’s safety. She urged Dan to wear a bulletproof vest during the ceremony — a request he denied. He did, however, hire undercover security guards to protect the festivities, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Blanchet later said that Linda had asked her to prepare papers to obtain a restraining order against Betty, but Dan never wanted to file them, the paper reported.
Early Morning Ambush
Just six months after their wedding and lavish honeymoon in the Caribbean, both Dan and Linda were fatally shot.
In the early morning hours of Nov. 5, 1989, Betty drove to the couple’s home and used a key she had stolen from one of her daughters to sneak into the house. When she got to the upstairs bedroom, she fired her .38-caliber revolver, striking Linda once in the chest and once in the back of the head, killing her instantly.
Another bullet tore through Dan’s lung, and his final words were "OK, you shot me. I’m dead.” Betty ripped the phone from the wall and fled the scene. She turned herself in to La Jolla police later that day.
“This was a cold, calculated execution,” Dan’s brother, Larry Broderick, told the Los Angeles Times in 1990. “Anybody who thinks it was anything different than that is wrong.”
Five days after the couple was killed, more than 600 people gathered in St. Joseph’s Cathedral to honor them.
“Their life among us has ended, but all of us here will be together on days and nights in the future to drink and sing and laugh. Without Danny and Linda, the wine will never be as wet, the songs will never be as pure, and the laughter will never again be as joyous,” Summers said, according to the book.
Linda and Dan were laid to rest in two matching wooden coffins. Linda’s coffin was topped with white roses, while Dan’s was covered in red roses, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1989. Linda’s tombstone borrows a line from a William Blake poem, reading, “She who kisses the Joy as it flies, Lives in eternity’s sunrise.”
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