The Strange Truth About The Betty Broderick Story

Betty Broderick was thrust into the spotlight in 1989 when she committed the harrowing double murder of her ex-husband Daniel Broderick and his new wife, Linda Kolkena. The case made national headlines, spawned a handful of TV adaptations, and still finds relevancy more than 30 years later. 

In 2020, Betty's story became the subject of the second season of USA Network's "Dirty John," a drama originally adapted from the eponymous Los Angeles Times podcast about a different, albeit just as fascinating, true crime story. But who actually is Betty Broderick and what would drive a well-off housewife to murder?

According to the Los Angeles Times, Betty Boderick (née Bisceglia), shown above left and played by Amanda Peet (above right) in the series, was one of six siblings born into a cushy life in the suburbs of New York City. Her father, Frank Bisceglia, was a successful building contractor, and her family were members of the local country club. After her private Catholic school education, she pursued an English degree at Mount Saint Vincent, an all-girls Catholic college. During her freshman year, she met Daniel Broderick, a senior, at a party during a chaperoned weekend visit to the University of Notre Dame. And thus began the torrid love affair that left Betty with a prison sentence of 32 years to life. 

Both Betty and Dan Broderick were high society in San Diego

Betty and Daniel Broderick weren't average San Diego residents. Within their community of La Jolla, Daniel was somewhat of a local celebrity. According to the Los Angeles Times, the malpractice attorney — who had degrees from Harvard Law School and Cornell School of Medicine — made $1 million a year at his career's height. Betty hung back at home, where she cared for their four children, who went to prestigious private schools, and planned the family's extensive list of activities, which often included attending parties thrown by some of La Jolla's most elite residents. The couple held two country club memberships, as well as a membership at a private resort that served as a hotspot for San Diego's upper crust.  

"He always looked straight from Polo. She always had very pretty clothes — Oscar de la Renta and the like," Burl Stiff, a San Diego Union society columnist, told the Los Angeles Times in 1990.

The Brodericks' lifestyle was no accident. When they met, Betty and Dan shared the same vision for the future, which included money, status, and children. Describing Dan, Betty said, "He was very ambitious, very intelligent and very funny. And I am those three things. We were from the same kind of background." She added, "All I wanted to be was a mommy. ... He promised me the moon."

Pregnancy kept the Brodericks together

Betty and Daniel Broderick married in 1969, but their relationship started to fray the second they tied the knot. The housewife told the Los Angeles Times that Dan stopped putting forth effort before the honeymoon was even over. When she got home, her mother — who was reportedly upset that Dan didn't wear a tuxedo at the wedding — forced Betty to move her belongings into his minuscule Cornell dorm room. The honeymoon was indeed over, and Betty threatened to leave Dan for the first time. However, she put that idea to rest when she found out she was pregnant.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Betty tried to hide her pregnancy and worked as a third grade teacher until the day she delivered her daughter, Kim. Not long after Kim's birth, Dan got into Harvard Law School and the couple moved to Massachusetts. Betty felt isolated there as well and once more decided she wanted a divorce. Again, though, she found herself pregnant and chose to stay.

"I went from being accomplished, well connected and free to being isolated from family and friends ... and trapped with two children for whom I was 100% responsible," Betty wrote in a written account of her marriage that was obtained by the Los Angeles Times. The account continued, "Dan went from being a student on his own, with no possessions, no savings, no connections or contacts, to being an MD/JD, who had many, many contacts."

No fury like a Betty Broderick scorned

Betty Broderick's marriage further unraveled after Dan Broderick hired a new legal assistant, a 22-year-old former flight attendant named Linda Kolkena. According to the Los Angeles Times, it only took about a month before Betty's mind fixated on a possible affair, which she later chalked up to a midlife crisis when Dan purchased the stereotypical sportscar.

At first, her only evidence was a cold conversation. When the pair flew from San Diego back to their old NYC stomping grounds for a vacation, Betty claimed Dan admitted he wasn't in love with her. She wanted him to fire Linda, but he refused, denying the alleged affair. Betty stocked up on self help books, hoping Dan's attitude toward her would be short-lived.

Things became hard to ignore, however, when she tried to surprise Dan at his office for his 39th birthday. Her husband wasn't there, but evidence of a party was. The receptionist reportedly admitted that both "Dan and Linda had been gone for most of the day." That's when Betty decided to make what she claimed was the strongest statement just shy of killing him. She threw his bespoke outfits out into the yard and set them ablaze in front of their children. When Dan came home, she ordered him to leave, but he refused. She told the Los Angeles Times that Dan was just stalling while building his divorce case.

The Broderick kids were fodder for Betty and Dan's fighting

When Betty Broderick's daughter, Kim Broderick (above), testified at her mother's preliminary hearing, she admitted that her mom had an awful habit of aiming her vitriol at her children and expressed her hatred toward them on numerous occasions, according to the Los Angeles Times. Even worse, Betty reportedly had a history of using her four kids as ammunition against her husband. The most egregious incident allegedly occurred in 1985, a few months after the Brodericks relocated to a rental property so their Coral Reef home could get necessary repairs.

Per the Los Angeles Times, Betty believed the repairs were an excuse to push her out, especially because Dan Broderick — who claimed he was unhappy — moved back into their damaged house just a few months after they first left. Again, he denied having an affair with Linda Kolkena, but Betty hatched a plan to reportedly save their marriage by using the kids as bait.

Betty began unexpectedly dropping the kids off at their old house, thinking it would teach Dan a lesson in parenting. Kim, who was 15 at the time, revealed it was a terrible situation for all involved. She told the Los Angeles Times that her younger siblings, Rhett and Lee, begged their mother to not leave them there. Betty didn't relent, allegedly admitting, "Your dad's not going to get away with this.'"

Betty Broderick had a history of anger issues

Betty Broderick was reportedly plagued with anger issues throughout her marriage. Her daughter, Kim Broderick, told the Los Angeles Times that her mother would constantly become angry with her father and lock him out of the house. "He'd come around to my window and whisper, 'Kim, let me in,'" she said. Things also frequently escalated to violence.

Betty reportedly had a habit of throwing things in a fit of rage. Once she allegedly threw a stereo at Dan Broderick. Other times, she reportedly threw food. Occasionally, she'd hit Kim and her younger sister, Lee Broderick (above). One time, after Lee snapped that Betty's spankings didn't hurt, the housewife graduated to a fly swatter, which she allegedly used forcefully enough that it broke. "It was just the wire and she kept hitting her. Lee had big welts all over her legs ... I'd grab Danny and hide in the closet," Kim told the Los Angeles Times.

Though Betty was reportedly prone to violence, the kids allegedly didn't fare much better in their father's care. Apparently, Dan disowned Lee after he dropped out of school and allegedly omitted her from his will. Kim was reportedly kicked out when she was 18 years old, though Dan changed his mind and funded her college education.

The Brodericks' divorce was the worst in San Diego history

Betty Broderick's divorce wasn't a shock to anyone on the inside. According to the Los Angeles Times, Dan Broderick's brother, Larry Broderick, estimated that Betty said numerous times that she'd divorce Dan — so much so, that Dan just started to ignore her. Kim Broderick heard the same threats as her uncle. "I was dying for dad to divorce her. I'd say to dad, 'Just take me the day you leave,'" she told the Los Angeles Times.

Weirdly enough, when the divorce finally came, it didn't come from Betty. Dan filed a few months after Betty reportedly smashed the mirrors and graffitied the walls of their Coral Reef home, according to the Los Angeles Times. The divorce battle, which went on for five years as Betty cycled through five different lawyers, quickly devolved into what's now known as the most acrimonious divorce in their county. 

As the divorce played out, the Los Angeles Times reported that Betty regularly vandalized the family's Coral Reef home to the extent that Dan filed a restraining order, which she allegedly broke. She also drove through Dan's front door, left numerous lewd messages on his answering machine, and ramped up the petty by replacing his name with "God" on their divorce papers. By the time it was finally settled, Dan was granted sole custody, and Betty had no visitation rights. He married Linda Kolkena in 1989, after the divorce was finalized.

Betty Broderick was institutionalized

During their divorce trial, Dan Broderick had his estranged wife committed to a mental hospital. The whole situation devolved over the sale of their Coral Reef home. According to the Los Angeles Times, Betty Broderick was resistant. She wouldn't sign over her half, even though Dan had already bought her a different $650,000 property. He eventually went in front of a judge, who signed over Betty's portion.

When the home finally sold, Betty was reportedly so upset that she rammed her car into the front door of her ex-husband's new house. According to the Los Angeles Times, who reviewed the court documents, Dan claimed that Betty grabbed a butcher knife that was hidden under the front seat when he tried to pull her out of the smashed Chevrolet. After the incident, she was briefly held in the San Diego County Mental Health Hospital, though she maintained she was only mentally unstable because Dan made her that way to justify the divorce.

"I have never had emotional disturbance or mental illness — except when he provoked a 'disturbance,'" she told the Los Angeles Times, adding, "My 'emotional outbursts' were only a response to Dan's calculating, hateful way of dealing with our divorce. He was hammering into me and everyone else that I was crazy. ... How long can you live like that?"

Dan Broderick docked Betty Broderick's spousal support for bad behavior

After the divorce, Betty Broderick was receiving $9,036 a month in spousal support, but the Los Angeles Times reported that she still continued to harass her ex. She even reportedly made up crude names for Dan Broderick and his then-girlfriend Linda Kolkena, and admitted that the messages she left on his answering machine became increasingly offensive. As a result of this behavior, Dan reportedly took matters into his own hands and decided to penalize Betty by fining her for each alleged infraction.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Dan would dock Betty's spousal support by $100 every time she used an obscene word. She'd lose $250 each time she trespassed on the property, and $500 each time she entered his home. For the biggest infraction — taking their children without notifying him beforehand — Dan reportedly docked Betty's support check by $1,000. She claimed that one month, she had racked up so many fines that Dan owed her -$1,300.

This didn't last for long, however, because it's not actually legal. In fact, a judge soon upped Betty's spousal support payments to $12,500 a month, then $16,100 a month.

Betty Broderick claimed the long legal battle made her snap

Betty Broderick had threatened her ex-husband's life in the past. According to the Los Angeles Times, she'd threatened to kill Dan numerous times, in front of their children. Linda Kolkena suspected that Betty was serious, and the couple employed a security team when they got married. Dan refused Kolkena's suggestion to go around in a bulletproof vest. He also wouldn't allow her to file a restraining order, despite the many times she asked a lawyer to prepare one.

Though Dan didn't expect that Betty would actually follow through with her threats, his ex-wife reached a breaking point after receiving more legal papers in November 1989. It was a Friday, and the non-stop legal battles and Dan's threats were like non-stop torture. She couldn't ignore it. She just wanted it to stop, so before the sun rose on Sunday, she took her daughter's house key, drove to Dan's home in La Jolla Shores, and crept into the bedroom he shared with Kolkena.

Betty shot the sleeping pair with a .38-caliber revolver. Linda, who was shot in the neck and chest, died instantly. Dan died shortly after a bullet fractured his rib and punctured his lung. Fearing he'd call the police, Betty disabled the phone before fleeing the scene.

Is it possible to kill two sleeping people and claim self-defense?

Betty Broderick's first trial ended in a hung jury, but according to an interview with Oprah Winfrey, the troubled housewife was ultimately convicted of two second-degree murders, and could very well spend the rest of her life in prison. According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, she still claimed to have never intended to kill her ex-husband or his new wife, but her parole was denied for a second time in 2017.

Even with all this, Betty maintained the fact that her crimes were conducted in self-defense. She claimed all she was doing was finally putting an end to Dan Broderick's alleged psychological attacks against her. "My lawyers hate it, because there's no law that says I can defend myself against his type of onslaught," she told the Los Angeles Times in 1990, adding, "He was killing me — he and she were still doing it — in secret."

In addition, Betty all but blamed her ex-husband for his own murder. In that same interview, she said the whole thing wouldn't have happened if Dan just went along with what she wanted in the divorce. "I would've been fine. I would've had my house, my kids. I would've still worn a size 6. I could've done my 'superior' dance," she said.

Despite her story's obvious holes, Betty Broderick had mass support

Betty Broderick's highly publicized murder trial — the first one in the county to air on Court TV — actually split the local community, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. Surprisingly, the housewife had a number of supporters, hundreds of whom wrote into local papers to voice their opinions.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Betty's supporters were mostly women who sympathized with her alleged domestic situation, although they didn't condone her actions. "Lawyers and judges simply refuse to protect mothers against this type of legalized emotional terrorism," claimed one supporter, who also said, "I believe every word Betty says — because I've been there."

Despite the support, Betty's story was riddled with contradictions. She claimed Dan Broderick was an alcoholic, but the Los Angeles Times reported that his autopsy didn't show the type of liver damage that's commonly linked to alcohol abuse. Betty also alleged that it was unfair Dan got to spend five years with another woman while she still felt like his wife who didn't get closure — but Betty wasn't alone. For years, she had allegedly been seeing a man named Bradley T. Wright, who was six years her junior and claimed to be her boyfriend. Wright was asleep in Betty's bed when the murders happened. Wright discovered the bodies after a friend called and told him Betty had shot her ex. He stayed by her side for years afterwards.

Betty Broderick wasn't fond of her TV portrayal

Season 2 of "Dirty John" isn't the first time Betty Broderick's harrowing story has been dramatized by Hollywood. CBS premiered a made-for-TV movie called "The Betty Broderick Story" shortly after her conviction and sentencing. According to the Los Angeles Times, the film starred "Family Ties" actor Meredith Baxter, who ended up getting an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of the troubled housewife. However, Betty didn't think Baxter was deserving of such accolades.

"In one scene, I'm in a negligee, or something feathery, doing my nails. But I've bitten my nails my whole life," she told the Los Angeles Times, adding, "According to the movie, I am exactly what Dan Broderick told everybody I was — an unstable, crazy b***h that went around doing crazy things. And Dan and Linda are these simple, innocent people that just want peace. Ha!"

After the success of the first film, CBS followed up with "Her Final Fury: Betty Broderick, the Last Chapter." Betty's case was also featured in an episode of "Deadly Women" and inspired a 1991 episode of "Law & Order."

The Broderick siblings are split on their mother's crimes

The Broderick siblings don't actually seem to share a consensus about their mother's crimes. Both Rhett Broderick and Lee Broderick have advocated for their mother's release, while Daniel Broderick Jr. and Kim Broderick have helped keep their mother behind bars. Their division was never more apparent than during Betty Broderick's parole hearing in 2010.

According to Distractify, Kim — on more than one occasion — refused to write a letter supporting her mother's release. Daniel Jr. was a bit more proactive. According to CBS News, he told the court that his mother continued to defend her actions and that it would be a mistake to release her.

Meanwhile, Lee pushed the courts to free her mother, even committing to housing the felon upon her release. "She should be able to live her later life outside prison walls," she said. Rhett, the youngest Broderick, shared a similar sentiment during an Oprah interview. He complimented his mother and claimed he wasn't surprised by her actions. "On multiple occasions [my brother and I] went to my dad and said to him that we wanted to live with my mom, and that not having her kids was driving her crazy," he said. "And that she could do something extremely irrational if she didn't have us." But, regardless of their opinion of her, Betty told the San Diego Reader that all of her children have visited her in prison.

Betty Broderick was denied parole twice

At the time of this writing, it's been more than 30 years since Betty Broderick was convicted — and it doesn't look like she'll be leaving prison any time soon. She's already been denied parole twice: Once in 2010 and again in 2017.

During her initial parole hearing, the consensus of the two-person panel was that Betty showed little remorse. According to NBC News, Board of Prison Terms Commissioner Robert Doyle delivered the decision, telling the mother of four, "Your heart is still bitter, and you are still angry. You show no significant progress in evolving. You are still back 20 years ago in that same mode. You've got to move on." Betty's eldest son, Daniel Broderick Jr., supported the ruling.

2017 was a new year, but the same old story. After showing little remorse, Betty was denied parole a second time. Deputy District Attorney Richard Sachs — who attended both the 2010 and 2017 hearings — told News 10 San Diego that the mother of four blamed her victims for her situation. "She was unrepentant, unremorseful, and callous," he said, explaining how during the hearings, Betty was "banging her fist calling [her ex-husband] an SOB ... apologizing to his friends, saying 'I'm sorry you lost your drinking buddy.'" Betty is next up for parole in January 2032, though that date could change.

Daniel Broderick wrote Lee Broderick out of his will

In 1998, Betty Broderick told the San Diego Reader that she was most similar to her youngest daughter, Lee Broderick. When you look at Lee's relationship with her father, it's not hard to see the parallels — and her testimony during her mother's trial gave an eye-opening glimpse.

According to the Los Angeles Times, during the trial, Lee spoke about her father's temper. She claimed Daniel Broderick and his new wife would call Betty disparaging names like "fat, disgusting, beastly, the Beast, the Monster, on the rampage, on the warpath." Lee wasn't even allowed to have a key to her father's house — even though she lived there part time — because he didn't want Betty to have access. "I'd knock on the door, and, if nobody was home, I'd have to go somewhere else," she said.

Unsurprisingly, Lee was actually removed from her father's will, which served as a true testament to their relationship. "He had told me before that he was going to write me out, but I didn't think he would. But he did," she told the Los Angeles Times in 1989. His estate was split equally among the other three Broderick siblings.

Betty Broderick blamed Kim Broderick for putting her in jail

Post-conviction, Betty Broderick hasn't shown much public remorse. In 2017, after she was denied parole for a second time, she told People that she was a political prisoner and should have been released in 2010. Kim Broderick even claimed her mother blamed her for her sentencing. "​​When she gets upset, she has said, 'If it weren't for you, I wouldn't be here,'" Kim told People in 1992. "But I think she's handling it better now."

Testimony from Betty's trial (via the Los Angeles Times) revealed that the mother of four had a rocky relationship with her eldest daughter. She allegedly asked for Kim's loyalty on multiple occasions, both before and after the murder, saying that her daughter betrayed her. Kim claimed her mom would regularly cut her down, saying things like "I hate your guts" or "you make me sick. The sight of you makes me want to throw up. I wish you were never born."

Despite this, Kim — who got married and had a child of her own — regularly visited her mother in prison. According to a 1998 profile in the San Diego Reader, she even sent Betty care packages.