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If you've been waiting to delve into the dark and twisted world of the Dirty John anthology series, now is the perfect time—both the original season and its follow up, Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story are now streaming on Netflix.
The show's second season stars Amanda Peet as the titular character, who goes down a destructive, and eventually murderous, path after her husband Dan (played by Christian Slater) leaves her for his much-younger assistant. Like the first season, which told the story of real-life conman John Meehan and his last victim Debra Newell, this season is also based on a true story—this time about the Brodericks and how their seemingly picture-perfect marriage deteriorated and ended with Betty murdering Dan and his second wife, Linda Kolkena.
Here is everything we know about the real-life events that inspired Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story.
The Brodericks married in 1969 and had four children.
Betty and Dan Broderick met at the University of Notre Dame in 1965 and got married four years later in Westchester, New York. They went on to have two daughters and two sons. Dan got his medical degree at Cornell after their first child Kim was born, but then decided to also pursue a law degree at Harvard, during which time Betty worked to support the family. The Brodericks moved to the tony San Diego enclave of La Jolla in 1973 after Dan was hired by a law firm there. Dan rose up the ranks to become a successful malpractice lawyer and started his own practice in 1978.
The USA show aims to depict the full spectrum of the Brodericks' married life, including rosier times, rather than focus solely on the most sensational, salacious details of their divorce and Betty's crime. "Part of what was exciting for me as a female filmmaker was having a female character at the center of this story who is really complex and multilayered, really fun and a great mom, and all these wonderful things," says Dirty John's co-executive producer and director Maggie Kiley. "Seeing the full spectrum of her emotional life is so refreshing, honestly."
They seemed to have the perfect life—for a while.
The Brodericks were a wealthy and good-looking brood. "They both were almost central casting for early yuppie," society columnist Burl Stiff told the Los Angeles Times in 1990. They lived in a mansion in La Jolla, owned a boat, bought a ski condo in Colorado, belonged to two country clubs, and had a glittering social life. Their kids attended prestigious private schools.
"You never know what someone’s relationship is like," Kiley says. "Your neighbor down the street who you only see at a distance—you have a very specific idea of what their life is like because you see them from the outside. But to be inside that relationship—and be within Betty’s experience—was a big part of how to keep the nuance to the storytelling that we hadn’t seen before."
Their marriage began to unravel when Dan hired an assistant named Linda Kolkena.
Not long after Dan hired 21-year-old airline stewardess Linda Kolkena to be his legal assistant in 1982, Betty began to suspect he was having an affair. She would turn out to be right, of course, but not before Dan made several denials and accused his wife of being crazy. Betty, in turn, let her anger show: she set Dan's custom suits ablaze in their backyard.
Eventually the pair separated and Dan moved out—technically, he moved back into their house, which the family had temporarily moved out of during renovations. Betty dropped off their children at his doorstep one by one. Dan got a court order that forbid Betty from entering their former home, which he was now sharing with Linda. Betty left angry voice messages and entered the house anyway to vandalize it by smashing mirrors, spray painting the walls, and smearing a cream pie all over his bed.
Dan filed for divorce in 1985.
Their highly contentious divorce, which would take four years to finalize, became known as the worst divorce case in San Diego County. They fought over money—he used his legal prowess to withhold alimony payments and sold their house without her permission. They also fought over their children—he used the aforementioned episode where she dropped off the kids one by one on his doorstep to win sole custody.
All of this only fueled Betty's rage. She rammed her car through the front door of his new house, while their children were inside. She continued to leave threatening messages on the answering machine. Dan countered by having her jailed three times and committed to a mental hospital for three days.
The divorce was finalized in January 1989 and Dan married Linda four months later.
Afraid of what Betty might do, Dan hired security guards for his wedding to Linda, who also implored him to wear a bulletproof vest (he didn't). The couple's newlywed life would be short-lived. Later that year, in November 1989, Betty drove to Dan and Linda's Georgian-style home early one morning, let herself in with her daughter's key, snuck up to their bedroom, and fired her .38-caliber revolver multiple times, hitting Linda in the chest and neck, and Dan in the back, killing both. Betty then turned herself in.
What drove Betty to murder?
The day before the killings, Betty had received a fresh batch of legal papers from Dan threatening criminal charges if she didn't stop calling him and leaving obscene messages. She was exhausted from years of legal battles, all the messiness, the manipulations—and she had had enough.
"I was just standing in the kitchen saying, 'Jesus Christ, I'm turning 42 years old and I've been put through this bullshit since I was 35.' Seven years of my life wasted," Betty told the courtroom at her murder trial. "I was just a mess. Everything just came down on me and I just couldn't stand it another minute." She said she couldn't remember firing her gun—she had planned on going to Dan and Linda's house to just talk to them but before she knew it, she had committed a double homicide.
Betty pleaded "not guilty" to two counts of murder and showed no remorse throughout the trial, claiming it was self defense. She had devoted her life to being a good wife and mother, even putting him through law school, only to be tossed aside for a younger woman. He had taken away her children, their home, and pushed her to the brink using his legal connections to strip her of assets, dignity, power, and render her a crazy unhinged ex-wife.
Hundreds of women wrote to her to express their sympathy—while they didn't condone the murder, they understood what she must have been feeling. “I believe every word Betty says—because I’ve been there,” one woman wrote, per the LA Times. “Lawyers and judges simply refuse to protect mothers against this type of legalized emotional terrorism."
Betty's first trial in 1990 ended in a mistrial when the jury couldn't agree on whether the killings were premeditated. A year later, at a second trial, she was convicted on two counts of second-degree murder.
Betty is serving out her sentence in a California jail.
Betty, who is now 73, received a 32-years-to-life sentence, which she is serving out at the California Institute for Women. She filed for parole in 2010 and 2017, and was rejected both times. Her next parole hearing is in 2032.
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