The True Story of Betty Broderick and How a Messy Divorce Led to Murder

Philip Ellis

From Men's Health

The second season of USA Network's true crime anthology series Dirty John (the first season was based on the podcast of the same name) is inspired by the story of Dan and Elisabeth "Betty" Broderick, a married couple from La Jolla, San Diego whose divorce proceedings dragged on for nearly five years and culminated in Betty fatally shooting Dan and his second wife Linda.

Played in the show by Amanda Peet and Christian Slater, Betty and Dan got married in 1969, and had four children together. Dan, a malpractice attorney with a degree from Harvard Law, worked at a high-profile San Diego firm, while Betty was a stay-at-home mom who occasionally worked part-time selling Avon products.

Their marriage reportedly began to break down in 1983, not long after Dan hired Linda Kolkena, a 21-year-old former air stewardess, to be his assistant. Betty accused Dan of having an affair with Linda, and in 1985 he moved out and filed for divorce.

Photo credit: USA Network - Getty Images
Photo credit: USA Network - Getty Images

What followed was a series of legal battles that went on for four years. Dan eventually secured sole custody of all four children, and Betty continued to exhibit intense anger; the "Broderick vs. Broderick" case became well-known for capturing the resentment felt by women who worked in order to support their husbands through school.

When Betty's behavior became increasingly violent (she vandalized the marital home, drove her car into the front door of Dan's new residence, and made repeated threats against his life), the L.A. Times reported that "Dan countered by having Betty arrested, jailed and briefly committed to a mental hospital." He then took out a restraining order against Betty.

The divorce was finalized in 1989, and Dan and Linda got married soon after. Seven months later, Betty drove to their house in the early hours of the morning, and let herself in using a key she had stolen from her daughter. She went up into the bedroom where Dan and Linda were sleeping, and using a revolver she had purchased the month prior, fired five times.

The first two bullets hit the wall. The third and fourth hit Linda in the head and neck, killing her instantly. The fifth bullet hit Dan in the chest. Evidence presented at the trial suggested that Dan didn't die instantly, and that he was shot while trying to call for help.

Betty turned herself over to the police almost immediately, but stated that the murders were not premeditated. She claimed that it had never been her intention to kill either her ex-husband nor his new wife, and that she fired out of "surprise" when Linda woke up. At the trial, she claimed to have been a battered woman, citing years of psychological abuse at the hands of her ex-husband. However, the prosecution brought in a psychiatric expert who opined that Betty had narcissistic personality disorder.

The first trial resulted in a hung jury and was declared a mistrial. In the second trial, Betty was found guilty of two counts of second-degree murder. She is currently serving two consecutive life sentences at the California Institute for Women, where she has been denied parole as she still refuses to admit any wrongdoing.

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