Mum behind horror love triangle murder
Betty Broderick had a revolver in her handbag. In the early hours of November 5, 1989, the gun sat in her purse as she drove from her home to the one that her ex-husband Dan Broderick shared with his new wife Linda.
Betty had the keys in her handbag, too. She had stolen them from her daughter Lee and she used them to enter the house, taking the stairs to Dan and Linda's bedroom. It was five in the morning and the couple were sleeping. Betty says she never intended to shoot them. She just wanted to talk. But shoot is what she did, killing Linda instantly and injuring Dan. While he lay dying on the floor, Betty yanked the telephone from the wall and fled the house.
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It was a crime that sent shockwaves through the wealthy enclaves of La Jolla, San Diego, where both Betty and Dan lived, and has since become the subject of the second season of Netflix's true crime drama Dirty John Season 2: The Betty Broderick Story.
Amanda Peet stars as Betty, with Christian Slater as Dan.
"What fascinated me about the story," Peet said, "is how such a normal person with a quote-unquote normal suburban life could snap."
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What would lead Betty, a mother-of-five - two daughters, two sons and a baby who died in infancy - to kill her ex-husband and his new wife?
Dan was a celebrated legal mind, the head of the San Diego Bar Association and a graduate of Harvard Law School. Theirs had been a world of high-society parties, million-dollar salaries, private school fees, country club memberships, Ralph Lauren and Oscar de la Renta wardrobes. How did it all go so wrong?
AN INSTANT CONNECTION
Betty and Dan Broderick met in 1965 at the University of Notre Dame. Theirs was an instant connection.
"He was very ambitious, very intelligent and very funny," Betty once said. "And I am those three things. We were from the same kind of background … All I wanted to be was a mummy … He promised me the moon."
The couple were married in 1969 and babies soon followed: daughters Kim in 1970 and Lee the following year, then a son who died, and then sons Daniel and Rhett in 1976 and 1979. (According to Betty's memoir, when she went into labour with their third child, who died soon after birth and was never named, Dan was on a ski trip. He was "angry" at being disturbed on his holiday by the news that his wife was giving birth to their son.)
While Betty was raising children, Dan was studying, first at Cornell to become a doctor and then at Harvard, to retrain as a lawyer. Both times Betty moved with him, working to support the family. This was an adjustment for Betty, who had grown up in a wealthy New York household where nothing was wanting.
"I don't remember my mother scrubbing floors, if you get the picture," she told the San Diego Reader. "Here I get married to this doctor, and all of a sudden I am turned into his maid."
After Dan's graduation from Harvard, the family relocated once more to San Diego.
There, Dan commanded an annual salary of $US1 million a year and boasted a fabulous social life among the legal set. The family took first-class holidays to Europe, threw parties for hundreds of people a few times a year and hosted dinners at home every week.
The cracks began to appear in 1982, when Dan hired Linda Kolkena, a 21-year-old former flight attendant, as his personal assistant. According to Betty, then 36, she suspected that they were having an affair the following year. The suspicion drove her to attempt suicide in 1983, after Daniel missed her birthday party.
In 1984, the Brodericks moved out of their family home. Betty would never return: In 1985, it was Linda who moved back in alongside Dan.
As the couple started to figure out the terms of their separation, things turned sour. In an interview with the San Diego Reader, Dan said Betty started dropping the children on his doorstep without telling him. He said that she would say, "You want to be apart from me. Well, see what it's like raising a family by yourself."
A court order prevented her from entering his home, but she broke in, throwing a wine bottle through the window, smearing a pie over Dan's bed, breaking mirrors and spray painting walls, all while the children watched. "They'd be crying," recalled Dan. "They couldn't control it. I couldn't control it."
The bitter divorce raged for five years. Betty believed that Dan's legal ties in the community prevented her from accessing a good lawyer - nobody wanted to take on the divorce of the president of the San Diego Bar Association.
In court testimony, she called herself "isolated" and "totally powerless".
The enormous media interest didn't help, either, as Betty and Dan's sordid private life was raked over for all their friends and family to read.
Custody of the four children was a major issue, as was financial compensation. In the end, Betty was granted $US16,100 a month plus a separate $28,000 in the settlement. Sole custody was granted to Dan.
The divorce didn't settle things between the couple, though. By the time of Linda and Dan's wedding in 1989, Betty had already threatened to kill Dan at least once. Dan was also withholding Betty's monthly support payments whenever he felt that she was harassing him, stopping the money if she swore, entered his property or took the children without his permission. According to Vulture, Betty saw this "leverage" as a "kind of abuse".
On November 4, the night before the murders, Dan had sent Betty a letter threatening to withdraw her access to their sons. That following morning, Betty entered Dan and Linda's home, who were then aged 44 and 28, and killed them both. She was picked up by the police shortly afterwards and charged with murder.
THE MURDER TRIALS
The media circus at the Broderick divorce was one thing, but press obsession with the murder case was something else. So much so, that Betty's trial became the first San Diego case to be broadcast on Court TV.
In fact, Betty sat through two trials. At the first, an army of supporters protested Betty's conviction, mostly women who had believed Betty to be a victim of domestic abuse, understandable psychological trauma at being left for a younger women and "legalised emotional terrorism".
"I believe every word Betty says - because I've been there," enthused one supporter.
The first trial in 1990 came back with a hung jury, with jurors unable to decide whether or not Betty had premeditated the murder.
"Although she had killed two people, she believed she was Dan's victim," mused a journalist at the Los Angeles Times.
Betty always alleged self defence. "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. "He was killing me - he and she were still doing it - in secret."
The second trial, in 1991, convicted Betty of second-degree murder and she was sentenced to 32 years to life in prison. She is still in a California jail today.
In 2017, her application for parole was denied, meaning that her next chance for release will come in 2032.
In a letter published in People magazine, Betty called herself "a political prisoner" as she called for her release.
"I have no one to speak for me," she wrote. "This was a case of domestic abuse: a pattern of coercive control that lasted throughout our marriage until the day I killed them."
Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story streams on Netflix now
Originally published as Mum behind horror love triangle murder