After Betty Broderick murdered her ex-husband and his new wife on November 5, 1989, many debated whether she’d been pushed beyond the limits of her mental endurance or driven by vengeance.
Who Is Betty Broderick?
On November 5, 1989, 41-year-old Betty Broderick shot and killed her ex-husband and his new wife in San Diego, California. The crime, which had been preceded by a bitter divorce, quickly became the subject of nationwide interest. Some were sympathetic to Broderick’s position as the first wife who’d been left behind for a younger woman, while others felt Broderick had harassed her ex and new spouse before murdering them. The first prosecution against Broderick ended in a mistrial but she was found guilty of second-degree murder at a second trial in 1991. Her requests for parole were denied in 2010 and 2017. Broderick’s story has been adapted for projects that include television movies and the series Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story.
Broderick was born as Elisabeth Anne Bisceglia on November 7, 1947. She grew up in Eastchester, New York, with five other siblings. As a 17-year-old first-year student at Mount Saint Vincent College, she traveled to see a football game at the University of Notre Dame in 1965. There she met Daniel “Dan” Broderick III, then a Notre Dame senior.
The pair married on April 12, 1969. After Dan finished his studies at Harvard Law, he, Broderick and their two daughters moved to San Diego in 1973.
For Broderick, her husband hiring Linda Kolkena to be his assistant was a turning point in her marriage. By 1983 she suspected an affair. When she believed these suspicions had been confirmed, she took Dan’s clothes into their yard to set them on fire. Dan separated from Broderick in February 1985, leaving her in a rental house while he returned to their home in La Jolla, a section of San Diego. He filed for divorce in September 1985.
During and after the contentious divorce proceedings, Broderick disobeyed restraining orders and made death threats. She once went to her husband’s house and spray painted the walls, and on another occasion, she smeared cream pie on Dan’s things. In her view she had no choice but to lash out because he was using his professional know-how and connections — he was president of the San Diego Bar Association — to harm her interests. Dan obtained full custody of their children and was able to sell the family home against Broderick’s wishes thanks to a court order.
Following the house sale, Broderick drove her car into the front door of Dan’s new home, which resulted in a three-day mental hold. She often left messages laden with profanities, later explaining it was a reaction to hearing Linda’s voice on the answering machine when she’d called to speak to her sons.
Dan tried to control Broderick’s behavior via the support he was paying her. He instituted a system of fines for different misdeeds, such as docking $100 if she used obscenities or $500 if she entered his house.
The divorce went through in 1986, though there were ongoing disputes about custody and alimony. Broderick was eventually awarded monthly support of $16,000, but she, a former socialite, felt this was not enough given her expenses. At one point she said, “I had nothing left to live on.”
Murder of Her Ex-Husband and His New Wife
On the morning of November 5, 1989, Broderick drove to Dan and Linda’s home in San Diego. Using keys that belonged to her daughter, Broderick entered the house and proceeded to the bedroom, where Dan and Linda were still in bed. Broderick then fired five bullets from her revolver. Two hit Linda, who died instantly, and one struck Dan.
Broderick later revealed in an interview with The Los Angeles Times that after she’d shot him Dan had said, “OK, OK, you got me.” She also stated, “He was on the floor, and the phone was right next to him. I thought, ‘Oh, my God! He is going to be on that phone before I’m down the stairs.” To prevent this, Broderick pulled the phone cord out of the wall before leaving him to die.
Broderick never denied killing Dan and Linda, though she claimed she’d entered their house because she wanted to confront them about ongoing legal troubles, after which she intended to commit suicide. In Broderick’s account, she was startled and pulled the trigger when Dan moved for the phone to call the police. She’d then had no bullets left to kill herself.
Trial and Sentence
Following the killings, Broderick was charged with murder. The first proceedings ended in a mistrial in November 1990 when jurors couldn’t settle between convicting her on murder or manslaughter charges. However, Broderick’s claims that she’d been a victim of abuse and manipulation didn’t keep the jury at her second trial from finding her guilty of two counts of second-degree murder in December 1991.
Broderick received a sentence of 32 years to life and was sent to prison. She became eligible for parole in 2010, but this was not approved. At the time one parole commissioner told her, “Your heart is still bitter, and you are still angry.” Broderick was again refused parole in 2017. After this, she wrote, “I have met all criteria for parole and my release date was 2010. Now I am only a political prisoner. They have no reason to deny my parole.”
Broderick’s next parole review is due in 2032, though she may be eligible for an earlier hearing if she meets requirements such as displaying good behavior.
Supporters of Broderick condemned the murders but felt she’d been ill-used by her husband. She’d supported him and their young family while he finished at Cornell University Medical School and went on to Harvard Law School, and had been at his side as he established himself as a medical malpractice attorney. When Dan’s law career was flourishing, with a million-dollar income, he’d left his first wife for a younger woman, depriving Broderick of the luxurious lifestyle they’d both striven for.
Broderick’s detractors believed she’d tormented and stalked her ex before murdering him and his new wife.
Movies, TV Shows and Books
The killings drew immediate attention, with Broderick’s trials televised by Court TV. She inspired two popular TV movies in the early 1990s: A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story and Her Final Fury: Betty Broderick, the Last Chapter. Oprah Winfrey interviewed Broderick for her talk show. Several books have been written about Broderick and her actions. In 2020, the series Snapped and Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story revisited Broderick’s case.
Broderick and Dan had four children together: daughters Kim (b. 1970) and Lee (b. 1971), and sons Daniel IV (b. 1976) and Rhett (b. 1979). After Broderick killed her ex-husband, the two younger children ended up in the care of their paternal uncle’s ex-wife (by then her daughters were legal adults).
Broderick has been in contact with her children while in prison. “She’s a nice lady,” Rhett said on Oprah’s 20th Anniversary Follow-Up Show in 2005. “Everyone here would like her…if they spoke with her on any topic other than my dad.”
Two of Broderick’s children supported her release on parole in 2010, while the others opposed her leaving prison.