The True Story Behind ‘Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story’

Dirty John

This article contains spoilers for Dirty John: The Betty Broderick story as it follows real-life events.

In 2018, season one of Dirty John was a runaway success.

Starring Australia’s own Eric Bana, the crime series, based on real events, chronicled the life of Debra Newell (Connie Britton) after she meets the charismatic, handsome and charming Meehan. Sweeping her off her feet in a whirlwind romance, the pair quickly marry, however, her daughters feel like something is not right and set out to prove their new step-dad is a conman.

Now, the anthology crime series is back for a second season and this time it’s based on what Oprah Winfrey called one of “America’s messiest divorces” — and that was before it ended in a double homicide.

In Dirty John: The Betty Broderick story premiering on Netflix on August 14, socialite Betty Broderick (Amanda Peet) hits a homicidal boiling point during a bitter divorce from her unfaithful husband, Dan (Christian Slater).

The true story, a multi headline-making crime took place in the 60s, spanning two decades and is as chilling as it sounds.

In November 1989, after years of horrific fighting and legal proceedings spurred on by Daniel Broderick’s infidelity, Betty Broderick shot and killed her ex-husband and his new wife, Linda Kolkena, in their bedroom. Since her conviction in 1991, Betty has been serving a 32 year to a life sentence in prison.

The wild story encompasses a wide net of family and friends, including Broderick’s four children, and their elite friends of socialites, medical and legal professionals.

Dirty John

Who were the Broderick’s?

Betty and Dan Broderick married in 1969 after meeting at the University of Norte Dame in New York.

After the first child, Kimberly was born, Dan got his medical degree at Cornell and then decided to pursue a law degree at Harvard.

It was at this time, that Betty worked to support the family. Following this, the couple had three more children, Lee, Daniel IV and Rhett.

In 1973, they moved to La Jolla in San Diego, after Dan got a job offer at a law firm. Here, he moved up within the company and became a successful malpractice lawyer before starting his own company in 1978.

The couple seemingly had the “perfect” life. They were wealthy, had a stunning social life, were good looking, owned a boat, had a ski condo in Colorado and belonged to two country clubs. Their children attended only the very best private schools.

Dirty John
Betty and Dan Broderick.

What happened to their marriage?

In 1982, Dan hired 21-year-old Linda Kolkena as his legal assistant and it was not long after that Betty began to suspect he was being unfaithful.

Dan denied the affair and accused his wife of being crazy — however, Betty turned out to be right.

The pair separated and Dan moved out of the family home and back into a house they had been renovating. Betty dropped the children back one by one and was met with a court order that forbid her from entering the home.

Betty, angry and distressed, managed to enter the house and vandalised it with spray paint, smashed mirrors and even smeared a pie on their bed. She also left vile and threatening voice messages which were later used as evidence.

In 1985, Dan filed for divorce, which took up to four years to finalise. The couple fought over everything. Money, their children and property — however, Dan had the upper hand, due to his legal prowess.

As Betty dropped her children off at his house, Dan used this against her, winning sole custody and in 1989, their divorce was finalised.

Four months later, Dan and Kolkena married. At the wedding, he hired security guards to protect himself and his family.

Dirty John
Linda Kolkena and Dan Broderick.

The Murders

After years of custody battles, legal proceedings and emotional upheaval – with Dan even having Betty arrested and briefly committed into a mental hospital — Betty used her eldest daughter’s key to enter her ex-husband’s home in Marston Hills in the dead of the night.

According to her own account with the Los Angeles Times, the mother-of-four climbed the stairs and entered the master bedroom where Dan and Linda slept.

She pointed her .38-caliber, five-shot revolver and began firing “real fast”, she would later recall.

There was “no hesitation at all”. While two bullets hit objects in the room, three bullets struck her targets.

Dan was shot in the back, while Kolkena, had a bullet shoot through her neck and one lodge into her brain.

According to Broderick, she heard her former husband say, “Ok, Ok, you got me”, before he “dove to the floor, landing near the bedside telephone”.

Betty then pulled the phone out of the wall and fled before turning herself in.

Dirty John
Court TV.

What happened next?

Betty became a symbol for a woman scorned, however, women saw themselves in her — she had been broken by her husband, deprived of family, friends and her opulent way of life.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1990, she told reporter Amy Wallace: “He went off with the bimbo at 40, driving a red Corvette — haven’t we heard this before?”

At the time, she was in the Las Colinas Women’s Detention Facility and told Wallace that if Dan had settled the divorce to “her liking”, she would have 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.

“I have never had emotional disturbance or mental illness — except when he provoked a ‘disturbance,’ ” she spat. “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?”

After the story went to print, thousands of women wrote to Betty, not agreeing with murder, but understanding how she had gotten to the point where she needed to kill.

Betty, who is still serving time in prison, was testified against by her own daughters, Kim and Lee.

“Well, I love her, but I am mad at her,” Kim said during a testimony found on CourtTV.com.

In 2015, she wrote a memoir called Telling on Myself, where she said that she did not expect this ending for her family.

“I absolutely adore my children, from the first moment of the day to the last, and still do. They were my priority and I wanted so badly for them to have a happy childhood.”

As for her children, they occasionally visited her in prison, however, in an interview with the San Diego Reader in 1998, she said she had asked them to stay away during the holidays.

“I didn’t want for all their memories of those times to be of visiting Mom in prison,” she said.

In an interview with Oprah, youngest son Rhett said that he had been shuffled between family members as a child and believed his mother should be released from prison.

“She’s a nice lady,” he said. “Everyone here would like her … if they spoke with her on any topic other than my dad. Keeping her in prison isn’t really helping her. She’s not a danger to society — the only two people she was a danger to are dead.”

Stream Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story from August 18, only on Netflix.

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