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Betty Broderick is coming back to TV. What to know about the real-life murder case

Betty Broderick is the subject of the new season of "Dirty John"
Defense attorney Jack Earley with his client Elisabeth “Betty” Broderick at a 1990 preliminary hearing.
(Howard Lipin/San Diego Union-Tribune)
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Betty Broderick and the 1989 double murder she committed against her ex-husband and his new wife were a saga that dominated national headlines with its themes of marital infidelities and a fractured suburban ideal. It’s back in the spotlight more than 30 years later as the subject of the new season of “Dirty John.”

The first season of “Dirty John,” adapted from the popular L.A. Times podcast of the same name, told the story of the real-life sordid romance between Debra Newell, a wealthy interior-design businesswoman, and con man John Meehan, which ultimately came to a deadly end. The anthology series now has its true crime sights on Broderick, who killed her ex-husband, Daniel Broderick, and his second wife, Linda.

Subtitled “The Betty Broderick Story,” the new season is once again helmed by Alexandra Cunningham (“Chance,” “Aquarius”). While the first season ran on Bravo — as the reality-heavy network attempted to bolster its scripted slate — the sophomore outing has moved to sister channel USA Network. (Full disclosure: “Dirty John” is produced in association with Los Angeles Times Studios.)

Ahead of the drama’s two-hour premiere Tuesday (its first two episodes will run back-to-back), we dug through our archives for a primer on the case.

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Amanda Peet in "Dirty John"
Amanda Peet as Betty Broderick in the second season of “Dirty John.”
(Isabella Vosmikova / USA)

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Who is Betty Broderick?

Born Elisabeth Anne Bisceglia on Nov. 7, 1947, Betty grew up in the New York suburb of Bronxville with her Roman Catholic parents, Frank and Marita, and five siblings. As the daughter of a successful New York City building contractor, Betty was accustomed to a comfortable lifestyle: She received a private Catholic school education and enjoyed a stocked wardrobe, while her father earned enough money to join the local country club.

Betty attended and later graduated from the College of Mount St. Vincent, a Catholic women’s school in New York, with a degree in English. It was around the time she began college in 1965 that Betty began a courtship with Daniel T. Broderick III. She had traveled from New York with a friend to a football weekend at the University of Notre Dame, when she met Dan, who was beginning his senior year. They would marry in April 1969 at the Immaculate Conception Church near Betty’s parents’ home.

The couple eventually set down roots in La Jolla and became socially prominent figures in their local circle. Dan developed a successful career as a medical malpractice attorney (with degrees from both Harvard Law School and the Cornell School of Medicine), while Betty tended to their home and their four children — daughters Kim and Lee and sons Rhett and Daniel — while maintaining a busy social calendar.

But the good life turned sour when Betty suspected Dan was having an affair with his young office assistant, Linda Kolkena. Betty and Dan ultimately divorced in 1985 after 16 years of marriage. A bitter battle ensued for the next five years: Broderick vs. Broderick, finalized in 1989, would be known as San Diego County’s worst divorce case of the time.

Dan Broderick married Linda later that year.

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Key Times articles about the case of La Jolla Socialite Betty Broderick, convicted of murdering her ex-husband and his new wife in 1989.

Christian Slater and Amanda Peet in Season 2 of "Dirty John."
Christian Slater and Amanda Peet as Dan and Betty Broderick in Season 2 of “Dirty John.”
(Isabella Vosmikova/USA Network)

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What was Betty’s crime?

The contentious relationship between Dan and Betty took a new turn in early November 1989. Dan was threatening to file criminal contempt charges against Betty, who continued to leave lewd messages on his and Linda’s answering machine.

A few days later, in the wee hours of Nov. 5, 1989, Betty shot Dan and Linda to death in bed at their home in San Diego’s Marston Hills neighborhood. Betty had gained entry using her eldest daughter’s key to the house.

She fired five shots from a .38-caliber revolver. According to a 1990 Los Angeles Times Magazine article by Amy Wallace, “one bullet hit a bedside table. Another pounded into the wall. But three bullets struck the sleeping couple. One pierced Linda’s neck and lodged in her brain. Another hit her in the chest. A third perforated Dan’s back, fracturing a rib and tearing through his right lung.”

Later that day, Betty Broderick turned herself in to police.

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What was her sentence?

Two trials followed the killing of Dan and Linda. The first began in October 1990 and included Betty’s two eldest children, daughters Kim and Lee, testifying against her. Testifying in her own defense, Broderick maintained that the killings were not premeditated — the burden of proof for first-degree murder — because her intention had been to confront Dan and to kill herself that fateful night. The trial ended in a hung jury, with 10 jurors pressing for murder and two holding out for manslaughter.

In the second trial, in 1991, Broderick was ultimately convicted on two counts of murder and two counts of using a firearm in the commission of a felony. She was sentenced to 32 years to life in prison.

Now 72, Broderick is serving her time at the California Institute for Women. She was denied parole in 2010 and 2017. She will not be eligible for parole again until 2032, when she will be 84.

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The Betty Broderick case was dramatized in a CBS made-for-TV movie.
Stephen Collins and Meredith Baxter in “A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story.”
(Tony Esparza/CBS)

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Has Hollywood dramatized this story before?

Hollywood wasted little time dramatizing the case. A few weeks after Broderick’s conviction and sentencing, CBS released the made-for-TV movie “A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story,” based on Wallace’s magazine article. The telepic starred Meredith Baxter (“Family Ties”) as Betty opposite Stephen Collins (“7th Heaven”) as Dan. (Baxter received an Emmy nomination for her portrayal.)

Broderick scoffed at its depiction of her in an interview with Wallace.

“In one scene, I’m in a negligee, or something feathery, doing my nails. But I’ve bitten my nails my whole life,” she said. “Anyway, Dan’s on the phone. And I say, ‘We can’t go to New York because of my manicure appointment.’ That was never me.”

“According to the movie,” she added, “I am exactly what Dan Broderick told everybody I was — an unstable, crazy bitch that went around doing crazy things. And Dan and Linda are these simple, innocent people that just want peace. Ha!”

A few months later, in fall 1992, came the conclusion to the story: “Her Final Fury: Betty Broderick, the Last Chapter,” which focused on the aftermath of the tragedy as Broderick stood trial.

The case was also dramatized in a Season 4 episode of “Deadly Women,” “Till Death Do us Part,” and inspired a 1991 episode of “Law & Order” titled “The Wages of Love.”