Betty Broderick: Cold-Blooded Killer Or Emotionally Abused Wife?

The mother of four sparked a national debate after she shot dead her ex-husband and his new spouse in 1989.

Elisabeth "Betty" Broderick being led by marshals through the hallways of the downtown San Diego County Courthouse, 1991. [Associated Press]

Elisabeth "Betty" Broderick being led by marshals through the hallways of the downtown San Diego County Courthouse, 1991. [Associated Press]

By: Aaron Rasmussen

When Elisabeth Anne Bisceglia and Daniel T. Broderick III first began seriously dating in 1966, it seemed like they might be the perfect match — but their volatile relationship would infamously come to a bloody end 23 years later.

“He was very ambitious, very intelligent and very funny. And I am those three things. We were from the same kind of background. We both wanted the same things in the future,” Elisabeth, who went by the name Betty, recalled to The Los Angeles Times in 1990.

In the beginning, she noted, Dan promised her the moon and asked her “to marry him every day for three years.”

Betty eventually said yes, and the couple walked down the aisle together on April 12, 1969. Dan, who had graduated three years earlier from New York’s Cornell University, went on to study law at Harvard in Boston. After he finished, the Brodericks moved with their growing family to La Jolla, California.

While Dan became increasingly successful as a lawyer in the medical malpractice field, Betty threw herself into raising their two daughters and two sons — “All I wanted to be was a mommy,” she once said — and the couple became a fixture on the local social scene. But behind closed doors, both Betty and Dan later contended the life they had built together was anything but wedded bliss.

In June 1988, Dan sat for an interview with the San Diego Reader and said Betty struggled with their relationship from the start.

On a regular basis, he said, “she expressed extreme unhappiness with me, and my dedication to my work, and my profession, and my attitude toward her and our children.”

He noted their marriage was just weeks old when she asked him for a divorce for the first time, and their relationship only grew more toxic as the years rolled by.

“There were requests, demands, for divorce, hundreds of times. I mean hundreds of times! I’m not exaggerating,” he said.

Dan conceded the two had “real incompatibility problems” but admitted the role he played in their marital issues. “I was far from the kind of good, loving husband I could have been,” he told the Reader.

In 1983, Betty began to suspect her husband was cheating with an office assistant named Linda Kolkena, but Dan denied he was having an affair whenever she confronted him.

“The people who knew me before 1983 knew the real me," Betty told the LA Times. “1983 was like an ax through my life.”

Still, the couple continued to live together as their relationship unraveled.

“I called the police. ‘What can you do about this?’” Dan recalled asking officers after incidents he said included Betty breaking windows and destroying a stereo and other possessions.

He claimed police told him: “You don’t have a court order. It’s her house. She can do whatever she wants.”

Dan finally filed for divorce in September 1985. The decision kicked off a bitter war that would have deadly consequences.

“He literally walked out three months after his 40th birthday party — with a red Corvette and a 21-year-old. Are we the American joke or not? If you weren’t my husband, I’d think you were real funny,” Betty said of her ex, according to the San Diego Reader. “He’s got a scarf around his neck, and he wanted those Ray-Ban sunglasses from Risky Business. I said, ‘You’re it! You’re it! You are the cover of Midlife Crisis magazine. Cool, Dan. Cool.’”

The Los Angeles Times reported Betty went on a rampage after the split, doing everything from smashing her car into his front door to spray-painting the inside of the home they once shared.

Betty claimed her ex was trying to steal away their children and cheat her out of money, while Dan countered she was harassing him and making serious threats.

The couple’s divorce was finalized in the summer of 1986, but the acrimonious situation only continued to grow more heated before it finally came to a devastating conclusion three years later.

In the fall of 1989, Betty reportedly received legal papers from Dan ordering her to stop leaving obscene messages on his and his now-second-wife Linda’s answering machine or face criminal contempt charges.

Betty snapped.

Before dawn on Nov. 5, Betty drove to the couple’s home near downtown San Diego and entered using a key she had taken from her oldest daughter, Kim.

Making her way up the stairs of the darkened home, Betty found Dan and Linda’s master bedroom and went inside. She later recalled how she aimed her five-chamber .38 caliber revolver toward the bed where the two were sleeping and emptied it with “no hesitation at all” and “real fast.”

The LA Times reported Linda was killed instantly after a bullet tore through her neck and into her brain and another struck her in the chest. A third bullet pierced Dan’s back and right lung, which filled with blood, causing him to slowly suffocate and die.

After the murders, Betty turned herself into police and confessed. She later defended her actions to The Los Angeles Times, claiming her ex-husband was guilty of “overt emotional terrorism” and his legal threats were like “putting a housewife in the ring with Muhammad Ali.”

“I have never had emotional disturbance or mental illness — except when he provoked a ‘disturbance.’ My ‘emotional outbursts’ were only a response to Dan's calculating, hateful way of dealing with our divorce,” Betty said.

“This was a desperate act of self-defense,” she continued, adding, “He was hammering into me and everyone else that I was crazy…. How long can you live like that?”

In his interview with the San Diego Reader before the shooting, Dan said his ex-wife was “filled with hatred.”

“All I want is peace and quiet,” he claimed. “I left her and she’s mad about it. And she cannot let go of it.”

She's a nice lady. Everyone here would like her…if they spoke with her on any topic other than my dad.

Son Rhett Broderick

During Betty’s first trial, defense lawyers argued she was a battered wife traumatized from years of mental abuse and cruelty. Prosecutors alleged Betty was a cold-blooded killer bent on revenge.

The proceedings ended in a hung jury after two jurors believed Betty’s actions amounted to manslaughter rather than premeditated murder.

In 1991, a second jury came back with a unanimous guilty verdict and convicted Betty of two counts of second-degree murder.

A judge sentenced her to a term of 32 years to life. Betty, now 72, is currently incarcerated at the California Institution for Women in Chino and will next be eligible for parole in 2032.

“In my heart, I know my mother is a good person, but along the way she got lost,” Betty’s eldest son, Dan Broderick, 44, told CBS in 2010. “Releasing a lost person into society could be a dangerous mistake.”

Dan’s younger brother, however, expressed a different viewpoint during a 1992 interview with Oprah Winfrey.

“She's a nice lady. Everyone here would like her…if they spoke with her on any topic other than my dad,” Rhett Broderick, 41, said. “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.”

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