For so long, she wanted so badly to talk about her relationship with Daniel Broderick. Betty Broderick wanted to tell the their divorce and the awful injustice she felt she had suffered because of her ex-husband’s stature and influence within the local legal community; but she was also eager to disclose every detail of her long courtship and marriage to Dan. Today, many reporters want to interview her, now that Dan and his beautiful, young second wife are dead and Betty is under arrest for their murder. But Betty’s attorney has ordered her to keep silent. It must be yet one more bitter kernel for Betty to choke on.
It’s not that Betty couldn’t get the attention of any reporters before now. Over the years, she talked to a succession of them, including Paul Krueger and me from this newspaper. I assume the others, like us, initially listened to Betty’s story with a similar thrill of journalistic excitement: This was the worst divorce case ever to unfold in San Diego County. Most tantalizing of all were Betty’s allegations that the local legal network had blocked her from getting justice. “I’ve been forced into a legal system that Dan controls. And it’s obvious I’m getting screwed,” she told me last year. Dan countered, “She’d like me to be destroyed.”
Looking back on her 16-year marriage to Dan, Betty told me that the best part about it “was that he’s real smart, and I’m real smart. We both were very athletic. We’re both real funny. And I was a credit to him, and he was a credit to me.”
When we talked, early in the summer of 1988, Betty Broderick was not one to remember her failed marriage with misty eyes. Mostly, she described her wedding and early married life as a fall from an idyllic youth into catastrophe. She says she grew up in the New York suburb of Bronxville, “a very pretty, lovely place.
And everybody was just like me. We wore Villager clothes. And I went to Catholic, all-girls schools, all the way through college. I lived at home for college. Before I married him, I’d never been away from home. My social life was with kids just like me.”
She was one of six children of a successful New York City building contractor. “We had country clubs and cars,” Betty said. “My mom’s real social, so we had lots of clothes and designer things. I had a maid when I was growing up. Not that she was a slave. But our house ran very smoothly. I don’t remember my mother scrubbing floors, if you get the picture. My laundry magically got done. I don’t remember who did it, but I know I didn’t! And here I get married to this doctor, and all of a sudden I am turned into his maid.”
Later, I learned that Betty is not exactly a stickler for precision; when she married Dan, he was actually a third-year student in medical school. They met when she was not quite 18, in October of 1965. She’d been invited to a football weekend at the University of Notre Dame. Dan was just beginning his senior year there and was looking forward to starting medical school at Cornell University’s Manhattan campus. Betty says after that casual introduction, Dan told his friends that Betty was the woman he would marry. (Dan denied this to us.)
Pictures of Betty back then reveal a girl of enchanting beauty: wholesome, all-American, glowing, as pretty as a young Jane Fonda. Dan, on the other hand, was pale, gangly, shorter than she. Betty might not have been swept away at their first meeting, but she says that when Dan moved to New York the following year, she fell in love with him on their very first date. She says it may sound foolish, but “the instant I saw him, it was like a lightning bolt, that sudden and that intense,” she recalls of that meeting in the fall of 1966.
In New York, they dated for two and a half years, while Betty finished her undergraduate degree. On April 12, 1969, they had a huge formal wedding in Immaculate Conception Church, not far from the home of Betty’s parents. Although Betty’s mother and Dan battled over Dan’s wedding attire (he won), her parents approved of the match, Betty said. “After all, I was marrying a doctor. What else does any mother want? He was 99 percent already a doctor, and he was from a Catholic family, and he wasn’t from a divorced family. And he went to Notre Dame, and I went to Mount St. Vincent, so everything kind of fit in.” And then “my life just went to the dogs so fast!” according to Betty.
When she has appeared in court since the murders of Dan and his second wife, Betty has looked wan and bloated. But in the summer of 1988, although she had gained 60 pounds since her marriage (under the stress of all that had happened, she said), she still cut a striking figure: She reminded me of a middle-aged Doris Day, still pert and pretty, if plump. She always gave the impression she’d be right at home onstage — armed with the sort of cutting, manic humor some of the best comics train upon their favorite targets.
And one of her favorite targets was her early married life, a sort of Newlywed in Hell. From her parents’ mansion, she moved into Dan’s room in the single students’ quarters at Cornell’s medical school, where Dan was completing his third year. A few weeks after returning from their honeymoon, Betty was shocked to discover she was pregnant. Though her gynecologist had assured her that (due to a uterine malformation) she was sure to lose the baby, she not only carried it but managed to conceal the pregnancy for months from her co-workers at the school where she taught third grade. Then the baby was born more than a month early. “We literally had nothing, not a single diaper or shirt, and nowhere to put her down,” Betty recalled. “We put her in a dresser drawer, and my mother had Saks Fifth Avenue deliver a few clothing essentials.” Almost immediately, Betty began to earn some money by caring for another couple’s baby, along with her own newborn daughter, and a few months later, Dan got his medical degree.
That diploma didn’t open the door to a life of luxury. Dan had early decided he wouldn’t be happy working as a physician, and he instead resolved to combine that background with a law practice. “Dan is very intelligent, very determined. When he wants something, he gets it,” Betty said. “And he wanted a big house, big cars, big boats. I can’t blame a person for that.” She could and did complain about Dan’s decision to go full-time to Harvard Law School. “He could have taken a job and gone to law school at night, but no. He was accepted at Virginia, but he said, ‘You can’t say no to Harvard.’ And he was right.” So the young Broderick family moved to Boston.
There Dan plunged into the bracing currents of law school. Meanwhile, Betty was “living in the slums with no car, ’cause the car was stolen,” she recalled. “I used to have to go out on the bus at night, when he’d come home to study, with plastic bags of dirty baby diapers. We didn’t get a washer and dryer till we were married for seven years! No one in the whole neighborhood spoke English. They spoke Portuguese. I mean, I know French, but Portuguese! We lived in the factory district, and the mothers went to work, so the grandmothers were the ones who were in the playground; these real old ladies with no teeth.”
Revved up, electric, Betty went on to say that her husband, in the meantime, “always looked like a million bucks. In medical school, he had tailored med coats that were double-breasted, with his initials on the cuff.” (Dan contended that his med coats had his initials on the pocket and were standard issue, no different from those of his fellow students.) “Looking back,” Betty said, “I think I was the stupidest person in the whole world. But see, then I thought, ‘Oh, he works so hard. He’s under so much pressure.’ And I was happy with my babies.” (Betty had a second daughter, then became pregnant with a third child, who subsequently died at birth, all while Dan was studying at Harvard.)
In a June 1988 interview, Dan Broderick said it was a serious distortion for Betty to say she happily accepted the early years of their marriage. “She was never happy with me,” Broderick declared. A moment later, he revised that statement. “That is an exaggeration. It wasn’t true that she was never happy with me. There were periods of time when she was. But on a regular basis, she expressed extreme unhappiness with me, and my dedication to my work, and my profession, and my attitude toward her and our children.” If the young Dan Broderick looked like something of a nerd, no one who met him in recent years would ever guess that. Impeccably tailored, the 44-year-old attorney could have passed for a man in his mid-30s, one of striking good looks. (“He’s finally maturing,” Betty conceded sourly. “Now most men his age are overweight and balding, but Dan has gained some weight, and it looks great.”)
Just two weeks after his wedding to Betty, she asked him for a divorce, Dan stated in that 1988 interview. “I swear to God! I couldn’t believe it. I was 24 years old. She was upset with me. She would never tell me [why]. She would say, ‘If you don’t know what I’m upset about, then you’ve got a real problem. I don’t want to talk about it. I want to be divorced.’ ” Later, Dan said, “There were requests, demands, for divorce, hundreds of times. I means hundreds of times! I’m not exaggerating.”
Though the emotional strain in the Broderick marriage persisted, the most extreme financial pressure finally began to abate in the summer of 1973, when the family moved to San Diego. The summer before, Dan had interned in a Los Angeles law office, and at that time he had lined up a job at Gray, Cary, Ames & Frye, San Diego’s most prestigious law firm. “Gray, Cary ended up being the end-all and the be-all of our lives,” Betty said. “All of my friends were wives and children of attorneys. Every single one.”
The firm encouraged this in-house camaraderie with a constant round of parties and social events, but Betty said she and her family still were living on a budget. Dan had to start paying off his school loans, and the family was setting up its first permanent household. The Brodericks rented a house in Clairemont, but when a fire destroyed much of it, they used the insurance money as a down payment on a five-bedroom place on Coral Reef Avenue on the southern slope of Mt. Soledad. Betty said they moved there with virtually no furniture, and even after her third child, a son, was born in 1976, she continued to work nights as a cashier and hostess at the Black Angus restaurant in Kearny Mesa. According to her, the family only became “solvent” around 1979. “I can remember because we built a swimming pool in the back yard. And that’s a luxury, right? We financed it onto the house, so it wasn’t like we paid cash for it or anything, but we were able to increase the house payment a little. So, in my mind, that’s when he had some money.”
The previous year, 1978, Dan had left Gray, Cary to start his own one-man law practice. Specializing in malpractice suits against physicians, Dan worked tirelessly to develop the business, and his reputation as a tough-minded, unyielding litigator spread. “Anybody who’s had Dan Broderick on the other side thinks he’s a royal jerk,” one veteran local attorney told me that summer in 1988. “He’s so difficult to deal with. He’s the coldest man you’ll ever meet, unless he wants something from you.” That drive brought financial reward. Betty estimated that “he made more in his first three months than he would have in a year if he had stayed on at Gray, Cary.” (Dan hotly disputed this.) Within a few years, the family was enjoying a way of life not merely “solvent” but downright opulent. They joined both La Jolla and Fairbanks Ranch country clubs; they acquired a ski condo, a boat. “By 1982 my budget was absolutely unlimited,” Betty stated. She undertook lavish interior decoration projects and began to indulge her passion for designer fashions.
“We were both successful, very high achieving people,” she told me. Of the traditional roles both played in the marriage, she said, “Our relationship was what it took in the old way. I had all the skills he needed at home. He needed me to give him the legitimacy and normalcy of a wife who could entertain and have the kids and be a respectable family. And I needed him to bring home the bacon so that I could have all the kids and the car and the trips and the house. And it worked great! That was the deal.”
‘‘She glosses over a lot when she says we were both happy” with this arrangement, Dan declared. “She tells my children that we had a blissful, happy, healthy marriage until I went crazy when I was 40. That’s just pure fiction! It’s a figment of her imagination that’s not even close.” In reality, the marriage was tumultuous throughout its course, he said, cursed with “real incompatibility problems.” Some were her fault, he said; but “I was far from the kind of good, loving husband I could have been,” Dan readily admitted.
This was the background to what Betty described as a crucial event in the spring of 1983. “We were at a cocktail party, like we always were.”
There she heard her husband comment to someone, “Wow, isn’t she beautiful?” and she was immediately curious about the object of his comment. “I have lots of friends who are real pretty. One is a former Miss America. I mean, she gets out of the shower beautiful. And yet I’d never heard Dan say, ‘Wow, she’s pretty’ about anybody!” In this case, according to Betty, Dan was admiring the 21-year-old receptionist named Linda Kolkena who worked on his floor at 401 West A Street.
Betty let the remark pass; at the time, it didn’t seem to have much significance. And she couldn’t keep too close an eye on Dan throughout the summer of 1983, because she and the four children (the last boy had been born in 1979) spent a month or so driving and camping throughout the western United States, while Dan remained in San Diego, working. But when Betty returned, she suspected that Dan had begun an affair with the receptionist, and those suspicions intensified when Betty learned that Dan had hired the young woman to be his legal assistant.
There were scenes, hysterics, but Dan resolutely denied being unfaithful. Betty gave him an ultimatum: fire the woman by October 1 or move out of the house. Dan simply ignored the ultimatum and told his wife she was crazy to suspect him. Betty said she began to get reports from friends and acquaintances who were seeing Dan and Linda in various social settings around town. But each time she confronted her husband with this information, he gave her a plausible explanation. “And I sort of believed it. But it got to the point where you had to be blind, stupid, and everything else in order to believe it.”
Betty became convinced he was having an affair by the time Dan’s 39th birthday rolled around on November 22, 1983. Dan had told her how he wanted to celebrate: with a family dinner of roast beef, followed by homemade birthday cake. But one of Betty’s close friends had been urging her to start going down to Dan’s office, making her wifely presence felt there, so Betty decided to surprise her husband with a visit. She arrived in the afternoon only to be told by the receptionist that Dan and Linda had left about 11:00 a.m. and hadn’t yet returned. “I waited till like five,” Betty said. “They never came back. And that’s when I saw the refrigerator and my wedding crystal and all this imported wine. And the stereo. And his picture on her desk. Only it was a picture that was taken of him before we were married.” (Asked about this incident, Dan stated he and Linda went to lunch and then to a deposition. He confirmed having the stereo and refrigerator but denied the imported wine, wedding crystal, and portrait of himself on Linda’s desk.)
So Betty returned home, removed most of Dan’s clothes from his closet, and placed the pile in her back yard, where she doused it with gasoline and put a match to it. “Would I do it again? You bet,” she told me. “I don’t know what I could have done more dramatic, more emphatic, more serious, short of killing him.”
As destructive as the gesture was, the Broderick family somehow continued intact. Dan ignored Betty’s order to move out, and faced with his barren closet, “He just ordered all new tailor-made clothes,” said Betty. “His tailor loved me.”
According to her, she and Dan even began to talk about selling their house on Coral Reef Avenue and building a dream house on another lot. The Coral Reef house had a cracked slab, however, for which she says the couple’s insurance company rewarded them a handsome settlement.
(“For so many years, I was on the right side of the law,” Betty remarked bitterly.) She said the family decided to move into a rental house in La Jolla Shores while the Coral Reef house was repaired, then to sell it and erect their own monument to the good life. They settled into the five-bedroom rental house in the fall of 1984 and lived there together for several months.
Dan finally moved out, alone, in the spring of 1985. “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. 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.’”
Betty said Dan continued to deny his affair with his office assistant. When he moved out, Dan told Betty he merely “needed some space,” and he settled back into the house on Coral Reef, where the repairs were nearing completion.
A curious thing happened after Dan’s departure, something Betty consistently glossed over in her version of the events:
She began taking her children and depositing them on Dan’s doorstep. “It was a classic case of abandonment,” says one observer, who is intimately familiar with the chain of events. When I asked Betty directly about this, she replied that she sent one daughter to live with Dan because the girl had fought with her younger sister. According to Betty, she sent the other children to Dan’s only when she moved out of the rental house and into another La Jolla Shores residence that was in poor repair.
When I questioned Dan about this (in June of last year), he stated that he had no furniture in the Coral Reef house but he nonetheless suddenly found himself with the children. Betty “would just leave them there with their personal things, their clothes, and wouldn’t tell me they were coming, and just drop them there. ‘Here. They’re yours. You want to be apart from me. Well, see what it’s like raising a family by yourself.’ ”
Not long afterward, according to Dan, Betty began lapsing into violence. “She would come into the house whenever she wanted to, but in June 1985, she started on the rampages. Throwing stuff through the windows and breaking mirrors and spray-painting the walls. I mean, unbelievable things. She would always say that I provoked her, that she was upset with me because I did something or other. At one time, I had taken the kids to get haircuts, and she was expecting them at a soccer game. I didn’t know they were supposed to be at a soccer game. I’m not that kind of person, that I would take them to get a haircut just to spite her. I came back and there were hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars in damage. I mean, windows broken, and chandeliers cracked, and a stereo smashed. It was unbelievable stuff.
“I called the police. ‘What can you do about this?’ ‘Nothing. You don’t have a court order. It’s her house. She can do whatever she wants.’ They wouldn’t even take a report.” So finally, on September 23, 1985, Dan filed for divorce.
Earlier that month, Betty had received some warning of a change in her relationship with her husband. “He came and told me that he wanted me to be paying my own bills.... He sat me down and said, now you should have this for this, and this for that, and this for that.” The calculations resulted in Dan’s drawing up an agreement to pay Betty an “allowance” of almost $9000 per month — an annual income of more than $105,000 per year, tax-free (he also agreed to continue paying for insurance, taxes, club dues, and boat fees).
Yet Betty maintained that his divorce petition surprised her. “I give everyone the benefit of the doubt until they come up and shoot me between the eyes,” she said. “So I was real surprised and upset, and I needed a lawyer fast.”
Betty’s life, of course, was saturated with lawyers. Dan was on the board of directors of the San Diego County Bar Association (he served as president in 1987), and Betty said, “Everyone used to ask me who the good attorneys are, as much as they asked Dan. And I used to know.” Once the divorce seemed inevitable, she says she knew what she needed. “I needed a killer, an intelligent, button-down, smart-ass attorney — and in the divorce business there are very few of those!”
Right from the start, she said she eliminated some of this town’s hottest family-law specialists because of their friendships with her husband. “I could not call Mike Love because Dan knows him. Also Dan sent a lot of business to Rex Jones. I couldn’t call Jerry McMahon because Dan and he were friends.” Ned Huntington, a divorce specialist who last year followed Dan as president of the bar, also was a good buddy of Dan’s.
Betty did call other local attorneys — she estimated that she ultimately contacted some 60 to 100 of them. She judged most of them to be inadequate to the challenge of facing off in court against Dan and his attorney. But Betty also reeled off the names of many illustrious divorce lawyers who declined to take her case, citing various reasons. Betty didn’t have a lawyer in July of 1986, when the divorce decree was granted. In the end, Betty even missed that event herself. “I thought if I didn’t go and I didn’t have an attorney, I could get it put off until I did,” she said. But she thought wrong, and on July 16, 1986, Judge Milton Milkes decreed that Dan and Betty Broderick were divorced, and Dan would have sole custody of the four children.
When I met her, two years later, the courts still had not decided how the Brodericks’ community property would be divided. Dan and Betty also seemed deeply split over the question of how much monthly support Dan should pay her. In late 1986, Betty had argued that instead of the monthly $9000 (plus household maintenance fees) Dan had been paying voluntarily, he should be ordered to pay her $20,000 to $25,000 per month.
Betty told me she didn’t want anyone to read that and say, “Can you believe this bitch?” She said she realized most people would think $9000 a month was paradise.
“I realize I’m a very lucky person,” she said. “I’m healthy, and I have more than most people ever would in their lifetime.”
But one had to remember how much Dan earned, she contended. Though the divorce records that would clarify that amount were sealed at Dan’s request, Betty showed me tax records that indicated that Dan’s personal income was $760,522 in 1984, $611,443 in 1985, and $1,373,476 in 1986.
(That year, his corporation grossed $1,853,547.) Dan’s monthly earnings for the 12 months from June 1986 through May 1987 thus exceeded $100,000 per month, and Betty argued that she deserved at least a fifth of that. “I’m working on the principle of relativity of everything,” she said.
Early in 1987, a judge did order Dan to pay his ex-wife $16,100 a month. But Betty continued to maintain that this not only was unfair (based on her “principle of relativity”) but also was literally inadequate to enable her to make ends meet. Under the best of circumstances, Betty said that $16,000 a month left her with a discretionary income of just $2000 a month, after she deducted her $4000 monthly house payment, another $4000 for taxes, and other more or less fixed expenses, for cars, utilities, and so forth. “Again, most readers of your paper are going to say, ‘What’s she bitching about?’ ” But one trip could eat up $2000, she pointed out. “Or the kind of clothes I used to wear — I hate to tell you. In my old life, every outfit was like $2000.”
Moreover, 1988 had not brought Betty Broderick the best of circumstances, according to a report on her income and expenses for January through May of that year. That report (drawn up by Betty’s accountant) showed she was $64,751.39 in the hole for that period and also provided some insight into how Betty could argue she needed an income of $300,000 a year. In that five-month period, she spent almost $11,000 on home improvements, nearly $6000 for “travel and education,” and more than $31,000 for clothes and accessories. Expenditures for her children were separate — some $11,625.61 for the five-month period.
Betty was quick to stress that she received no money for child support from Dan, even though one daughter was living with her at that time and the other three children commonly spent weekends in her house. This issue of child support made Betty boil over with indignation. She told me, for example, how in October of 1987 she had bought her boys dress-up outfits from the Scotts in La Jolla. “Nothing fancy. Not Polo. Navy blue blazer. Gray pants. Brown loafers. Button-down shirts. Ties. And a belt. And blue socks. And two ski jackets. One each. For winter. That was $800. And again, it’s not the best, fanciest stuff. I mean, I didn’t go to Gucci. I didn’t even go to Saks. My older boy was going to Mr. Benjamin’s dance class — that I paid for because I wanted him to go. And to go to Mr. Benjamin, you need your outfit. And if I’m going to buy him an outfit, I’m going to buy my younger boy an outfit, because my friend Mary Beth in L.A. had a baby for her midlife crisis and had a christening with family in church, and I wanted my sons to look like my sons look. Excuse me! So I nicely said, ‘Look, Dan, it’s October here. They need these things, and Thanksgiving, Christmas are coming up. Why don’t we split the bill down the middle?’ Even though I have no child support and that was nice of me because I’m not supposed to buy them $400 worth. He refused.” Eight months later, the Scotts’ bill still had not been paid.
Betty also related a similar story involving her eldest daughter’s high school prom. In 1987, according to Betty, the girl arrived at her home “just sobbing hysterically” (over Dan’s refusal to spend more than $100 on a prom dress, Betty claimed). “It’s ten to nine the night before the prom, and she has a date to go with Ben Warren, [San Diego Union editor] Jerry’s son. I literally drop my dinner fork, grab the car keys, jump in the car, fly up to La Jolla Village, and there’s a store there, Lillie Rubin. The keys are in the door. It’s locked, and I knock on the door ’cause they know me, and I’m like, ‘My God, she needs a dress for tomorrow!’ There was one on the wall, suitable for a young girl: V- neck, long-sleeved, beaded peach taffeta. But it was too big. The clerk got on the phone. There was a [size] six in Florida. They Federal Expressed it for $47. It was here by three o’clock the next day. I kept her home from school. I got her nails done. I gave her my pearls. I had her out the door at all costs. But that’s how I am about my kids.”
By mid-1988, Betty’s financial affairs were going from bad to worse. In June, at a judge’s direction, Dan began deducting $2000 per month from Betty’s $16,100 monthly support payments, and Betty reacted with the panic of someone facing disaster. “Now I have no money at all!” she told me, her voice taut and urgent. “The debts and the stress are incredible!” And all her troubles — at base — could be traced to her inability to find a lawyer, she reiterated constantly.
In our 90-minute interview with Dan Broderick in June of 1988, Paul Krueger and I asked him about Betty’s alleged inability to find competent legal assistance. “I don’t think there’s a lawyer in America that is going to be able to satisfy her,” Broderick stated then. “Because [no lawyer] can get what the law won’t allow.... They can’t murder me. They can’t get every cent I have and give it to her. Nobody can.”
It was undoubtedly true, Broderick acknowledged, that he had many friends within the San Diego legal community, and some of those had declined to work for Betty. But, Dan continued, “there are 7000 and some lawyers in this county, and I don’t know nearly half of those people.” Many, many competent attorneys would gladly represent his ex-wife, he asserted. In fact, she had retained no fewer than four lawyers, and even she acknowledged that at least two of them were more than competent.
In the first months after Dan had filed for divorce, Betty had hired renowned Beverly Hills divorce lawyer Dan Jaffe. Within six months, however, Jaffe had ceased to represent her. To reporters, Betty talked a lot about the fact that Jaffe never received any payment from Dan. She said the Beverly Hills attorney wrote Dan and asked for the customary down payment on his fee, but “Dan is so smart, he never said, ‘No, I’m not sending it.’ He said, ‘Yes, yes, yes. Okay, it’s coming.’ ” Jaffe finally became fed up with this and more or less turned his back on the case, she claimed.
Asked about this, however, Dan Broderick said tersely, “I swear on a stack of Bibles that I did not agree to pay Dan Jaffe’s retainer and that no judge ordered me to.” Betty repeatedly asked him to pay those fees, he acknowledged. “She told me I had to pay. She told me I’m the guy who is responsible for this divorce, and I was going to pay her lawyer’s fees, and I said, ‘No I’m not. NO! I’m not doing it!’ I constantly told her I was not going to pay it.” When contacted, Jaffe confirmed this, agreeing that Dan Broderick never hinted he would pay the retainer.
When I confronted Betty with this, she shifted her ground, asserting that she had become dissatisfied with some of Jaffe’s actions on her behalf and ultimately told him she couldn’t use him anymore. Jaffe also offered a different account of this, however. “I wanted out,” he said. “She wouldn’t follow my advice.”
So it was that Betty had no attorney when the judge granted the couple’s divorce decree. Later that same summer (in 1986), Betty asked Dan if he would go with her to a local team of “divorce mediators.”
Though Dan agreed, Betty quickly balked at splitting the mediators’ fee and changed her mind about participating in the mediation.
That fall, she did reluctantly hire one of the mediators, a lawyer named J. William Hargreaves, but she was unhappy with him and soon turned to another hot-shot divorce lawyer in Los Angeles, who demanded as a retainer the gold and diamond necklace Betty wore to his office. She meekly handed it over, and in January of 1987, this man went to work on the case. But before he could burrow very deeply into it, an acquaintance recommended that Betty talk to Del Mar attorney Tricia Smith, who deeply impressed Betty. “Tricia’s great,” Betty exclaimed to me. “She’s tall and thin and classy and smart. And the reason nobody knows her downtown [at the courthouse] is she settles everything.”
So Betty fired Hargreaves and the new L.A. attorney and hired Smith. Throughout 1987 and into the start of 1988, Smith and Betty went to court together numerous times. None of those appearances related to Betty’s support order or divorce, however. All involved Smith’s defense of Betty on criminal charges of contempt of court for repeatedly harassing her ex-husband.
When interviewed about the divorce in June of 1988, Dan Broderick asserted that he initially was reluctant to press any such charges against his ex-wife. In 1985 Judge J. Richard Haden had issued routine stay-away orders, injunctions that say neither spouse may harass the other. Yet in spite of those orders, Betty kept walking into the Coral Reef house and destroying things, according to Dan. “I remember a Boston cream pie that my girlfriend [Linda Kolkena] made for us. She [Betty] came and just took it and smeared it all over the bedroom and my clothes and my drawers. I mean — crazy stuff! Absolutely crazy stuff. My little kids would watch this, and they’d be crying when I’d come home. They couldn’t control it. I couldn’t control it. She kept saying, ‘This is my house. I can come in whether you like it or not. I don’t have to listen to the court order. The court can’t keep me out of my own house.’ ” (Betty herself then was living in another La Jolla Shores home that Dan bought a few months after he walked out.)
Dan said he finally decided to move to yet another home, this one outside Betty’s territory. He asked Betty what price the Coral Reef house should list for and what he should accept. According to Dan, Betty told him to list it with Peggy Chodorow, reputed to be the best agent in La Jolla. Betty recommended asking $365,000 for the house but settling for $325,000, Dan said.
He consequently went to Chodorow, who agreed that the house should sell for $325,000. But when an offer for that amount finally came in around Christmas of 1985, Betty balked, “and finally the guy walked away. He got tired of waiting around,” Dan said.
He continued, “In mid-January another offer came in. It was low, around 300 or so. We went back and forth, and they finally got up to 325. Now mind you, these offers and counter-offers are being all signed by me, not by my ex-wife. And I figured, ‘Well, if I get up to 325, what’s she going to say? She’s got to say yes. That was the deal.’ ” In response to pressure from Dan Jaffe, who was then representing Betty, Dan Broderick reluctantly agreed to give Betty the biggest share of the house sale proceeds. That weekend, however, Betty once again refused to sign the relevant papers, and Dan said when he asked her how much money they would have to be offered for her to agree, she told him “a million dollars wouldn’t do it.” He then enlisted the emergency aid of the court to force the sale of the home for $325,000.
It was the sale of the house in early 1986 that prompted Betty to drive over to Dan’s new house (on Cypress Avenue, near the northwest comer of Balboa Park) and ram her car into Dan’s front door. “I’d do it again, only I’d do it better,” she told me proudly. “I was mad! He had just stolen everything from me. Up until that point, he had stolen my furniture and my kids and my dogs and my jewelry and my clothes, but I still knew I owned half that [La Jolla] house. My name was on that house, and I didn’t really understand how it could be taken from me.”
The damage to the door was minimal, Betty claimed, adding “there was nothing loony” about her action. Nonetheless, Dan had Betty arrested, and she spent several days in a Clairemont mental-health facility.
It wasn’t the only time some question arose about Betty’s sanity, but she squelched that question soundly. “I am madder than hell, and I want to kill him for being lied to and cheated,” she said to me during an interview. “But that has nothing to do with being crazy. Anyone who wasn’t mad [angry] would be crazy.”
Not long after she was released from the mental-health facility, Betty received her payment from the house sale, and the next few months passed in relative calm. “Even though I was trying to get lawyers, I was able to live,” Betty explained. Sometime during that year (1986), Dan also decided that perhaps financial pressure might encourage Betty to refrain from further acts of violence and intimidation. So Dan warned Betty he would start withholding from his voluntary monthly support payments $200 for every obscene word, $500 for every entry into his house, and $1000 for every time she took one of the children without advance notice. In October of 1986, he went to Europe with Linda for two weeks, and when they returned, Dan fined Betty a total of $5000 for various instances of trespassing and offensive language that had occurred while they were gone. After he made Betty’s November house payment and deducted the $5000 “fine,” Dan determined that her allowance for November was a negative balance.
Betty says when she got the “statement” from Dan, she went to his house on a Saturday afternoon, crying and asking how she was supposed to survive on nothing. He had her arrested. “And he went to the Blackstone Ball that same night with his girlfriend. As president of the bar. With his top hat and cane,” Betty said venomously.
Once again she got out of jail quickly, but she had to return to court several times, and in May of 1987, contempt charges resulted in Betty’s being sentenced to almost a month in Las Colinas county jail, punishment that eventually was reduced to about a week. But Betty didn’t appear to be shaken by that experience; and Dan soon brought yet more charges against her. In January of 1988, for example, he charged that Betty once again ignored the court order and showed up on his property, in addition to using profanity over the phone numerous times. (Betty said she was only dropping off the children’s pet dogs before leaving on a vacation to Tahiti.) The judge fined her $8000 and warned her that if she violated the orders again, the next time he would make her pay $16,000 for Dan’s attorney’s fees. (By then, Dan’s first attorney, Thomas Ashworth, had become a family-law judge; his replacement was Gerald L. Barry, Jr.) Nonetheless, Betty left more obscene messages on Dan’s phone machine, and in May of 1988, she found herself answering for that behavior to a judge.
As usual, Dan presented stunningly graphic evidence of his ex-wife’s transgressions. For the judge, he played a tape-recorded message Betty left on her daughter’s answering machine in which she had called her ex-husband a “fucking, insane asshole” and referred to his having another “drunken afternoon with the office cunt.” Outside the courtroom, Dan showed reporter Paul Krueger a transcript of another conversation (tape-recorded on an answering machine) in which his wife told her 11-year-old son, “I’m too embarrassed to even tell anybody I know you guys.”
“Why?” the boy replied. “It’s not our fault.”
“Because Daddy’s fucking his office cunt is very embarrassing,” the mother replied.
“Dan likes to say I have the foulest mouth in the whole world,” Betty told me, casually. To which she added, “You bet I do! I’ve practiced.” According to her, the obscene language was a relatively new feature in her life. “In the beginning, my kids weren’t even allowed to say ‘shut up’ around the house. They never said ‘shit’ or ‘fuck’ or any of these things.” Betty claims she never even heard the word “cunt” until a friend used it after seeing a picture of Dan and his girlfriend in the local bar association magazine. “And so from that day forward, she [Linda] has been the Cunt. Sometimes we call her the Office Cunt,” Betty laughed. “And the kids call her that too. This has evolved to this ridiculous level of juvenile language because what else can I do?”
When interviewed, Dan Broderick said the transcript of Betty’s conversation with her young son was like “the very tip of an iceberg. It’s unbelievable.” Psychologists who had seen his children “have just been mortified,” he said. “They’ve never seen anything like this ever. It’s like a magnified case of Mommy Dearest. She hates me so much that she gets at me through them.”
Dan nonetheless allowed his children to spend time with Betty at her house. Since the murder, friends of Dan and Linda have even said that, through her children, Betty had access to a key to the Cypress Avenue residence and would enter the house when Dan and Linda were not there. In the course of that June 1988 interview, I asked Dan why he tolerated any contact between his children and his ex-wife, given her behavioral excesses. “That’s a good question,” he agreed. “Their psychologists have told me that I’m being irresponsible to let them go over there. But they want to be with their mom. I mean, honest to God, if you asked them who they wanted to be with, they’d say their mother. And they always ask me, can they go see their mom? Can they spend time with her? ‘She’ll be good. She won’t be mean. She won’t bring us home.’ ”
Dan said he did periodically forbid his sons from seeing Betty, after one or another horrible blowup. “And then nothing will happen. It’ll be quiet, and I’ll just cross my fingers and hope and let them go. For a weekend. Or like today. My housekeeper took my son over there to meet their mom at 12 o’clock. She [Betty] wasn’t there.
Well, they had planned this for two or three days. Now they’re going to see her again tomorrow. Why do I do that? I feel like maybe it’s better for them to see some of her and at least have some kind of relationship than none at all. But I’m very ambivalent about it. It’s a real good question. A lot of people ask me it, and I ask myself it. I’m trying to do the right thing. I do not believe it would be in their best interest to live with her, and honestly I don’t think it’s in their best interest to spend any time with her either. I really don’t. But I can’t separate them from her altogether. And so I’m doing the best I can.”
Since Dan’s murder, some of his friends have suggested he should have had Betty punished even more forcefully by the courts, that had he done so, he might still be alive today. But other close observers of the Brodericks feel that Dan was unusually harsh and vindictive in pursuing criminal sanctions against the mother of his children. He hardly played the pacifist. He could have chosen to ignore his wife’s outbursts and avoid the trauma of criminal proceedings.
When Krueger and I asked him about this, a shadow of revulsion flickered across Dan’s face. He seemed to acknowledge the awfulness of sending the mother of his children to jail, but her violations of court orders were unlike anything he or any of his acquaintances had ever heard of, he said. “I’ve talked to lawyers who do this kind of work. They say, ‘This is incredible!’
"They’ve never heard of any husband and wife that have had anything like this level of hostility. I’ve talked to the kids’ psychologists because they see a lot of this, and there’ve been one or two landmark cases in town, and this one outdoes them all in terms of the level of hostility.’’ Dan stoutly denied Betty’s charge that he deliberately provoked her violent responses. “All I want is peace and quiet,’’ he said wearily. “That’s all I want.” He seemed resigned that he would not get it. “She’s filled with hatred,” he said of Betty. “I left her and she’s mad about it. And she cannot let go of it.”
After extensively investigating Betty’s claims, Krueger and I concluded she was wrong: It seemed evident to us that she could have gotten competent legal assistance in her divorce case, Dan’s influence notwithstanding — though it was also clear that Betty sincerely believed she was a victim. Even Dan acknowledged the power of “this web of deception that she weaves.... I think that she would pass a lie detector test,” he said.
Krueger and I also believed that the story of the Brodericks’ torturous divorce was worth telling, and in July of 1988, we prepared a lengthy article about it.
However, six days before its planned publication, Dan Broderick — who had willingly spoken with us on several occasions — informed the Reader that he would sue the paper for invasion of privacy should any article appear. Counsel for the Reader subsequently advised that such a suit might be successful since it could be argued that the Brodericks’ divorce was not newsworthy at that time.
Betty Broderick was outraged by Dan’s threat, which she saw as yet more evidence of his desire and ability to thwart her in any way possible. In January of 1989, after the Brodericks’ divorce trial, the Reader did publish a story prompted by Dan’s success in keeping the divorce files and the courtroom closed. This spring, Krueger happened to talk to Betty, and she seemed as animated and funny as ever, describing her financial straits in dire terms, complaining about Dan’s influence.
Quite coincidentally, ten days before he was murdered, I happened to hear Dan deliver a speech. He was addressing the local Cesarean-section prevention group, discussing topics far removed from his marital breakup. At one point, however, he mentioned his own children’s births, and two or three times he referred to the mother of his children — Betty — as “my wife.” I remember thinking that Betty would have liked to hear that.
(Paul Krueger contributed extensively to the preparation of this story.)