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.