Betty BroderickGuest Post by Author Kathleen Hewtson
I first heard of Betty Broderick in a People Magazine article in October 1991, written at the time of her first trial that resulted in a hung jury.
I was around twenty-six at the time – more or less Linda Broderick’s age – and almost a decade into a really bad marriage, and I had always been brought up with, and believed in, the concept of a no-fault divorce. For most of my childhood, I would lie in bed wishing that my own parents would get divorced and bring to an end my having to listen interminably to their vicious and repetitious arguments. “Please, Daddy, leave,” I would tell my dad. “You’ve got to get out of here, for everybody’s sake!”
For me, marriage was a contract that held for as long as it worked, and then, when it stopped working, you went off and did something else. When you bought a house, you didn’t buy it for life; you might choose to live in it forever, but you might equally find a better one you would want to live in. No-fault meant no-fault and any idea to the contrary threatened me personally – I, too, wanted a divorce one day, and I didn’t want to spend days in court picking over my and my husband’s misbehavior. Most people aren’t evil, we are just people, and we get things wrong, and sometimes we change what we want from life, so if your marriage doesn’t work anymore, close it down with the least fuss from everyone.
So why was this "fat hag" so intent on hassling Dan Broderick, who simply didn’t want to live with her anymore, and did want to live with somebody else, somebody fun-loving and cheerful like me?
And then there was the verdict of Betty’s first trial, a hung jury. What? A hung jury? How could what Betty did be anything other than premeditated? She bought a gun. She took shooting lessons. She stole the keys to Dan and Linda’s house weeks before the shooting. She took a forty-minute drive over to their house, broke in, climbed the stairs and let rip. Then, in a final, calculated act of premeditation, she pulled the telephone from its socket to prevent Dan phoning for the help that might have saved his life.
From reactions to the Betty Broderick trials and the off-the-chart ratings for Oprah Winfrey’s interviews with her, I learned something else: there must be a lot of people out there just as angry as Betty. What were they on about? Marriage isn’t a master-slave relationship; it isn’t, “Come, Kunta, I’ve bought you and I am taking you home now.”
Except for the verdict of the 2010 Parole Board which gave Betty the max – parole denied and no further hearing for fifteen years – that was it for me with Betty until twenty years later, when I married my second husband who had an ex-wife who was just like Betty. She was even issuing us with death threats on a monthly basis and I had a restraining order, based on those death threats, even though she was (hopefully still) 5,000 miles away.
So I decided to read him ‘Until the Twelfth of Never’ (UTON) before we went to sleep, and reliably, about every half-page, he would exclaim, “Wow, that is just like …” and later, “There must be a secret handbook these people are all working from.”
In getting hold of a copy of UTON, I discovered that it was out of print and had been for many years. That is also an interesting story. Janet Regan was the Commissioning Editor who persuaded an LA Times journalist, Bella Stumbo, to write UTON. Then, Janet Regan was forced to leave the book’s original publisher because of a problem over O.J. Simpson’s ‘If I Did It’ that she had also commissioned. After she left, the publisher pulled all Janet Regan’s books, including UTON.
Bella Stumbo had died ten years before I started making my investigations into the copyright situation with her book, but I did manage to track down her sister, who told me that the rights were now owned by her own daughter (Bella’s niece). She put us into contact with her daughter who said she would be happy to have us republish the book. The publisher had not issued any royalties for nearly a decade, since it was withdrawn from publication. We also contacted the publisher to make sure that all rights had reverted to Bella Stumbo’s niece.
Before we published UTON ourselves, we decided we wanted to add some new material to make it more current, so we interviewed a couple of Dan Broderick’s lawyer friends and asked a top graphologist to analyze Betty’s handwriting because my husband knew the graphologist well and had some great stories about his work and its prescience, not least the one about the girl who had shown him her boyfriend’s handwriting. “Get away from him now,” the graphologist said. “Whoever he is, never see him again.” The girl didn’t take his advice, and a month later was stabbed to death by her boyfriend after twenty-seven blows from his knife.
As always with the Broderick case, questions still hung in the air: “Who was really abusing whom? Was Dan systematically abusing Betty in his legalistic way? Was Betty constantly taunting Dan in drip-drip-drip provocations? And why was $16,000 a month in alimony and an Oceanside property not enough for Betty?” The graphologist answered these questions one way, but still I wasn’t sure, so I decided to contact Betty to see if she had a book of her own. She did.
We communicated by letter for a while, then I went to see her in the California Institution for Women in Chino-Corona. During our first meeting, I not only got to meet Betty but also Joe Pesci who was there visiting his ex-wife, Claudia Haro, who had taken out a contract on her next husband, a movie stuntman who managed to avoid at least some of the bullets being fired in his direction, and lived. Betty also tried to introduce me to Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten of the Manson Family. Clearly there was a whole Killer Royalty thing going on there, and Betty had made it into the Royal Mob. I had interviewed Susan Atkins of the Manson Family at CIW several years earlier, and she was definitely treated like royalty in there; in fact, that is rather an under-statement – more like an icon.
Betty was charming during that first meeting and interested in having us publish her book. The prison was loud and smelly. Fellow inmates kept coming up to her to thank her for helping them learn English. I felt really sorry for her. She was very ladylike and has mesmerizingly beautiful eyes.
From that meeting, Betty continued to show interest in our publishing her book, which was on handwritten sheets of paper, but somewhat elusive about actually signing a contract. We talked by phone. We communicated by letter. Time passed.
I even considered writing a book about Betty myself – after all, I had met her and I had read every book about the case, and I knew San Diego well. Hell, I had even been bundled aggressively out of the presence of Sherriff Billy Gore there for asking impertinent questions about his handling of the Rebecca Zahau murder case on Coronado Island, off San Diego. However, at this point I had just started writing what was to become a five-volume series on Empress Alexandra Romanov of Russia, and already had my time accounted for several years into the future. Ironically, it turns out that Empress Alexandra was a lot like Betty.
As it happens, a close friend of mine is Anne Bremner, one of America’s top criminal lawyers and legal analysts – the one who got Amanda Knox out of prison in Italy. We had worked together on the Rebecca Zahau case – would she be interested in representing Betty in getting her a new parole hearing? Anne said she would. So, I went to see Betty again, this time accompanied by Anne Bremner. The meeting went well and Anne gained a good impression of Betty, although we were both exhausted when we came out. Betty has a lot of energy! I handed Betty our publishing contract, which she signed. Anne said she would send Betty a client agreement to enable her to represent her in parole proceedings, which Betty never did sign.
I also got to meet up with Betty’s trial lawyer, Jack Earley, with whom we had dinner twice, once at his house with his wife and friends. He’s a pretty laid back guy and seemed more amused by Betty than anything else, although he did warn me that Betty took some handling. I assured him that I had read UTON and I knew that. He gave me a kind of ‘If you say so’ look.
Betty sent us her handwritten manuscript with a mass of photos and we proceeded to edit what was to become ‘Betty Broderick: Telling on myself,’ with Betty’s choice of title. She wanted us to use one photo as the cover; we insisted on using another. There were about twelve areas of the book where we felt that Betty could have been more forthcoming and which would have made the book more interesting to readers, but Betty ignored our repeated requests over a six-month period. We also sent her a copy of her daughter, Kim’s, book which has appeared under a couple different titles (‘Betty Broderick, My Mum’ and ‘Betty Broderick, the Mother, the Murderer’), because we thought there were many allegations Kim had made that she should be addressing. Nothing.
We had promised to publish the book by April 2014, so I went to see Betty with Anne Bremner again in early January of that year to give her our edited version of her book, and for Anne to discuss with her once again the possibility of representing her. That was an awkward meeting. Betty really, really doesn’t like lawyers, even Anne, who is absolutely sweet. Anne spent most of the meeting sitting there stunned, and we both came out utterly exhausted. In fact, Anne remained in a state of shellshock the entire day. It was as well that we were staying at the Mission Inn Hotel in Riverside, the hotel that put the hotel in The Eagles’ ‘Hotel California’ (and, yes, it has what it claims to be the oldest dated church bell in the world, and seven Tiffany originals made by Louis Comfort Tiffany personally …).
We waited for Betty’s recommendations for corrections, amendments and additions to our editing of her book, but they never came. Anne had seen Betty a day after she had received the full edit, and Betty told her she liked what she had read so far. Two and a half months later, a day before the agreed latest publishing date, we put ‘Betty Broderick: Telling on myself’ up on Amazon, sending her the first paperback copy.
I haven’t had a lot of dealings with Betty since then. I know from people who correspond with Betty that she claims never to have read ‘Betty Broderick: Telling on myself;’ that she claims she never signed a contract with us; and that she claims she only sent us an outline, from which we worked up an entire book, but that’s just Betty, or as Oprah Winfrey said during an interview with her, “Betty, Betty, Betty!”
Kathleen McKenna Hewtson
January 6, 2017.