movies, true crime

Repost: A review of A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story…

This is a review I wrote in March 2011 of the first of two made for television films starring Meredith Baxter and Stephen Collins as Betty and Dan Broderick. It appears here as/is.

From April 2014

Since I’m reading Betty Broderick’s story as told by her daughter, Kim, I’ve decided to repost the movie review I did of her life story.  I think I only reviewed the first film.  There were two done.  One was about how Betty Broderick ended up in prison and the other was about how she was convicted of murdering her husband and his second wife.  Naturally, this story is compelling to me, even though from what I can tell from other sources, the movie makes Dan Broderick seem too nice.  Of course, Stephen Collins portrayed him and I think Stephen Collins is kind of a boob, so there you go…

From March 2011

I just read Meredith Baxter’s bio, so I thought it would be fun to watch one of her many made-for-television movies.  It so happened that one of Baxter’s most notorious flicks, A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story, was uploaded in its entirety on YouTube.  Naturally, I had to watch it and see Meredith Baxter portray the infamous murderer Betty Broderick.  It was a role completely opposite of Baxter’s turn on the hit sit-com, Family Ties and it also satisfied my love of true crime films featuring psycho women.

Who is Betty Broderick? 

For sixteen years, Betty Broderick was the loyal wife of Dan Broderick, one of Southern California’s most prominent medical malpractice lawyers.  Raised a strict Catholic, Betty Broderick believed in marriage for life.  She reportedly worked very hard to raise the four children she had with Dan Broderick and give him a beautiful home.  She also reportedly worked hard so that he could attend both medical school and law school.  As both a physician and a lawyer, Dan Broderick was a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom.  By Betty Broderick’s rather hysterical account, he couldn’t have achieved that success without her.

Despite his brilliance in the courtroom, by many accounts, Dan Broderick was also a bit of a scumbag.  In the early 80s, he hired a beautiful blonde 21 year old named Linda Kolkena to work as his assistant at his law firm.  Despite the fact that Linda couldn’t type and had little experience, Dan paid her lavishly and it wasn’t long before they were having a very public affair. 

Betty Broderick evidently felt pushed aside as Dan reportedly fooled around with his young lover, but she wasn’t one to take such shenanigans lying down.  While Dan Broderick carried on with his girlfriend, Betty Broderick carried on with his personal property, setting fire to his clothes, smearing Boston Creme Pie all over their bed, and eventually driving a car into the front of Dan’s house.  Dan and Betty got divorced and Betty was served with many restraining orders, but Betty continued her harassment, breaking into his home, vandalizing his property, and attempting to alienate their children and mutual friends. 

When Dan and Linda eventually married, Betty Broderick completely snapped.  On the morning of November 5, 1989, she visited the newlyweds in their expensive home and shot them both as they slept, killing them.  After two trials, one of which ended in a hung jury, Betty Broderick was convicted of two counts of second degree murder.  By all reports I’ve read, she has yet to express any remorse.  Nevertheless, a lot of people feel Betty Broderick was perfectly justified in what she did and even today, she serves as sort of a role model/heroine to disenfranchised women.  She’s even been held up as an example in women’s shelters as someone who invested too much in a relationship.

The film version of the “war of the Brodericks”

A Woman Scorned was not originally aired on the Lifetime Movie Network, but it was destined to become a staple of that channel.  Stephen Collins (of 7th Heaven fame) portrays Dan Broderick, with Baxter playing his wife, Betty, and Michelle Johnson playing Linda Kolkena Broderick.  One interesting aspect of watching a film like A Woman Scorned on YouTube is that people leave comments.  Many people who had followed the Betty Broderick case claim that the film version made Dan Broderick out to be a much nicer guy than he actually was.  Some people also claimed that Linda Kolkena Broderick was, in real life, a “gold-digging hussy”. 

It’s true that the jerkier aspects of Dan Broderick seem to be tempered by Stephen Collins’ “nice guy” portrayal.  Even when he’s threatening to cut off Betty’s alimony for harassing him, he seems sympathetic.  While I don’t know the Brodericks personally, I’m guessing that the real Dan was probably much more of a cut-throat bastard with more of a killer instinct.  Most extremely successful malpractice attorneys are like that. 

I think Meredith Baxter was an excellent choice to play Betty Broderick.  She pulls off the over-the-top behavior of her character without a hitch.  Betty Broderick supposedly has narcissistic personality disorder.  If that’s the case, I think Baxter portrayed that type of person to a tee.  I almost cringed as her character set Dan Broderick’s wardrobe on fire on the front lawn of their swanky home and calmly said, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.”  It was perfect.

I wasn’t as impressed with Michelle Johnson’s portrayal of Linda Kolkena Broderick.  She came off as too nice and lady like for the role.  I’m guessing the real Linda wasn’t as dignified as the film version of her was.

The Brodericks’ children are portrayed by Kelli Williams (Kate Broderick), Jandi Swanson (Debbie Broderick), Aaron Freeman (Grant Broderick), and Jordan Christopher Michael (Tommy Broderick).  The characters’ names have been changed from the real Broderick children’s names.  I suppose that was to protect their identities, though this case got a lot of coverage on Court TV and is widely written about on the Internet. 

My thoughts about Betty Broderick    

As much as I enjoyed A Woman Scorned, I certainly don’t condone Betty Broderick’s actions, even if the real Dan Broderick was a scumbag.  For one thing, despite her personal sacrifices to aid Dan Broderick’s career– a choice that she apparently made of her own free will– Betty Broderick comes off as a personality disordered individual.  Even if Dan Broderick cheated on her and dumped her for a younger woman, I could hardly blame him for doing so.  Both the true accounts I’ve read about this case and the dramatized film version of Betty Broderick make her out to be completely nuts.

For another thing, no matter how rotten Dan and his second wife Linda were to Betty, she had no right to take their lives!  When she killed Dan and Linda, Betty took away her children’s father and their home.  She also effectively took away their mother, since she was sentenced to 32 years to life in prison.  I do not applaud her crazy actions, though I have to admit they were entertaining to watch on television as portrayed by Meredith Baxter.  And in her memoir, Baxter admits that playing Betty Broderick was great fun; she initially had sympathy for her, but then learned more about who Betty Broderick is and supposedly changed her mind.

And finally, I wonder how people would react if Dan Broderick had been a woman named Danielle with a husband who had sacrificed everything for her career, only to be dumped by a younger, more handsome model.  I wonder if people would be so eager to champion the cause of a man scorned…   I doubt people would be justifying murder if Danielle Broderick had been killed at the hands of a jealous, vengeful husband.  Indeed, I bet a lot of people would be screaming that the jilted man should be locked up for life.  And indeed, that’s the punishment I think Betty Broderick deserves.  Scorned or not, she had absolutely no right to kill.

For kids?   

This is a made-for-TV movie circa 1992, so swearing and smut are somewhat kept to a minimum.  I doubt most kids would be interested in this film and some of the younger ones might be confused by it.  However, I don’t think it’s a bad film for older kids to see.  If anything, it might serve as a warning against getting too involved with personality disordered people.  It might make a good way to introduce a discussion about relationships with others and choosing the right person to be with.

Overall

Yes, A Woman Scorned is typical Lifetime movie fare, but it’s still a pretty good film.  I give it four stars.

Here are both parts of Betty’s story presented in made for TV form…

Part 1
Part 2

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: A review of Until the Twelfth of Never- Should Betty Broderick Ever Be Free?

Yesterday, I started watching the Netflix show, Dirty John- The Betty Broderick Story. I was not familiar with the show until recently, when I noticed that my reposted review of a book about Betty’s daughter, Kim, was getting tons of hits. I investigated, and finally found out about the second season of the original Netflix drama. Season 2 is about Betty Broderick, who famously murdered her physician attorney ex husband and his new wife, Linda Kolkhena Broderick, in 1989.

Betty Broderick is a controversial figure. Lots of books, blog posts, and messageboard posts have been written about her. She’s been the subject of made for television movies starring Meredith Baxter and Stephen Collins. Lots of women held Betty up as a heroine, even though she’s in prison. Personally, I empathize with Betty’s story, but I think she is (or was) mentally ill, and she definitely had no right to kill her ex husband and his second wife. No matter what a scumbag Dan Broderick might have been, that does not give anyone the right to murder him. Also, as a second wife myself, I had empathy for Linda Kolkhena Broderick, even if I don’t condone dating a married man. The fact is, she didn’t make a vow to Betty; Dan did.

Anyway… I have read and reviewed a couple of books about Betty Broderick, so I am going to repost them today. The first review is a book by Bella Stumbo, which was used as a basis for the Dirty John series. I reviewed it on August 29, 2014, and my thoughts are presented as/is here.

I purchased the late Bella Stumbo’s book, the exhaustive Until the Twelfth of Never- Should Betty Broderick Ever Be Free? in April of this year (2014).  I have just now gotten around to reading it.  I normally breeze through books in a matter of days, but this one took me about three weeks to finish.  This book is the story of the tragic relationship between former San Diego malpractice attorney Dan Broderick and his first wife, Betty.  It’s one of several books written about this controversial case of an enraged woman scorned who resorts to murdering her ex husband and his second wife.

I must admit to being something fascinated by Betty Broderick.  She was born and raised in New York State, the daughter of respectable Catholic parents who had brought her up on the idea that being a wife and a mother was of utmost importance.  When Betty and Dan married in April 1969, it looked like Betty was going to be one of those women who married well.  Dan had graduated from medical school and then decided to become a lawyer.  Given his dual degrees in medicine and law, he was a powerful force in a courtroom.  He became very successful and was quite wealthy by the time he died at the hands of his ex wife and mother of his four children, Betty.

Betty Broderick had been a beautiful, educated, gracious woman.  By her account, she had helped Dan Broderick become the success that he was.  Dan repaid her by fooling around with his 21 year old secretary, Linda, then deciding that he wanted to dump Betty for Linda.  Dan’s actions enraged Betty, who began to refer to Dan and Linda in the most vile, vulgar terms possible.  She also vandalized Dan’s home and possessions, ruining his clothes, smearing Boston Creme pie on his bed, and driving her vehicle into his house.  Dan retaliated by fining Betty, refusing to give her access to their children, and using his extensive legal training to keep her from getting what she felt she was owed.

Things got to a fever pitch on November 5, 1989.  Betty went to Dan’s and Linda’s home with a gun.  She shot them as they slept, then ripped the phone from the wall.  She was tried twice; the first trial ended with a hung jury.  She was convicted during the second trial and sentenced to 32 years in prison, where she remains today.

Bella Stumbo wrote Until the Twelfth of Never years ago, but it has been updated with the edition I own.  There is an analysis of Betty’s handwriting included as well as some statements by friends of Dan Broderick’s.  I’m not sure the extra material made this book better.  Frankly, I thought it was way too long and, at times, rather redundant.  Stumbo includes a lot of detail in this book, but some of it was probably better left omitted.  For example, I don’t need to be reminded umpteen times how profane Betty was when she called Dan on the phone.  But Stumbo included a number of transcripts that explicitly spell out the filthy language Betty uses to the point at which it becomes tiresome.

I did think that Stumbo did a good job in presenting a somewhat even look at Dan and Betty Broderick, although if I had to guess, I would guess Stumbo was slightly more sympathetic to Betty over Dan.  To be sure, Dan Broderick comes across as a real jerk in the seemingly callous way he dealt with his ex wife.  However, Betty Broderick had absolutely no right to kill her ex husband and his wife, Linda.  Had the gender roles in this case been reversed, I seriously doubt people would sympathize with Dan and claim he was driven to kill, no matter how awful Betty was to him.  I’m not one of those people who thinks women should get a break when they turn murderous.  Betty Broderick was not being threatened when she killed.  Dan and Linda were sleeping when she shot them.  There is no other reason why Betty should be in prison now, other than because of her own selfish actions.  At the same time, I did have some empathy for her on one level.  It does sound like her ex husband was a jerk.

I thought the information Stumbo included about Betty’s behavior in jail was interesting.  Apparently, Betty Broderick’s antics in 1991 were so outrageous that they upstaged news about the fall of the Soviet Union.

Bella Stumbo’s Until the Twelfth of Never is basically well-written, but I think it could use an editor.  It’s maybe 100-150 pages too long, does not include any photos, and there are some typos that could be corrected.  I’m kind of relieved to be finished with this book because I’m ready to move on to the next subject, but I would recommend it to those who are interested in the war of the Brodericks.  Just be prepared to read for a long time.

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: Kathryn Casey’s She Wanted It All…

Here’s a repost of a review I originally wrote for Epinions.com back in the spring of 2007. Of all of Kathryn Casey’s books, I think this one might be my favorite. Of course, it’s also very triggering, because Celeste Beard Johnson reminds me so much of Bill’s ex wife. Things have happily changed for Bill and me since I wrote this review.

Not long ago, I was watching the true crime show Snapped on the Oxygen network. Snapped is a half hour program that showcases murders committed by women who have “snapped”. It was while I was watching that show that first heard the name Celeste Beard Johnson, a woman who seemed to have everything and threw it away because of her greed. Needless to say, I was intrigued by her case and that’s what prompted me to purchase Kathryn Casey’s 2005 book, She Wanted It All: A True Story of Sex, Murder, and a Texas Millionaire. It took me the better part of a week to read this fascinating book. I don’t mind sharing that I had a nightmare the first night I started reading.

She Wanted It All is the complicated story of Celeste Beard Johnson, a sexy, money hungry, mentally ill mother of twin girls who changed husbands like she (hopefully) changed her underwear. Celeste grew up in California, one of four adopted children. Although Celeste’s adoptive mother claimed that her children enjoyed an idyllic life, the children claimed that their parents were weird and unhappy. Nevertheless, Celeste seemed to be a happy, precocious child who was the type of person who could sell ice to Eskimos. She could be so sweet, then suddenly turn psycho.

At age seventeen, Celeste married her first husband, Craig Bratcher. She was very pregnant with twins on her first wedding day. Three months after her wedding day, Celeste gave birth to twin daughters, Jennifer and Kristina Bratcher. Less than a year later, the marriage was on the skids. Celeste didn’t take to motherhood very well and was frequently distracted by other men. Eighteen months after their wedding day, Celeste and Craig got a divorce. Although Celeste was initially granted custody of her babies, she frequently dumped them with other people. At one point, the girls were in foster care. Craig and Celeste reconciled for awhile and Celeste became pregnant again. When she had a third baby girl in November 1986, she gave her up for adoption. That was probably the kindest thing she ever did in her life.

As the years passed, Celeste found herself with a series of different men. In December 1988, she married her second husband, Air Force mechanic Harald Wolf, who was wary of Celeste from the beginning. Like others in Celeste’s life, Harald described her as wonderful at times. Then, her behavior would become erratic and hateful. Harald wanted to get away from her, yet he missed her when they weren’t together. An overseas transfer to Iceland without Celeste turned out to be a lifesaver, but not before Celeste financially ruined him.

In August 1991, twenty-eight year old Celeste married for the third time, this time to Jimmy Martinez. Again, the marriage was not destined to last. Celeste continued living a wild life, leaving her twin daughters home alone. Her third husband had moved to Austin, Texas for a job and their apartment needed to be packed. Celeste ordered her eleven year old girls to finish packing while Celeste went out and partied.

Celeste made up wild stories about her past and even claimed to have suffered from cancer. She accused her father of molesting her. She alienated her daughters from their biological father, prompting them to tell him that they hated him. And when first ex husband Craig Bratcher took Celeste to court in a bid to take custody of their daughters, Celeste painted herself as a victim. It wasn’t long before her third husband, Jimmy Martinez, noticed that his credit was in the toilet. Soon, they were divorced and Celeste was courting husband number four, Steve Beard, an elderly, wealthy, lonely Austin television mogul whose beloved wife had just died. Though Steve was 38 years older than Celeste was, they married in February 1995. Craig Bratcher eventually became so broken that he committed suicide. At Celeste’s insistence, Steven Beard adopted the twin girls.

From the very beginning, Celeste wanted Steven Beard for just one thing– his money. While Steve Beard was looking for a loving companion and partner, Celeste was looking for someone to bankroll her extremely extravagant lifestyle. She would be loving to him in person, but in private she referred to him as an old fat f*ck. At night, she’d spike his food with sleeping pills and his vodka cocktails with Everclear, wait for him to pass out, then go out and party. She spent his money recklessly and lamented to friends that she was just waiting for him to die. At one point, Steve Beard grew tired of Celeste’s antics and suggested divorce, threatening Celeste’s source of cash. Celeste became so despondent over her plight that she threatened suicide. She ended up in a psychiatric hospital, where she would be diagnosed as having both Borderline and Narcissistic Personality Disorders.

The hospital is also where Celeste Beard met her lesbian lover, Tracey Tarlton. Tracey Tarlton fell head over heels for Celeste Beard and believed her when she claimed to be married to a monster. Like so many people before her, Tarlton fell into Celeste Beard’s trap, becoming so entangled that at Celeste’s behest, she ended up shooting Steven Beard while he slept, after the two women tried to poison him by growing botulism. The poor man lingered on the brink of death before he finally succumbed to a massive infection brought on by the gunshot wound and Celeste Beard’s deliberate attempts to cause the infection. She dressed his wounds with dirty bandages and didn’t wash her hands when she touched her husband; she also visited him when she was sick in an attempt to pass her germs to him.

And yes, once Steve was dead, Celeste Beard did eventually marry a fifth time. Husband number five was a young man named Spencer Cole Johnson; they wed right before Celeste went to prison for murdering her fourth husband. Oddly enough, the woman married five times and her last names came full circle (Celeste Johnson Bratcher Wolf Martinez Beard Johnson)

Does this story seem complicated? It is. I’ve just scratched the surface with the summary above. There’s a whole lot more to the story and Kathryn Casey has done a masterful job of keeping the details straight. She includes a photo section that shows several incarnations of Celeste. Like her contemporary, Ann Rule, Casey keeps her writing dignified and classy. There’s a minimum of gore, although the story is very scandalous and almost unbelievable. But unfortunately, I can believe this story. I mentioned at the beginning of this review that this book gave me nightmares. That’s because my husband’s first wife is in many ways a lot like a less money hungry version of Celeste Beard. As I read this book, I was blown away by the uncanny similarities between my husband’s plight and those of Celeste’s ex husbands. I can only hope that I don’t someday read a book about my husband’s ex.

This book hit really close to home for me, mainly because I’ve seen firsthand the lingering damage that can come from having a relationship with someone like Celeste Beard. My husband bears battle scars similar to those of Celeste’s ex husbands. He went through a period of financial ruin and his kids no longer speak to him. But I’d say despite that, my husband is a very lucky man. He still has his health, most of his family, and he’s recovering financially. Best of all, he’s alive and married to me. I am appreciated like I’ve never been appreciated by anyone; in turn, he is also appreciated for the wonderful man he is.

Obviously, as much as this book fascinated me, I will issue a caveat that it may cause nightmares. On the other hand, this book also inspires hope because it offers a glimpse of what it was like for Celeste’s children. My husband once enjoyed a close relationship with his children and now they apparently hate him. Celeste’s kids acted the same way with their bio father, but it later came out that they behaved that way because they were terrified of their mother and knew what she was capable of doing. It gives me hope that maybe someday, my husband’s kids will come around. I just hope no one has to die for that to happen.

For the most part, I think She Wanted It All is a very well-written, compelling book. While it is a true crime account, it’s also a fascinating case study of personality disorders, which may especially appeal to those with an interest in psychology. 

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