Once in a while, a real-life story takes the zeitgeist by storm. It leaves the world shocked at the possibilities of a combination of events possible to a person or a group of people while the rest of the world is going on, living their lives oblivious to the jaw-dropping series of events happening to other people. Simply put, once in a while, we get a jarring reminder that the world is a big place and our corner of it is just a tiny fraction. One story that has recently achieved that effect is the real-life narrative of John Meehan, the sociopath and alleged con artist whose story became a national phenomenon in 2017 after the launch of a podcast by Wondery and the Los Angeles Times titled ‘Dirty John’.
The podcast, which was released in six episodes tells the story of John Meehan, focusing on his life and exploits as a con artist and his relationship with Debra Newell. The story started like any other crime story, a journalist, Christopher Goffard was sent to cover a murder in Newport Beach. During his investigation, the web of deceit and abuse surrounding John Meehan was uncovered.
The podcast’s popularity has spurned a limited series on Bravo and was released in November 2018. The podcast itself was downloaded over 10 million times in 6 weeks and was number one on the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK iTunes podcast chart for three weeks. So, who is John Meehan whose life story took the world by storm? Read below to learn more.
Who is John Meehan of Dirty John in Real Life
John Meehan is a con artist who lived a life of scam and grifting, he was born into a family with two sisters and a brother. When it comes to analyzing sociopaths, the opinion is split between nature versus nurture among psychologists as the true catalyst for the mental disorder. If those in the nurture corner are right, John Meehan’s would be a result of his parents’ divorce when he was a teenager.
No longer shielded by his mother, John Meehan was left to be raised by his father who ran a series of scams, including a shady casino in San Jose, California. By no means was John Meehan a dull child who couldn’t determine right from wrong, he was an intelligent and sociable being, who was popular in school at Prospect High School. He was simply put, swayed by the seduction of his father’s lifestyle, that taught him how to execute frivolous lawsuits and insurance scams.
Before John met Debra Newell and started a chain of events that would have him end up in a podcast by the Los Angeles Times, he had lived over 25 years of scams and felonies that had landed him in prison multiple times. In the 80s, in one of his early run-ins with the law, he was caught for dealing drugs and was banned from California.
He struggled to maintain a university admission, getting bounced from one university to another before he settled at the University of Dayton School of Law after initially graduating from the University of Arizona in 1988. While he was at Dayton, he met Tonia who was in her mid-20s, and they got married shortly after meeting each other in 1990. With Tonia’s help, John enrolled in nursing school and earned his license as an anesthetist. The couple had two children but ten years into their relationship, John filed for a divorce from Tonia in 2000.
In the very year he filed for divorce, Tonia discovered that he had been stealing surgical anesthetics, selling and using them. She reported the issue to the police and Meehan subsequently lost his job in the hospital. Two years after filing for divorce and getting caught as a thief, he pleaded guilty to felony drug theft. In a bizarre turn of events, he fled Ohio in order to escape prison but fell to his own addiction, getting caught in Saginaw, Michigan completely high after using surgical anesthetics. He was eventually sentenced to 17 months in prison.
After getting released from prison, John Meehan was clearly not rehabilitated as he trolled Match.com, the dating site looking for female victims on the very first night of his release. He would spend the next years (2005 to 2014) seducing and swindling multiple women, most of whom he found online, posing as a doctor. He continued the life of swindling multiple women until 2014 when he met Debra Newell.
The Beginning of the End for John Meehan
Debra Newell is a wealthy Southern Californian based businesswoman who had spent years building her business, Ambrosia Interior Design which has now been moved to Nevada as Ambrosia Home Furniture & Décor. At the age of 59 when she met John Meehan, she was a single woman who had been married four times and given birth to four children – one son and three daughters.
Having come across as a good and decent man in their interaction online, Debra Newell agreed to a date. They had their first date in a restaurant in Irvine, California, at the time, John Meehan had claimed to be an anesthesiologist who worked in Iraq, serving with Doctors Without Borders. Despite, Debra’s daughters’ suspicions and warnings, Debra and John Meehan got married in two short months after meeting each other and moved into a new home in Newport Beach in 2014.
After months of continued suspicion by one of Debra’s daughters, Jacquelyn Newell, who went as far as installing a GPS tracker in John’s car and hiring a private investigator who dredged up his police arrest and prison records, Debra finally walked away from John Meehan in March 2016. As expected, Meehan took the news of the break up terribly, going as far as harassing and threatening Debra while also setting her car on fire.
As part of the methodology of his scam, he filed for divorce, demanding half of Newell’s wealth. He had pulled a similar move with a woman writer he met before he met Debra, she was a wealthy writer who he met in a hospital while he pretended to be an anesthesiologist. After the woman latched on to his schemes, Meehan began a financial tussle with the woman, threatening to wreak havoc on her life. For that particular incident, he was arrested and pleaded guilty to stalking, burglary and being in possession of a handgun as a convicted felon.
So when Debra caught on to the scam and that she was being conned, Meehan rolled out his perfected plan, filing a divorce and using threats to extort money from his victim.
The Demise of John Meehan
Jacquelyn Newell was described as always having been curious, questioning and rebellious; her sixth sense which alerted her to the fact John Meehan was up to no good the first time she met her, also helped her alert one of her sisters, Terra that John Meehan was in town and on the prowl. The alert and warning proved to be very useful as John Meehan attacked her in the parking lot of her apartment complex.
Why He decided to attack her remains unknown but as told by Terra herself, he grabbed her from behind and whispered in her ear ‘Do you remember me?’. Already aware of his presence in the city and prepared for a confrontation, she sprung into her defensive state. He tried to shove her into the trunk of a car, jabbing her with a bag that contained a knife. Unable to scream because he had his hand over her mouth, she bit his hand and kicked the knife out of his hand, before she grabbed it off the ground. She looked him in the eye and stabbed him in the chest, forehead and in his eyes.
The police soon arrived on the scene and Meehan was taken to the hospital. He was however pronounced dead four days later.
Everything You Need To Know about Bravo Mini-Series – Dirty John
As with every fascinating story that happens in the world, Hollywood is making a live-action adaptation of the story of John Meehan and Debra Newell. The show has been set to run for two seasons with Eric Bana playing the con artist John Meehan, Debra Newell played by Connie Britton, Jacquelyn Newell played Juno Temple, although on the show, she goes by Veronica Newell due to her unwillingness to be a part of the show, Terra Newell is played by Julia Garner.
The show explores other parts of the lives of those involved especially, Debra Newell, who further investigation revealed she had suffered the tragedy of losing her older sister to a gunshot by her husband Billy Vickers. He killed her sister at point-blank range and was only sent to prison for two years for voluntary manslaughter. His conviction was aided by Debra’s mother, Arlane Hart, who is a deeply religious Christian testifying on behalf of Billy after forgiving him for killing her daughter. Since her sister’s death, Debra has been taking care of her nephews, Shad and Shane. Arlane Hart and Shad Vickers are played by Jean Smart and Kevin Zegers on the show, although Shad Vickers goes by the name Toby Vickers on the show due to his reluctance to have his name featured on the TV show.