The Wild True Crime Story That Led To Bravo’s ‘Dirty John’

You might know Bravo as the network behind The Real Housewives franchise and popcorn-friendly reality TV shows but sometimes the network pulls off a scripted anthology series that unnerves us while gaining the praise of the true crime crowd. Dirty John, based on the highly popular 2017 true crime podcast, Dirty John, is one of those series.

The show premiered in the fall of 2018 and you’re going to want to know about the podcast before tuning into the series. The series is based on the research of Los Angeles Times reporter Christopher Goffard, who chronicled the romance between Debra Newell and a con-man named John Meehan, who she met through an over-50’s dating website. Debra is quick to discover that John is harboring a darkly disturbing past full of potentially deadly secrets.

The Podcast Was A Major Hit

The true crime podcast shot to the top of the Apple charts, with more than 10 million downloads in a sixth week period. Surprisingly enough Dirty John is Goffard’s first podcast, who spent a year putting together the story.


Additionally, he felt compelled to investigate the situation and he told The Music that “Something about John Meehan chilled me in a way nobody else has.” He came off as the perfect husband, but he doesn’t seem to fit the bill.

Where Does The Nickname Come From?

According to Goffard, “Dirty John,” as well as “Filthy John” has meaning to it. It was a nickname given to Meehan by a classmate at the University of Dayton, as explained in the book, Dirty John and Other True Stories Of Outlaws and Outsiders.

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“John’s debauchery spawned the nickname Dirty John, though once bestowed it seemed to describe a lot of his behavior. Like the way, he took money for a roofing job he didn’t complete. Like the way, he rented his housemate a deathtrap truck with no brakes and claimed not to know.”

The Story Of How Debra Met John

Debra Newell met the con-man through an over-50’s dating website. In October 2014, they met after making that connection. To win Debra over, he claimed to have worked as an anesthesiologist in Iraq as part of the Doctors Without Borders program


After a short dating period, the new couple moved together into a $6,500/month Newport Beach home. Just two months after buying the home, the couple would exchange their vows and tie the knot.

Debra’s Daughters Soon Realized John Was Hiding Something

As the daughters of Debra became more suspicious of John, they discovered something shocking. Their mom’s new boyfriend was previously serving jail time. He also had abandoned his last relationship, a fact he never revealed to his new wife.

Rich Fury/Getty Images
Rich Fury/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Debra began to have her own doubts and eventually discovered that John never worked in Iraq as an anesthesiologist. However, he’d been a nurse anesthetist who became hooked on surgical painkillers. His addiction to pills would ultimately lead to him losing his career.

Terra Had A Hunch From The Beginning

The family’s quietest member knew something was up. According to Goffard, Debra’s youngest daughter sobbed at a Christmas gathering shortly after her mom married John. John’s response was that the kids were jealous and told Debra she needed to put more boundaries between her and the girls.

Terra Newell/Facebook
Terra Newell/Facebook

But, that didn’t stop her other daughter, Jacqueline from wondering, why are John’s nails so dirty if he practices medicine. That would lead her to buy a magnetic tracker for John’s car and later, hire a private investigator.

The Private Investigator Discovered Something About John

After Jacqueline hired the private investigator, it was discovered that John had addresses in numerous states. He had previously lived in Arizona, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee and in various areas around California, including a stay at a trailer park in the desert of Riverside County.


Debra at first tried to stand up for her new husband, making excuses at every turn. Eventually, one of John’s former jailmate’s sent her a letter which led to her own investigation. It didn’t take long to discover that John not only lied about what he did for a living but had restraining orders out against him from several women in his past.

Debra Understandly Freaked Out

After a brief reconciliation, Debra and John moved into another apartment together. She soon began to fear for her life and wanted out of the relationship for good. Finally, in March 2016, she left him.

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John’s reaction was probably what you would expect at this point. Debra said he started to harass and threaten her, going so far as to post nude photos of Debra to her nephew’s Facebook. She cut him off after he stole her car and lit it on fire. John wasn’t happy with her level-headed actions and he showed up with a knife and attacked Debra’s daughter Terra, who managed to steal the knife away from her assailant and turn it on him. He died in the hospital on August 24, 2016.

What’s John Meehan’s Full Life Story?

As mentioned before, John’s behavior included: taking money from jobs he never intended to finish while knowingly renting out a truck with faulty brakes. John also used fake names to sign up for credit cards. John would also tell people he met that his life included strong connections to the mob. In reality, he was nothing but a small-time grifter and addict who went to jail for stealing surgical drugs.

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Additionally, he had a history of terrorizing women. From 2005 to 2014, the time he got out of prison in Michigan, he had seduced, swindled, and terrorized multiple women, many of whom he had met on dating websites while posing as a successful doctor.

What Does The Walking Dead Have To Do With This?

Terra gives the AMC show credit for saving her life. An avid fan of the show, Terra explained to the Los Angeles Times that the series showed “less as entertainment than as a primer on how to survive the apocalyptic calamity.”


Her understanding of the show was “kill or be killed.” It’s why she made sure her final blow to Meehan was through his eye. “I guess that was my zombie kill. You need to kill their brain. That’s what I did,” she added. Morbin? Sure. But it also saved her life.

A Docuseries Was Released

In January 2018, the American pay television channel, Oxygen ordered a companion series to air alongside the main series. It would investigate the real John Meehan through the eyes of those he deceived.

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Among the victims were many people including Debra, and Meehan’s first wife, Tonia Bales. In November, it was reported that the docuseries was a documentary titled Dirty John: The Dirty Truth. After a year in production, the documentary was released in January 2019.

Netflix Added The Documentary

Netflix continues to pick up anything in sight. One of their latest additions to their streaming website is the documentary about Dirty John. The chilling documentary features conversations with the crook’s two daughters and dives deeper into his private life. Plus, it gives in-depth details of what it was like dealing with the con-artist.

Chesnot/Getty Images
Chesnot/Getty Images

At times, the show does steer towards things that become almost like ‘soap opera’ but there’s no denying the fact that since it landed on Netflix, the drama has really resonated with audiences.

The Podcast Is Now A Series On Bravo

Thanks to the popularity of the true crime podcast, it’s now a television series on Bravo. It premiered on November 25, 2018. Created by Alexandra Cunningham, the first season starred Connie Britton and Eric Bana, but it was met with a mixed to positive responses from critics.


Additionally, Britton, who played Debra earned nominations for awards including the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress- Miniseries or Television Film. The series has since been renewed for a second season, but it’ll have a completely new cast and plot.

Meehan Had A Secret Drug Addiction

John had a secret heroin addiction and in the retelling of Dirty John, Meehan steals prescription drugs from hospitals to fuel his addiction. The show skips over the fact that John was using highly-addictive opioids.


In an interview with Forbes, Debra Newell told the business magazine “When John and I were together, I didn’t ever see any signs of any heroin drug use. I only saw prescription drugs and since he’d just had back surgery, I thought they were for that.” After his death, she returned to her house in Las Vegas where she found a vial and a bottle of testosterone but no opioids of any kind.

Meehan’s Brother Died Of A Drug Overdose

The show doesn’t talk about his part of her life but Meehan has two sisters, Donna Meehan Stewart, and Karen Douvillier. She also had an older brother named Daniel. According to Dennis Luke, who was an investigator with the drug task force of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office in Ohio, he found emails showing that Meehan sent drugs to Daniel.


Daniel eventually died of a drug overdose in September 2000 in Santa Cruz. Even though Luke wasn’t able to make a criminal case on that charge, his investigation led to Meehan pleading guilty to felony drug theft two years later.

Meehan’s Family Had Ties To The Mob

John often bragged about having connections to the mob. While Meehan may have learned to be a con artist from his father, it’s believed that his uncle was a hitman. He is also noted to have had ties to the Italian-American mobster Albert Anastasia, one of the biggest crime lords of the 20th century.


In Part 3 of the podcast, his sister Donna shines a light on that. “The mob always had a presence in our home. My grandfather was a holder, is basically what he was. My dad explained to me, is he held money.”

One Of Meehan’s Ex-Girlfriends Discovered His Addiction

Meg Maggart, much like other women, met Meehan on a dating website almost immediately after he divorced his first wife, Tonia Bales. After three months of dating, the new couple took a trip to Mexico, where things took an awful turn.


Maggart claimed John came back with a vial of drugs, wrapped around a belt around his ankle, and he inserted the drugs into his own body. Feeling that he was in danger, she took him a hospital and she left Mexico while he was still admitted. Once Maggart was home, Meehan’s gym bag fell out of her luggage with vials spilling out.

Maggart Helped Police Obtain A Search Warrant Thanks To Meehan’s Ex-Wife

Soon after the vials fell out, Bale’s business card were also revealed. Maggart picked up the phone and called Bales to confirm her suspicions about John’s drug use. Bales quickly referred her to Detective Luken.

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Maggart feared for her life but after going before a judge she agreed to place her name on a search warrant. After Meehan was released from rehab, Maggart broke her leg in a hit-and-run. She swore her ex-boyfriend was the person behind the wheel. However, Luken claimed Meehan had an alibi.

Meehan Begged Newell To Marry Him

In the show, Meehan and Newell decided to tie the knot in Vegas. In real life, Meehan had actually been allegedly begging Newell to tie the knot for a while. When Newell went to Vegas on business in December 2014, she finally caved and they had a quickie wedding.


The two would wed in a courthouse ceremony and celebrated with lemon-drop martinis after less than two months of knowing each other. Newell admitted in the podcast that “I felt this was an opportunity to love again.”

The Women Who Broke Into Newell’s Balboa Island Home Was There When The Couple Returned From Church

Meehan found a woman who was willing to break into Newell’s Newport Beach home. The series left out the fact that when Newell came home she actually found the woman sitting inside her house drinking Ovaltine and wearing her clothes. The woman had just finished using the shower.


She explained in Oxygen’s Dirty John, The Dirty Truth documentary “She didn’t even act surprised. It was the strangest thing.” While that was a bizarre moment we never really learn the motive behind the break-in. Authorities think that Meehan possibly set up the whole break-in, with the idea of “scaring Debra” into purchasing security cameras.

Meehan Stole Money Directly From Newell’s Wallet

One of the significant red flags that made Newell’s daughter’s suspicious was their mother’s money disappearing from her wallet. Newell would often call her daughter Jacquelyn to ask if she had borrowed anything from her purse.


Her response was unfolded in the podcast: “I would be like, ‘No, I didn’t go out of my way to your office or anything like that to take or borrow money from you. How many places did you bring your purse today? Not only could it be that loser that you’re dating, but it could be anybody.'”

Meehan Tried To Have A Detective Murdered

Detective Julia Bowman revealed that Meehan had tried to have her killed in exchange for $10,000. The Orange County detective had this to say to People:


“Once he knew my name and recognized me as one of his targets, I never felt safe. We lived in a cul de sac, and cars would drive down the street that didn’t belong there. It became kind of a scary situation. Just knowing him the way I had, I didn’t know that he was capable of or what it might lead to.”

Meehan Nearly Soaked A Brazilian Multimillionaire Out Of $37 Million

Prior to meeting Newell, Meehan dated author, Mariledie Andersen. He almost convinced her to transfer millions of dollars from her bank account in Brazil to his personal account. Andersen, who had just undergone brain surgery, told Meehan she wasn’t able to move her money, so he suggested she use his account.

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Andersen agreed, but once she initiated the transfer, she immediately canceled the request, realizing it was a mistake. Andersen explained in the Oxygen documentary that Meehan was harassing her and told her she owed him money. He would eventually be arrested, and plead guilty to a felony for burglary, extortion, and stalking Andersen.

Debra’s Daughter Still Suffers From PTSD

Newell and her family are trying to help other women in the same type of situation by offering their story to the masses. Her daughter, Terra, still suffers from PTSD following her violent altercation with Meehan, which led to his death.

Rich Fury/Getty Images
Rich Fury/Getty Images

Debra explained to Forbes “She did everything right to fight that man! We’re all healing but everything you go through in life is a learning experience.” Within the first few days after the attack, John’s sisters came to visit and told Terra she had no reason to feel guilty. Then, his ex-wife, Tonia told her she was a hero for her actions.

John’s Lies Are The Exact Same

While many documentaries that are turned into TV shows fail to stick with the facts, that wasn’t the case for most of the show. The series stuck to the real story by keeping John’s lies real to life. He pretended to have been in Iraq, claiming he was working at a hospital as an anesthesiologist.


Of course, we now know that he lied about history and faked his job in order to steal drugs. Not only is he labeled a psychopath, but his lies are compelling in their true form.

John Took Debra’s Car And Attempted To Set It On Fire

The car theft that occurred in the show’s seventh episode, happened in real life, in August 2016. It doesn’t seem like the craziest thing he did, but it’s definitely insane for someone go this far.

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His illegal act was discovered after taking the car from where it was parked near her office thanks to surveillance cameras. By this time, Debra had already found out the truth about John, she was hoping to just move on with her life but he made it incredibly difficult.

Debra Has Four Kids Not Three

E! Online says that Debra has four kids, an important change that the TV series made. Debra is a women who seems very close with her family. But, it becomes challenging for her when they don’t support her relationship with John.


It would have been nice to have the fourth child in the show, but there’s a reason why they never appeared. Showrunner, Alexandra Cunningham, said that the show had the life rights for Debra, as well as Terra, but not for her oldest daughter.

Debra’s Daughter Is Jacqueline, Not Veronica

The Newell daughters, Terra, and Veronica, played by Juno Temple, bring some humor and a light-hearted tone to an otherwise dark story. At the heart of the matter, they are two girls who still need their mother, as they care deeply about spending as much time with her as possible.


But, something else that Bravo changed was the name of one of Debra’s daughters. In the show, she’s Veronica, but in real life, her name is Jacqueline.

Debra’s Nephew Has A Name Change Too

The true crime genre typically focused on diving into the investigative parts of a story, typically focusing on deaths, violent acts, and wrongdoings. On Dirty John, Debra’s daughter Veronica is totally committed to finding out the dark truth about John, who enlists the help of her cousin Tony.


Together, they took a road trip and found the creepy trailer where John was living before he met Debra online. It’s interesting to see how a TV adaption stacks up to the truth. Debra’s nephew’s real name is actually Shad, in case you were curious.

Dirty John Season Two…

There is exciting news for true crime fanatics. The anthology series Dirty John was given the green light for a second season. Fans of the show will understand that a return to the particular story isn’t likely since John was killed in self-defense by Terra Newell.


It makes sense that things will be headed towards another direction. Instead, according to Deadline, the second season will tackle a different and self-contained story. Are you ready for a new set of characters entirely?

Connie Britton Was Asked If She’d Be Involved In Any Way

When asked to shed some light on season 2, Britton confirmed two things. While she doesn’t know a lot of details about the next season, she knows it will serve as its own entity.

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

She told The Wrap “I actually haven’t even really had a conversation about that. But that is going to be a completely different story.” Since the show is identified as an anthology series, this makes sense. After the podcast concluded, it only makes sense.