Imagine going through a dating site and coming across a handsome, successful doctor with dark hair, hazel-green eyes and a smile that could melt hearts. You would probably hope for a match.
John Meehan’s dating profile perfectly depicted what so many people dream of, and Debra Newell fell for it.
But in reality, John was hiding a dark past and cruel intentions. And the series Dirty John, currently available on Netflix, tells us all about the real-life story.
Dirty John is based on a true-crime story about a manipulative conman who used dating sites to seduce and extort women.
The brief description of this eight-part series, first aired on Bravo, reads: “Businesswoman Debra Newell’s life unravels when she falls for the lies and manipulation of con man John Meehan.”
Interior designer Debra is played by Connie Britton, while conman John, who poses as a wealthy anaesthesiologist, is portrayed by Eric Bana.
Over the last month, Netflix has treated its audience with several shows featuring similar horrifying characters.
Netflix subscribers have recently been able to binge the drama series You, with Penn Badgley portraying a stalker, or sit through the insightful crime documentary series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, or even watch the most shocking and disturbing family story of Abducted in Plain Sight, a true story about a paedophile who manipulated a family and kidnapped a child—twice.
The real-life story of Dirty John perfectly fits into Netflix’s focus on shows based on true crime stories.
Dirty John, created by Alexandra Cunningham, brings to life the first-hand accounts from the 2017 Los Angeles Times podcast of the same name.
The series reconstructs events told in the original podcast, but it also goes a step further as it delves into why Debra fell for John in the first place.
Debra hopes her terrifying real-life story will help others in similar situations.
How did Debra Newell fall for ‘Dirty John’ in real life?
Having been married four times before she met John in 2014, Debra thought her luck was finally in. After meeting online, the couple spent a romance-filled two months together before getting married in December that year.
Bana’s John shows viewers how his charisma could trap women. He seems affectionate, loyal, even his faults seemed endearing at first.
“You are the real thing,” Debra once texted John.
“Best thing that will ever happen to you,” he had responded.
But Debra’s daughters Jacquelyn (renamed Veronica for the series, played by Juno Temple) and Terra (played by Julia Garner) noticed something off and creepy about their mother’s new love.
John had said he was a successful property owner, yet it seemed like he was barely scraping by. His scruffy appearance raised eyebrows among Debra’s family.
Each gripping episode shows how the conman’s lies surface and how he almost destroyed a family.
Who is the real John Meehan? How did he get caught in real life?
Nicknamed Dirty John, Meehan was a serial offender who preyed on women and used revenge porn to extort them for all he could get.
He had been known to take photos of women and send them to their own family members.
Debra was not the only victim, as six other women had filed restraining orders against him.
After the couple married, Debra noticed money going missing from her purse. John also installed cameras around her home and office, making her uncomfortable and she was taken aback as she saw he would often pop pills.
Seeking the truth behind his behaviour, Debra’s nephew Shad dug into John’s past, and found that not only had he lied about his profession, he had also served time.
“Every breath I take will be to ruin your life.”
— John Meehan, in an anonymous letter to one victim
Criminal records revealed he had sold drugs and stalked several women.
He threatened to “ruin” one woman’s life, in an anonymous letter, after telling her he had knocked her unconscious, raped her and taken naked pictures of her.
Another woman claimed he had sent naked photos of her to her own family and demanded they give him millions of dollars.
Knowing of his criminal past, Debra left John in 2016. But that only triggered him.
The furious conman retaliated with abusive messages, stalking, threats of revenge porn and stealing her car and setting it on fire.
Spoiler alert… What happened to John Meehan in real life at the end?
The family’s awful ordeal had a shocking end.
John began to stalk Debra’s daughters, and one evening he had his eyes set on Terra as she went out.
In his vehicle, he had a ‘kidnap kit,’ which included duct tape, kitchen ties, a vial of injectable drugs and a set of kitchen knives. He pulled up behind the young woman and got out of the car.
He surprised Terra by grabbing her from behind and then took a knife out his bag and slashed her arms.
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“I just started stabbing him.”
— Terra Newell
“He was trying to push me into his car and I tried to get away from him,” she told Dateline, recalling the attack. “I was screaming. As he put his hand over my mouth I bit down as hard as I could.”
In a struggle, the pair fell onto the ground and Terra kicked the knife from John’s grip. She quickly grabbed it to defend herself.
“I just started stabbing him,” she continued. “I thought if he got back up he’s going to kill me.”
Terra stabbed John 13 times, wounding his shoulder, arm, back, chest—and one in his left eye through to his brain.
Police soon arrived and Terra was treated by paramedics and taken to a hospital.
Meanwhile, the stalker was taken to Orange County Global Medical Center in Santa Ana where he was put on life support.
After four days, the machine was turned off due to the severity of his injuries. No arrests were made for his death.
John received no funeral and his body was cremated—his reign of terror finally over.