Netflix’s new documentary Dirty John, The Dirty Truth gives us insight into the real-life story of conman John Meehan and the lives he affected, including that of his ex-wives, Tonia Bales and Debra Newell.

John Meehan was a serial offender as both a conman and stalker. He preyed on women using the internet and used revenge porn to extort them. Among his victims were ex-wives, Tonia Bales and Debra Newell.



Who was John Meehan’s first wife, Tonia Bales? How did they meet?

Tonia Bales met John Meehan one evening in 1988 when she was out with her co-workers.

Bales, who was a nurse, was interviewed about the conman for Netflix’s Dirty John, The Dirty Truth.

She recalled how she felt about Meehan when they met: “His personality was enjoyable and outgoing and smiley and engaging, asking a lot of questions.”

The real John Meehan
The real John Meehan (MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS)

She didn’t give him her phone number that evening but he knew where she worked so he had called the hospital the following night.

“I would say that I was naive,” Bales explained. “He said all the right things, ‘You’re really pretty, I’d love to get to know you and any chance we can go out?’, and I was flattered.”

Like Meehan was able to do with so many of his victims, he initially made Bales feel warm and special.

John Meehan and Tonia Bales’s wedding

After a year of dating, Meehan proposed with a diamond ring, which unbeknown to Bales at the time, was fake.

Bales agreed to marry him and their wedding soon followed.

The real John Meehan and Tonia Bales on their wedding day. (Netflix)
The real John Meehan and Tonia Bales on their wedding day. (Netflix)

In the documentary, Bales recalls seeing the wedding videos for the first time, and watching one of Meehan’s friends refer to him as “filthy John.” She had questioned her husband about the nickname but he simply said that they had had too much to drink and were being silly.

The couple went on to work together and they “got along really well” and “rarely fought about anything.”

They soon had two daughters, Emily and Abigail Meehan.

John Meehan divorces Tonia Bales and leaves his daughters

John Meehan filed for divorced against Tonia Bales after deciding he wasn’t happy.

“I was devastated,” said Bales. “I married him to be married to him forever.”

John Meehan's family. (L-R) Emily Meehan, Tonia Bales and Abigail Meehan attend the after party for Bravo's anthology series "Dirty John" world premiere at NeueHouse Los Angeles on November 13, 2018 in Hollywood, California.
(L-R) Emily Meehan, Tonia Bales and Abigail Meehan attend the after party for Bravo’s anthology series “Dirty John” world premiere at NeueHouse Los Angeles on November 13, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Rich Fury/Getty)

Also torn by the news, Meehan’s daughters, Emily and Abigail Meehan spoke on the Netflix documentary.

Emily said: “I absolutely feel like he abandoned my family.”

And Abigail said: “Him leaving really upset me and I felt really unloved.”

Tonia Bales investigates John Meehan’s past

Trying to make sense of the split, Bales called Meehan’s mother from a number found online, as Meehan had hidden his family from Bales.

Meehan’s mother then unloaded the truth about ‘Dirty John,’ speaking about his arrests and drug use.

Bales then called Meehan’s sisters who had even more shocking stories about cases of insurance fraud.

She then found suspicious things hidden in their family home including drugs.

Real John Meehan portrayed in Netflix Dirty John
COURTESY OF CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

Indeed, the pathological liar had been stealing drugs from patients to feed his addiction.

At that point, she had been married to Meehan for almost 10 years, and she realised it was all a lie.

Then, his brother, Daniel Meehan, died in Santa Cruz, California of an overdose.

Police called Bales to inform her of the death. In response, she reported the drugs found in her home, worried that there may have been a connection.

Meehan moved to Indiana and started working there, but soon the Indiana Board of Nursing was getting calls with warnings about his drug abuse.

Believing that Bales was trying to ruin his career, Meehan started making “very scary phone calls” to her.

John Meehan threatens ex-wife Tonia Bales

One conversation was taped. It’s recorded with Meehan saying: “I have it on excellent, excellent authority, you’re the one making the phone calls.”

Bales responded: “I have never called the Indiana Board of Nursing.”

“I got a big smile on my face. You know why?” Meehan replied. “Because it’s gonna get done.”

“So Tonia, you enjoy your time left on this Earth, okay? Because that’s what it’s gonna come down to.”

—John Meehan on the phone to Tonia Bales

“What’s gonna get done?” Bales asked.

“You will understand when the time comes,” he said. “I’ll be in Bermuda having a big Cuba Libre with a 22-year-old when it happens.

“So Tonia, you enjoy your time left on this Earth, okay? Because that’s what it’s gonna come down to.”

“Everybody knows it’ll be you and you’re not gonna make it to Bermuda,” said Bales.

She then asked where the kids will be and he said “probably with your parents, wondering, ‘Gosh, what happened to mom?'”

John Meehan moved from state to state for decades, terrorising women before meeting Debra Newell

The serial predator continued his cons on different women for decades until he met his second wife, Debra Newell, as portrayed in the Netflix series Dirty John.

Similar to Bales, Debra recalled how she felt when she met Meehan. On Dirty John, The Dirty Truth, she told interviewers: “He made me feel wonderful. It was the best feeling in the world.”

Debra Newell and John Meehan (Netflix)
Debra Newell and John Meehan (Netflix)

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.

“You are the real thing,” Debra once texted Meehan.

“Best thing that will ever happen to you,” he had responded.

Debra Newell’s daughters had their suspicions

Newell’s daughters immediately saw that something was off.

Meehan had said he was a successful property owner, yet it seemed like he was barely scraping by with his scruffy appearance and odd behaviour.

Eric Bana, Connie Britton, Debra Newell, Juno Temple and Terra Newell attend the after party for Bravo’s anthology series “Dirty John” world premiere at NeueHouse Los Angeles on November 13, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Rich Fury/Getty)

Seeking the truth, Debra’s nephew Shad dug into her husband’s past, and found that not only had he lied about his profession, he had also served time. Criminal records revealed he had sold drugs and stalked several women.

Knowing of his criminal past, Debra left John in 2016. But that only triggered him.

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The furious conman retaliated with abusive messages, stalking, threats of revenge porn and stealing her car and setting it on fire.

Debra Newell’s daughter Terra killed John Meehan

John began to stalk Debra’s daughters, and one evening he had his eyes set on Terra Newell 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.

Terra Newell
Terra Newell killed John Meehan in self-defence. (Rich Fury/Getty)

“I got pushed down onto the ground as he is on his knees just trying to stab me,” Terra explained on Dirty John, Dirty Truth. “He dropped the knife and it landed exactly right next to me on my right-hand side.”

Then, without a second thought, she grabbed the knife and defended herself.

Terra stabbed John 13 times, wounding his shoulder, arm, back, chest—and once in his left eye through to his brain. He later died in hospital.

In the documentary, Debra said that initially blamed herself but the family are now healing.

Dirty John, The Dirty Truth is available to stream now on Netflix.




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