Warning: Spoilers ahead for Dirty John.
Bravo’s brand new anthology series Dirty John is bound to give you dating app nightmares no matter what. The drama, based on the Wondery-Los Angeles Times podcast of the same name, follows one woman’s (Connie Britton) hellish journey after meeting, and very quickly marrying, a man she barely knows: the titular Dirty John Meehan (Eric Bana).
But the reason Dirty John is so much scarier than a fellow TV dating nightmare like Lifetime’s You is that the Bravo series is based on 100% real events. So, not only are you left with a general fear of swiping right, but also a very specific level of concern for the real-life Debra Newell (Britton) and her daughters, Terra (Ozark’s Julia Garner) and Jacquelyn Newell (the latter’s name was changed to “Veronica” in the show and is played by Juno Temple). After seeing how John terrorizes these three women, fans will wonder if the Newell women even made it out alive.
Thankfully, the answer is yes. But John Meehan did not.
The real-life Debra Newell, a successful Orange County interior designer and-divorced mom of four, is now healthy and seemingly happy, as evidenced by her multiple public appearances since the Dirty John podcast premiered in October 2017. She and daughter Terra appeared on NBC’s Today in January 2018 to preview their upcoming appearance on Dateline; the Newell women, along with Meehan’s many other victims, told their story in winter special, “The Women & Dirty John.” Meehan’s first wife, Tonia Bales, is also in the Dateline episode, and considers Debra a close friend.
That same month, Debra, Terra, and Bales, who has two children with Meehan, led Oxygen’s Dirty John-themed two-hour documentary, Dirty John, The Dirty Truth.
Most recently, both Newell women walked the Bravo red carpet in November 2018 for the Dirty John world premiere. The family’s matriarch, Arlane Hart (played by Jean Smart in the anthology series) also attended the Los Angeles event. Debra’s daughter Jacquelyn, who also survived, has been absent from any of the press around Dirty John and her family’s misfortune. Yet, Jacquelyn was also at the premiere, according to her Bravo portrayer.
Although the Newell and Hart women are currently thriving, the fatal tragedy of this tale arrives due to Terra’s final confrontation with Meehan, a lifetime con man with a violent streak and a battle with drug addiction. Meehan’s relationship with Terra’s mother was filled with twists and turns, especially after she learned of her new husband’s lengthy criminal past, which included felonies and time behind bars. As the Dirty John podcast repeatedly mentions, Debra unwittingly went on her first date with John mere days after he left jail. Technically the grifter, who posed as a wealthy doctor, was homeless at the time.
While Debra, who married John in December 2014 after two months of dating, reconciled with her estranged spouse for a short period of time, she officially ended the relationship in March 2016. By April 2016, she filed to annul the marriage. During the summer of that year, Meehan became increasingly violent — going so far as to set fire to Debra’s car — until he attacked his ex-partner’s youngest child, Terra, in a parking lot during August 2016. There was a knife in his bag. Eventually, once Meehan pinned Terra down, he tried to stab her. Luckily, Terra kicked the weapon out of his hand.
When the knife hit the ground, Terra picked it up and stabbed Meehan multiple times. “His shoulder. His shoulder blade. His triceps. His shoulder blade. His upper back. His shoulder blade. His upper back,” Dirty John host Christopher Goffard wrote in the Los Angeles Times, describing Terra’s jabs. “Between his shoulder blades. His forearm. His triceps. His shoulder. His chest. His left eye — and through it — into his brain.”
Although Meehan died on the scene, emergency crews revived his body. Four days later, the hospital Meehan was admitted to eventually pulled the plug on Meehan, who was left braindead from his injuries.
In 2018, Terra is now very matter of fact about her stunning show of self defense. In January, she took Dateline to the scene of her assault, admitting, “I just get a lot of anxiety [here].” When now-disgraced Today host Megyn Kelly asked the young woman, who credited watching shows like Walking Dead for preparing her with self-defense tips, how she could be so pragmatic about the traumatizing event, Terra admitted, “Lots of therapy.”
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