The Story That Inspired Dirty John Proves Truth Is Crazier Than Fiction

When people speak about John Meehan, they tend to gravitate toward the same adjective: Evil. Evil is a big word, but perhaps it’s the only one adequate to describe a swindler as skilful and remorseless as Meehan.
“This was my first experience with evil,” Tonia Bales, Meehan's ex-wife once said. John Dzialo, a lawyer, had a similar impression of Meehan. When Dzialo was sitting across from Meehan in his office, Dzialo recalled thinking, “'I am sitting here in the presence of evil incarnate.' You know that people like him really do exist and one has just come into your orbit. Scariest man I’ve met in my 70 years.”
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You’re about to meet this very, very evil man — or at least a fictional rendering of him. Meehan’s life and mysterious death became the focus of Dirty John, the exceptional, hugely popular podcast hosted and investigated by the Los Angeles Times’ Christopher Goffard. On Sunday, November 25 at 10 p.m., Bravo's limited series adaptation will premiere. Dirty John stars Eric Bana as John and Connie Britton as Debra Newell, John’s final victim.
Debra Newell was successful in almost every capacity. She had a thriving interior design business in Orange County, California. She was a mother to four children. However, she'd had difficulty with love. By the time she was 59, Newell had been married four times.
When she met Dr. John Meehan on a dating app for older singles, she thought she’d finally found her missing piece at last. “He was the total package. A doctor. Very intelligent. A family man,” Newell recalled on Megyn Kelly Today. Newell was intrigued by Meehan’s career as an anaesthesiologist and fascinated by his stories from his year in Iraq working for Doctors Without Borders. Meehan wore surgical scrubs to their second date. Debra quickly fell in love.
But not everyone was charmed by Debra’s new boyfriend. Her grown daughters, Jacquelyn (who is called Veronica in Dirty John and played by Juno Temple) and Terra (Julia Garner), were immediately suspicious of John. “There’s just something wrong about him. I don’t like him,” Terra said during a dramatic Christmas gathering. The sisters noticed details their mother missed, like: If John was a doctor, why did he have dirty fingernails? Why were his clothes always a mess? Why was money disappearing from Debra’s wallet? Why couldn’t John give straight answer to questions about his life? Where did he go all day?
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"He was just very standoffish. We would ask him questions [and] he would want to give us a one-worded answer," Terra said during an appearance on Megyn Kelly Today. "He didn't want to look us in the eyes and he his social skills were just kind of off with me and my sister." The sisters began to look into John's past. Jacquelyn, who lived at home in Orange County, and 23-year-old Terra, who lived in Las Vegas at the time, hired a private investigator. Their cousin, Shad, got involved in the sleuthing process well.
Debra’s affections, however, were unshaken by her relatives' doubts. She hired a therapist who corroborated her affections for John, and said she needed to establish stronger boundaries with her children. Her mother approved of John, too. Five weeks in, John and Debra moved into a beautiful, $6,500 a month house on Balboa Island. Two months in, they eloped in Vegas. Debra isolated herself from her family.
That’s when the trouble began. After the wedding, tension between John and Debra’s suspicious daughters grew significantly. Eventually, Debra would see what her daughters saw. But would it be too late? After all, Meehan was a vicious con man. When pushed into survivor mode, Meehan's scheming and manipulations would know no bounds. However, you'll have to watch Dirty John to discover the specific (and dramatic) repercussions of Meehan and Debra's marriage for everyone involved.
Dirty John is a provocative show about the blinders we wear when we're in love, uncanny intuition, heedlessness, and — perhaps most concerning to anyone swiping on dating apps — the unknowability of the person across the table on a first date. Watch, and beware.
Dirty John is on UK Netflix later this year
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