In "Lord High Executioner," John's father (Shea Whigham) enacts elaborate, illegal money-making schemes and brags about being descended from the mafia boss Albert Anastasia (nickname "Lord High Executioner," from where the episode's title derives). As a teenager, John emulates his father's behavior and pursues his own schemes. Eventually, John completes his twisted relationship with his father with a flourish: The episode insinuates that he gives his father an overdose of morphine on his death bed.
But how much of this is actually true? In the podcast Dirty John, reporter Christopher Goffard delved into Meehan's childhood with his father and two sisters (not one, as is portrayed in the show). Though the details differ slightly, the show and podcast come to the same conclusion: "Dirty" John Meehan was created by his father.
"He was taught to manipulate at a very early age," his sister Karen Douvillier said on the podcast. Douvillier blamed their father entirely for John's formation. “That’s the fault of my parents, especially my dad. Because that’s all my dad knew.”
John Meehan's father, William Meehan, was born in Brooklyn, but later moved to California. He ran the Diamond Wheel Casino in San Jose. William really did believe he was related to Albert Anastasia, an infamous member of the Murder Inc. kill-for-hire team and eventual leader of one of the Five Families of La Casa Nostra in Manhattan. But aside from William's mother having the last name "Anastasi," Goffard couldn't find any tangible evidence of their lineage. Still, both John and William took pride in their potential tie to Anastasia.
In his free time, William imparted certain "skills" to his son, like pulling off insurance scams and filing false accounts. William also shared his life philosophy with his son. As Douvillier put it, William abided by the "Brooklyn mentality of you fight, you get even. If you want to get back at somebody, you don’t get back at them, you get back at their family.”
When Meehan was in high school in the mid 1970s, his parents' marriage fell apart due to his mother's affair and his father's increasing violence. His mother, Dolores Boles, moved out – it seems, according to her 2007 obituary, that she had another child with her second husband, Paul Kinoshita.
Without his mother around, Meehan became William's partner-in-con. The two tricks depicted Sunday's episode — sprinkling broken glass in a plate of food at a Mexican restaurant and jumping in front of a moving car — really did happen. After graduation, Meehan put glass in a Taco Bell meal. William's company paid the claim, indicating father and son may have been in it together. Meehan also jumped in front of a Corvette and got money in a settlement. "It busted his leg pretty good, but my dad was behind that one and got John a grip of cash, a settlement," Douvillier said.
Even back then, there was a significant divide between Meehan's appearance and his character. On the surface, he was a good-looking athlete with charm and intelligence. "He was a very popular because of his sports and he was very good looking, so he was a chick magnet. Had a lot of women, he had a lot of charisma. He learned, at a very young age, how to work it," Douvillier said on the podcast. But his hero was James Bond — someone who lived beyond the law. “He was a hustler,” Douvillier said. “Whatever he had to do to get money, he would do.”
Meehan's sisters, Karen and Donna, watched his evolution take place. Donna, who is called Denise (Joelle Carter) in the show, tried to help John throughout his life. In 2002, Meehan was found guilty of felony drug theft. When he was released in 2004, Donna tried to ease his transition into post-prison life. She covered his child support, got his car, and got him a credit card. But by the first night out, Meehan was on Match.com. Donna knew what that meant: He was finding victims. "That was his vehicle for picking all of his victims, these dating sites," Donna told Goffard on Dirty John.
Meehan eventually moved to California, where Donna gave him a spare bedroom and a job at her real estate firm. Then, he moved out and started doing RV repairs. Mostly, though, he hustled with tricks like the one seen in the show, when Meehan purposefully got hit in a bar parking lot so he could collect a personal injury settlement.
Despite all the help Donna had provided, Meehan eventually turned on her. Meehan was living on her RV lot in Cathedral City. He refused to leave. Meehan took legal acton against Donna and claimed the lot was his. John even threatened to kill Donna in an email written to her daughter.
Donna came out of the battle victorious. She got a restraining order and the court judgment against him for money. "I knew I’d never see that money, but I did it to protect myself because John left me alone after that. It was never the money, it was leave me alone; it was all I had. To me, that was stronger than a gun," Donna said on the podcast.
Finally, Donna suspects that John killed her father in the hospice where he was dying of cancer in 1997. She left John alone with him in the room; when she returned five minutes later, her father was dead. The oncologist later stated that someone had given him morphine. To Donna, it's obvious why Meehan would do such a thing. "My brother wanted any money that was due him, and my dad’s death was… His illness was taking any longer than it was supposed to be. He hated my dad," Donna said.
All in all, this wildly dramatic episode of Dirty John is nearly entirely based on fact. If that doesn't scare you, what will?