Before Debra Newell, whose terror-filled marriage to notorious con man John Meehan became the centerpiece of Bravo’s scripted hit series, Dirty John, there was Tonia Bales, the sociopathic seducer’s first wife.
“He was terrible to me, did awful things to me,” Bales tells PEOPLE. “He stole a huge part of the best years of my life.”
Part of what Bales went through with Meehan, the criminal seducer nicknamed “Dirty John”, is chronicled in the Bravo series, which was inspired by Los Angeles Times reporter Christopher Goffard’s popular podcast, Dirty John, and his investigative reporting piece.
Bales reveals much more of the terrifying story when she opens up for the first time in Oxygen’s upcoming documentary, Dirty John: The Dirty Truth, a two-hour special airing on Monday, Jan. 14, at 8 PM ET. (An exclusive clip of the documentary is shown above.)
Featuring other women whose lives were turned upside down by Meehan, the special airs the night after the explosive season finale of the scripted Bravo series starring Connie Britton as Newell, his second wife, and Eric Bana as Meehan. (The finale of Bravo’s series airs Sunday, Jan. 13, at 10 PM ET.)
In the Oxygen documentary, Bales — who had two kids with Meehan — opens up about how blindsided she felt after learning Meehan had impregnated another woman with whom he’d had an affair.
Searching for answers as to why the man who never ogled women or flirted with anyone else would cheat on her, she tracked down his estranged mother’s phone number and called her.
“I said, ‘This is Tonia. I’m married to your son John,’ ” she says.
“She [his mom] was totally quiet. Then she said, ‘Oh Tonia, I knew you would call me one day.’ “
“That just led to the whole conversation that he’s changed his age, he altered his name, he’s been arrested before, he’s been lying and cheating and messing around with other women his whole life,” says Bales.
“I’m in shock,” she says. “Now what? Is he going to hurt me? How’s he going to take it when he finds out that his mom has talked to me?”
After the phone conversation with Meehan’s mom, he terrorized her. He harassed her, threatened to take their girls away from her — and kill her, she says.
In one chilling call she says he told her, “Enjoy the time you have left on this Earth.”
She will never forget when Detective Dennis Luken, who was working with her on the case, called and told her she was in danger.
“He said that John did not show up for his sentencing,” she says in the Oxygen documentary. “He said, ‘I want you to go get your children out of daycare and school and go hide.’ I thought, ‘Oh my God. He’s coming over here. He’s coming to the house and he’s going to do something to me.’ “
Prior to his relationship with Newell, in February 2014, Meehan pleaded guilty to stalking a Brazilian writer he was pursuing romantically and being a felon in possession of a firearm, the Los Angeles Times reports. He got out of jail that summer but landed back in jail after he violated a restraining order against another woman, according to the Times. Freed on Oct. 8, 2014, he met Newell online two days later, the Times reports.
The season finale of Dirty John airs on Sunday (10 p.m. ET) on Bravo.
The documentary Dirty John: The Dirty Truth airs Jan. 14 (8 p.m. ET) on Oxygen.