John Meehan seemed like the perfect man. The 55-year-old was known as an anesthesiologist who spent a year in Iraq with Doctors Without Borders. Handsome and seemingly successful, he owned multiple homes.
So when divorced Newport Beach, California, interior designer Debra Newell met him online in 2014, she was immediately impressed. Despite some initial red flags and her daughters’ dislike for him, she fell in love and after two months married him in Las Vegas.
“He made me feel wonderful,” she says in Oxygen’s two-hour documentary Dirty John, The Dirty Truth, airing in January. “It was the best feeling in the world.”
Until, it wasn’t.
With the help of her daughter’s sleuthing, Debra learned that Meehan’s entire life was a web of lies. He was not an anesthesiologist and he never worked for Doctors Without Borders. Instead, he was a con man who devoted more than two decades to manipulating more than a dozen unsuspecting women looking for love.
“John was evil,” said Debra.
The documentary is based on the articles and breakout podcast, called Dirty John, by Los Angeles Times reporter Chris Goffard. It airs weeks after the release on Bravo of a series of the same name inspired by the podcast. (Bravo’s Dirty John, starring Connie Britton and Eric Bana, starts on Nov. 25.)
“There are life and death stakes in this story,” says Goffard in a release from Bravo. “Many women were terrified. John Meehan was a serial predator. He went from victim to victim.”
“One of the lessons of the story is monsters don’t always look like monsters,” he says.
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Meehan’s years of betrayal and deceit ended bloodily in 2016. Debra’s daughter Terra Newell killed Meehan in self-defense in 2016 after he attacked her with a knife in a parking lot outside her home.
“I felt like I caused this,” says Debra in the show. “This is the last thing I ever wanted to happen.”
The special delves into Meehan’s troubled past and his altercations with law enforcement, and features exclusive interviews with some of his former girlfriends. Also interviewed are detectives as well as Meehan’s first wife Tonia Bales and their daughters Emily and Abigail Meehan.