Bravo is about to gift us with a chilling depiction of a true crime story so juicy it feels like it has to be fiction. The best part is that it's all based on a true story, as reported on by The Los Angeles Times contributor Christopher Goffard.
Dirty John, which premieres Sunday, Nov. 25 at 10/9c, tells the story of Debra Newell (Connie Britton), a successful business woman who fell in love with a con-man named John Meehan (Eric Bana). While some of the details of the case will no doubt be heightened for the sake of TV drama, TV Guide is here to take you through the true story it's based on. Be warned though, there are likely some serious spoilers for the show below...
Debra and John met and were married within two months. After four divorces, Debra Newell tried out an online dating service for singles over 50, which is where she first connected with John Meehan. Though he was a bit odd and her daughters were not sure about him, they started dating seriously and after just five weeks were looking for a place to live together. Despite more confrontations with Debra's daughters (including an incident where he said kids should be "smacked" for going through his things), Debra did not end her relationship with John because of how well he treated her. In a spur of the moment decision, she married him in a courthouse while on a business trip to Vegas -- they'd known each other two months.
Her kids were rightly suspicious of John. Debra's daughter Jacqueline decided to put a tracker on Debra's Tesla (which John regularly used) to watch his movements. After a woman broke into their apartment, John installed security cameras inside and out, on which Debra saw him crawl back into bed after she left for work rather than heading out to the anesthesiology job he claimed to have. When the kids hired a private investigator to look into John's past, they talked to a past girlfriend who said he'd disappeared on her and that he'd once resided in the Orange County prison.
Debra didn't let any of these red flags bother her until John received a letter from an inmate at the Orange Count prison saying hello. He blew up at her for opening his mail, and she became determined to figure out exactly who he was.
This wasn't the first time he'd done this. Looking through papers he kept lying around the house, she discovered that he had been an anesthetist nurse, but he became hooked on painkillers and lost his career as a result. He also hadn't been serving overseas for Doctors Without Borders like he'd told her, since court records proved he'd been swindling and terrorizing women he'd met on dating sites. While awaiting trial for one such case in Orange County, a fellow inmate reported that John was offering $10,000 each for the murders of two Laguna Beach detectives, plus five other potential witnesses against him, including several ex-girlfriends and his ex-wife. Meehan pleaded guilty in February 2014 to stalking and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
He'd met Debra online two days after being released from prison.
John became violent when Debra left him. When Debra eventually left him, he became the same violent harasser she'd read about and demanded money as spousal support. He stole her car and set it on fire. He sent her awful messages. He stalked her daughters.
Terra, her youngest daughter and an obsessive viewer of The Walking Dead, was living alone in Newport Beach at the time. He attacked her with a knife in the parking lot, knocking her to the ground and slicing her arm, but she managed to wrestle the knife away from him. She stabbed him 13 times, including in the eye -- the same way she'd seen characters on The Walking Dead kill zombies. Though he'd stopped breathing by the time paramedics arrived, they revived him and took him to the hospital. He died four days later.
The Los Angeles Times conducted multiple interviews with Debra Newell and her family to tell her story, which was eventually adapted into a massively successful podcast called Dirty John. Now, you'll be able to compare the reported story and podcast to the TV adaptation starring Connie Britton and Eric Bana.
Dirty John premieres Sunday, Nov. 25 at 10/9c on Bravo.