Heather Mason
October 19, 2017 3:58 pm
Los Angeles Times

On the heels of Serial and S-Town, the Los Angeles Times’ Dirty John is the latest true crime podcast intriguing the ears of the nation.

The six-episode podcast tells the story of con man John Meehan and the victims he left in his path over the course of decades. His wife, Debra Newell, discovered John wasn’t who he said he was, and the story follows her family as they attempt to rid the man from their life.

Curious? Want to know more? Of course you do! So, here are 11 details about “Dirty” John Meehan that you should know. And warning — spoilers follow…

1John grew up learning how to be a con artist

According to John’s sisters, he was a smart and popular guy in school but only knew how to be deceptive and a con. From a young age, his dad was running cons and taught John to do the same. John learned how to run insurance scams and frauds like running in front of cars intentionally getting hit. His sisters said these skills were what his father passed down to John.

2He’s called “Dirty John” for a reason

On their wedding day, Tonia learned of her new husband’s nicknames: “Dirty John,” “Filthy John,” and sometimes just “Filthy.” How did he get these names? John was a ladies’ man and apparently not a sweet dude when talking about them. These names are much more accurate than creative. John was dirty.

3John has two sisters

John Meehan’s sisters, Karen and Donna, pop up throughout a few episodes in the podcast to give insight into John’s early life. They both tried to help John when he needed it throughout his life but ultimately broke ties with him after he started to ruin their lives as well.

4John claimed to have ties to the mob

The Meehan family was said to have ties to mobster Albert Anastasia, who ran the notorious Murder, Inc. John was proud of this potential tie and followed the mob law of hurting the family of those who hurt you as revenge.

5John had an excuse for *everything*

When confronted with his lies over the years, John always had an excuse. That’s what made him so good. Why did he have a pill bottle at home? He accidentally brought it from work. Those restraining orders against him? There must be another John Meehan. He was so convincing that even when the evidence was right in front of Debra, she believed John.

6John was once forced to leave California

After being caught with cocaine decades before meeting Debra, John ended up testifying against one of his best friends to avoid prison time. But as part of the deal, he was required to leave the state of California. Of course, he ended up back in the state later.

7John went to prison multiple times

John spent time in prison for stalking and for possessing a firearm as a felon after threatening another Orange County, California woman. He had previously scared his ex-wife so much that she began recording their phone calls in order to hand them over to the police. He also violated a restraining order put on him by yet another woman. And this was all before he met Debra.

8John even threatened a lawyer

No one was off limits for John. When he and Debra decided to go to a lawyer to work through some of Debra’s family issues, John did not like the idea of a prenuptial agreement. He ended up firing the lawyer and threatening him when the lawyer tried to get in touch with Debra. The lawyer ended up giving John all of his money back just to get John to leave him alone.

9John was addicted to prescription meds

As a nurse, John had access to plenty of drugs, and he took advantage. Of course, he always had a reason like a hurt back or trouble sleeping. He once claimed he tried to kill himself using Versed and Fentanyl but said he got the doses wrong. It’s hard to believe anything he said, but his addiction to medications was pretty obvious.

10John chose his victims carefully

It’s hard for some listeners to understand how so many women (and men) could fall for John’s scams, but he chose his victims knowing who he could manipulate easily. He found women through dating websites and through work — choosing those who were more vulnerable. He knew Debra was desperate for love and liked to see the best in everyone. She was an easy target for his scam.

11John isn’t short for Johnathan

What if you discovered that you don’t know the real first name of your husband? Must be pretty terrifying. John’s first wife Tonia Sells found out John not only lied about his real name (he said it was Johnathan) but also about his age, and that was just the tip of the iceberg of his deception.

Hooked, right? Listen to or read Los Angeles Times’ Dirty John to find out more about John Meehan and his victims.

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