How did Debra Newell fall for John Meehan in "Dirty John"? And other burning questions we have about the viral podcast

Los Angeles Times

If you haven’t heard of Dirty John, it’s the latest true crime podcast to go viral and leave fans thinking about it long after it’s over. Dirty John follows the story of con man John Meehan as he is discovered as a fraud by his wife Debra Newell and her family. While the podcast has one of the most satisfying endings of recent memory, it still left us with plenty of questions.

First, let’s be clear: all of John’s actions are 100% his fault. None of his victims are to blame. But we do have a few lingering questions about what went down on the podcast. Like, how did Debra fall for John?? Plus, much more. And warning, spoilers lie ahead so beware if you haven’t finished the podcast!

1How did Debra fall for John?

One of the biggest questions coming out of the podcast is how did Debra fall for John in the first place? There were a few red flags that she ignored right off the bat, for sure. On their first date they went back to her place, and he ignored her requests for him to leave. Once they started dating, John “joked” about “taking out” Debra’s daughter Jacquelyn sniper-style, but Debra just laughed it off. She also had no idea what he was doing all day. He didn’t have a car, and she never saw his “multiple homes” he claimed to have. He moved in within weeks, and he insisted they get married after only two months of knowing each other. So how did she miss all of these red flags? That’s just how good of a con man John was.

2Why wasn’t John banned from the dating sites after he used them to find multiple victims?

After John used dating sites to find multiple victims, shouldn’t he have been banned? There was apparently another site where many women listed their terrible encounters with him. How can we prevent men like John from abusing these sites over and over again in the future?

3What happened to Terra’s heroic dog Cash?

Terra suffered some trauma in the finale of the podcast, but so did her dog Cash — who protected her when she needed it the most. While we found out how Terra recovered from the terrible ordeal, we’re also wondering what happened to tiny hero Cash. And we aren’t the only ones.

4How did John’s first wife and friends know so little about him?

John was an expert con man and had an excuse for everything. At the wedding to his first wife Tonia, one of John’s friends got up to talk about him and gave the most cookie-cutter best man speech ever. So how is it that no one seemed to know much about John’s past? There are people out there who love talking about themselves, so maybe they just never noticed that John wasn’t super open to revealing the details of his life.

5How do we become BFFs with Debra’s daughter Jacquelyn?

Jacquelyn was not only super suspicious about John on day one, but she also noticed things that were off — like his inability to text like an adult and how dirty his fingernails were. She refused to spend time with him, confronted him, and eventually put a tracker on his car to track his movements. As much as Debra seemed to want to believe the best in John, Jacquelyn is clearly a Murderino determined to stay sexy and not get murdered.

6How did John see himself as the victim after everything he put others through?

As a consumer of everything true crime related, I am an unofficial expert when I say that often times serial abusers and killers see themselves as victims and are unable to take responsibility for their crimes. John blamed his parents, sisters, and lovers for everything bad in his life. Nothing was ever his fault.

7Should we all be watching The Walking Dead a little more closely?

In Episode 6, Terra claims that watching AMC’s The Walking Dead helped her know how to defend herself. After watching a lot of TV myself, I don’t feel like I’ve gleaned half of the self-defense knowledge that Terra apparently gained from The Walking Dead. So the real question is: Should we all pretend we’re fighting zombies daily?

8But really, how could John afford to go on so many dates?

Yes, John was conning people left and right out of their money, but he was also spending money taking women on dates and keeping up the appearance of being a doctor. He obviously didn’t have money to buy clothes other than the ratty scrubs he wore and spent plenty of time racking up hospital bills. He also didn’t appear to have a job for most of the time he knew Debra. So how exactly was he funding his life for decades?

9Where did 14-year-old superstar Skylar Sepulveda come from?!

When she heard a woman screaming outside of her apartment, Skylar immediately yelled at her mom to call 9-1-1 and sprinted out the door to help. Where did this magical teenager come from? Most adults would be terrified to run toward danger but Skylar didn’t seem to hesitate at all. Skylar is a hero in this story.

10How could Debra’s mother forgive her son-in-law so easily?

One of the most confusing moments of the podcast is just how quickly Debra’s mother was able to forgive the man who killed her daughter Cindi 31 years ago. Forgiveness might be a part of an individual’s grieving process but it seems like it happened way more quickly than expected. This ability to “see the best in everyone” is noble, but it’s also just really difficult to understand.

11How were Debra’s daughters able to see through John so quickly while she was so blind?

John so thoroughly fooled his victims yet others were able to see through his cons immediately. Debra’s daughters never really trusted John from the beginning so John tried to turn them all against one another. That’s another tactic abusers use, separating the victim from family and friends who may grow suspicious. Also, as Debra states multiple times, her love blinded her to John’s many flaws.

12Where’s everyone now?

After hearing this tale of how John managed to screw up the lives of countless humans, we know what happened to him but what about everyone else? Are his sisters okay now? Are Debra and her daughters doing well? And what about his ex-wife Tonia and their children? Did everyone manage to overcome this man’s terrible influence and come out on the other side? We certainly hope so. That’s the happy ending we really wish for at the end of all of this.

Listen to or read the Los Angeles Times’ Dirty John to find out more about John and his victims.

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