The crazy real life story of Dirty John the show misses out

You DO NOT want to read this if you’re still watching the show

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There's another new true crime series on Netflix that everyone is talking about. Step aside Ted Bundy and Abducted in Plain Sight, and enter Dirty John – the Netflix drama series being compared to 'You', but with a real life twist. Yes Dirty John may be a drama, but there is a Dirty John true story – and that's what inspired the Netflix series.

Here are all the details of the Dirty John true story, the real events of the lives of Debra Newell and John Meehan.


Eric Bana as Dirty John in the Netflix series

The Dirty John true story:

The Dirty John true story is all about the life of John Meehan, a con artist and sociopath. He was given the name "Dirty John" or "Filthy John" by his classmates at the University of Dayton, Ohio. He was given this nickname because he used to brag about the girls he had slept with, and was basically just a bit of a creep. John had two sisters, and a brother who died of a drug overdose in 2000, none of which were shown in the show.

Debra Newell is a business woman and interior designer who lived in Orange County in Los Angeles. In real-life, the divorced interior designer had four children, not three as shown in the Netflix series. Her oldest daughter was not included in any media retelling of their family's trauma, while Debra's second child's name was changed from Jacquelyn, who participated in the podcast, to Veronica.

It all started in 1990

In 1990, John Meehan married his first wife Tonia Sells. She was 25 and he was 31, but he lied to her and her family and said he was 26. They had two children together but then John Meehan said he wanted a divorce, 10 years after they had married.

It was then Tonia Sells found out he had lied about his age. She also found out he had previous drug charges, and when searching the house they shared together, she found anaesthetic drugs that he had stolen from the hospital he was a nurse at.

In 2002, there were police investigations into John Meehan

In 2002, Dirty John was also investigated by police for bringing a gun into an operating theatre, and stealing more drugs from a hospital. He was stripped of his nursing license and arrested. He pled guilty but then fled. He was later tracked down, but he attacked the police officer. He was caught and sentenced to six years, but released after 17 months.

John pleaded guilty to stalking another woman in 2014. He had met her in hospital when she was recovering from surgery. They had dated, but she was uncomfortable with him asking for money from her. When she ended their relationship, he sent her threatening messages and intimate photos of her to her family.

John Meehan in real life, in police mugshots

John Meehan met Debra Newell in October 2014

This is when the Dirty John true story crosses more with the basis of the Netflix doc. He met Debra Newell in 2014. The pair met on an over 50s dating site. He told her he'd served as an anaesthesiologist in Iraq and spent a year with Doctors Without Borders.

Within five weeks the couple had bought a house together, and Debra was already pushing away her two daughters, Terra Newell and Jacqueline Newell. Debra and John married after eight and a half weeks. In the show the couple married in Las Vegas, but this wasn't the case in real life. In real-life, John often begged Debra to marry him.

John Meehan and Debra Newell in real life, in 2014

Their relationship spiralled, and Debra's daughters knew there was something odd about John and took an instant disliking to him. A small detail left out from the show was that Debra bought John an entire new wardrobe. He wore his scrubs all day, saying he had no money, and his clothes were stolen in Iraq.

It wasn't long before John's lies began to unravel. Debra found documents detailing his previous arrests and restraining orders that women had against him. Women John had been in relationships with, including his ex wife Tonia, were all petrified of him. On some of the printouts Debra found, women shared information about dangerous men, with warnings about John: "Do not let this man into your life," one said. Debra also found out about his Dirty John nickname.

Debra Newell then moved out of her house with John, she did this without him knowing when he was recovering from surgery in hospital. But within a couple of months she got back in touch with him. He had an explanation for everything, Debra said on the Dirty John podcast. "He always had a story. He told me that he had lied because he thought he’d lose me, that he feels so lucky that I’m such a forgiving person, I’m the love of this life, that I’ve made him a better person."

It was then that Debra and John moved back in together, this time in a new apartment.

In March 2016, the relationship was over

After a year and three months, in March 2016, Debra finally cut John out for good and filed to annul the marriage. John began to send her threatening messages and said he would ruin her life. He even stole her car.

Debra and Terra Newell in a TV interview

John Meehan died on August 24th 2016

John attacked Debra's daughter, Terra, with a knife. Terra told Dateline: "I tried to get away from him, I was screaming, and he put his hand over my mouth and I bit as hard as I could." During the fight, she kicked the knife out of John’s hand, then managed to grab it herself and stab him 13 times, including once through his eye.

On August 24th 2016, John Meehan passed away. He died in hospital aged 57, four days after his fight with Terra. He was declared brain dead, and his sister Karen made the decision to take him off life support.

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