If you’ve been following my byline—you should, by the way—you know about my fascination with true crime shows and documentaries. The latest one to catch my attention is the story of John Meehan aka “Dirty John.” By his nickname, you can probably already tell that his crimes will make you cringe, and they will. That being said, I did some deep diving by binge-watching two things. First, was a documentary, Dirty John: The Dirty Truth, recounting the timeline of his crimes, including interviews with his victims. The second was the Dirty John series on Netflix, a dramatization of his years of manipulating women.
You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Tisha, who the f*ck is Dirty John?” Now, be patient, I’m getting to that. For over two decades, he had accumulated restraining orders from women, pretended to be a doctor, and was even busted for drug possession. A lot happened but for the purpose of this story, I want to focus on how he treated women.
In 1990, he married Tonia Sells who was a nurse. 10 years and two children later, Tonia discovers John’s stash of anesthetic drugs, which he was stealing from patients at the hospital he was working at. I mean, *flips table*. Tonia went to the police who started to investigate him. Props to this strong lady who stood up against him to protect herself and her children. By doing so, she was also trying to keep him away from hurting other women as well.
Starting 2002, he tried his best to evade getting arrested but the police finally caught him. He was sentenced to six years in prison but only served 17 months. Yeah, the system is f*cked up like that. However, his filthy ways didn’t stop there. In 2014, he preyed on yet another woman who was recovering from brain surgery. He told her he was her anesthesiologist, but he wasn’t. They dated for a while until he asked her to transfer money to his account. When she finally ended their relationship, John wasn’t happy and would send her threatening text messages—a recurring trait that he has.
A few months later, he met Debra Newell, who would be the last woman he tried his tactics on. They met on an online dating site, which can already be viewed as a problem. She was a successful interior designer who had been married in the past. On their first date, he fed her his usual spiel: that he was a doctor who had served as an anesthesiologist in Iraq. She fell for him almost instantly, regardless of the red flags that were popping up left and right. She decided to look past all of that. Her two daughters, on the other hand, weren’t as forgiving. They immediately felt that something wasn’t right and began to question who he really was.
After being together for just a month, John and Debra moved in together. This is when her relationship with her daughters started to get tense. Both were very vocal with their mother about how much they didn’t like him. And his creepy demeanor should have been enough to convince her but she was in love. As Wanda from BoJack Horseman said, “When you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.” And that is exactly what was happening because after dating for less than two months, they got married. She hid this from her family for fear of how they would react.
They were married for one year and three months. In that time, you will not believe the things that he did. He tricked her into installing cameras all over the house, only so he could spy on her. He would pretend to go to work but in reality he was just home playing video games or shooting up drugs. At one point, he also forced her to stop seeing her family. He would send her threatening text messages and demanded for money. He even stole her car and set it on fire. The worst thing he did was when Debra filed for annulment. He stalked her younger daughter and attacked her. Holding a knife, he tried to push her into his car but she fought like hell. At one point, she was able to kick the knife out of his hand. It fell to the ground, she picked it up, and started stabbing him. She was defending herself with all the strength she had and came out alive. John, however, wasn’t as lucky. After being rushed to the hospital, he was put on life support. Four days after, his sister Karen decided to pull the plug.
This story is so crazy, I couldn’t even believe it was true. For Debra, it seemed like she thought she could change him. Please, always remember, that you can’t. They have to want to change and it has to start from them. After her experience, she also started to help other victims of domestic abuse. This isn’t just physical, it can be verbal, mental, and emotional as well. In an interview with Fox5 she said, “There are women that are probably scared to death to leave. [They] don’t see any other way of getting out of the relationship and I want to have a voice for them.” After all of the mess that happened, in the end, these women were able to protect and stand up for themselves. An inspiring story I think you should all watch.
Art by Marian Hukom
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