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When John Meehan entered Debra Newell's life, the 59- year-old interior designer was instantly smitten with him. The handsome, self-proclaimed Christian anesthesiologist, who had just spent a year with Doctors Without Borders, appeared to be the perfect man for the California mom, who had always succeeded in business, but hadn't had the same luck in love.
But while Newell was immediately taken with the new man in her life, her children weren't as enthusiastic. They began to suspect — after a series of odd clues — that the blossoming relationship had been built on a foundation of lies and were determined to prove the man who had suddenly swooped into their mother's life was nothing more than a clever con-man.
The true story is the inspiration for the new limited series event "Dirty John," premiering November 25, 10/9c on Bravo and starring Connie Britton and Eric Bana, with the premiere availble to stream now.
There were many reasons why Debra’s daughters, Jacquelyn and Terra, began to question the story Meehan had carefully crafted in the first place.
1. His Clothes Were a Mess.
Despite his claim that he was a successful anesthesiologist, Newell's daughters believed his clothes seemed more like something a homeless person would wear: He was almost always in a pair of tattered and faded blue scrubs, or baggy pants and old University of Arizona sweatshirts.
"The second I opened the door, I just kind of looked at him head to toe and thought, 'Oh, this loser,'" she said. "He didn't carry himself very well. His body was kind of moping around."
She'd later notice that despite his claims of being a doctor, his fingernails were always dirty, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The scrubs he regularly wore were dirty and frayed at the back and seemed more like something office staff would wear rather than a doctor. Jacquelyn thought it looked more like he was wearing a costume, the newspaper reported.
But Meehan had a "reason" for his sloppy wardrobe. He told Newell all his clothes had been stolen while he was in Iraq with Doctors Without Borders. The truth would eventually come out that Meehan had been serving time in prison, not in Iraq, prior to meeting Newell.
2. He Seemed To Be Sizing Up Newell's Possessions.
Newell had found massive success with her interior design business and her lavishly decorated apartment, complete with two original Salvador Dali pieces on the wall, stood as a testament to all she had been able to achieve. But Jacquelyn, who was living with her mother at the time, noticed Meehan was often "scanning" the room, almost as if he was adding up the value of the possessions, according to the podcast.
He even took notice of the safe Jacquelyn had in her office area, where she kept her Birkin handbags and other expensive purses.
"He walked in and said, 'What do you have in the safe, kiddo?' and I said, 'None of your business,' and I slid the door closed behind him," Jacquelyn recounted in the podcast. "I believe that was my second interaction with him and then I told my mom that she better get this creep out of the house or I don't plan on living with her."
3. His Answers About His Life Were Evasive.
Newell described Meehan as being overly attentive and doting on her, but her children found Meehan was less interested in their lives.
"My first impression of this guy, we walked in and he just really didn't want to say hi to us," her youngest daughter, Terra, would say on the podcast.
She initially thought maybe he was shy, but over time he continued to show little interest in getting close to Newell's family.
"He was just very standoffish. We would ask him questions [and] he would want to give us a one-worded answer," Terra later said during an appearance on "Megyn Kelly Today." "He didn't want to look us in the eyes and he was just kind of, his social skills were just kind of off with me and my sister."
4. Money Was Disappearing From Debra's Wallet.
Jacquelyn said her suspicions continued to grow after her mom noticed money had been disappearing from her wallet.
On more than one occasion, she'd call Jacquelyn to ask whether she had borrowed anything from the purse.
"I would be like, 'No, I didn't go out of my way to your office or anything like that to take or borrow money from you. How many places did you bring your purse today? Not only could it be that loser that you are dating, but it could be anybody,'" Jacquelyn said in the podcast.
5. Key Details Didn't Seem to Match His Story.
Terra first met Meehan during a visit to her mother's house just a few days before Thanksgiving. She was immediately struck by the fact that some of the details Meehan provided about his life didn't seem to add up.
"I was just confused because, to be honest, his story about having the three cars and the house didn't make a lot of sense to me. I called BS on that," she said in the podcast, saying they were never allowed to see the houses he supposedly owned and he always seemed to be driving her mother's car.
During the trip, she also found Meehan's nursing certificate — not a medical doctor's degree — in some of his things. Although she didn't initially realize he wasn't a doctor as well, Meehan got very angry about the intrusion. She said he screamed at her as she ran to a back bedroom in the apartment in tears.
"He was accusing me of wanting to take my mom away from him and also accusing me of snooping through his things, which I didn't, but because he said that it made me question, what is he trying to hide?" she said in the podcast.
6. He Didn't Seem To Have A Job.
As Jacquelyn's suspicions continued to grow about the man who had inserted himself into her mother's life, she began to question where he'd go during the day.
He'd usually leave in the morning wearing his faded scrubs and would return sometime in the afternoon. He had told Newell's family that he didn't work for one particular hospital but traveled between clinics and operating rooms doing anesthesiology work, the podcast explained.
Jacquelyn decided she needed more evidence about where he went during the day and put a tracking device on the Tesla, which belonged to her mom, that John drove each day. In the podcast, Jacquelyn said that she asked her mom before she put the tracker on her car.
"I just found that he would go to different doctor's offices and then he would go to a warehouse and he would usually go to a post office," she said in the podcast, adding that he also went to fast food restaurants and the gas station.
She wasn't able to figure out what he was doing but suspected that maybe he was getting prescriptions filled for drugs.
"I couldn't figure out all of that," she explained.
Newell herself noticed that Meehan never brought home a paycheck but thought he was working as a freelance anesthesiologist who got paid in cash, according to a Los Angeles Times article chronicling the story.
7. His Contempt For Newell's Nephew
Shad Vickers, Newell's nephew, had heard the family's complaints about his aunt's new boyfriend, but he wanted to judge the man for himself. He initially thought he was a "good, fun guy," said The Los Angeles Times.
But after Meehan had made a comment in front of Vickers about Jacquelyn, saying he could "take her out," Vickers, whose mother had been killed by his father many years[DJ(6] earlier, became concerned.
When he learned Newell's family had hired a private investigator, he asked to see a copy of the report and was shocked to see the report noted a bankruptcy and numerous residences throughout the United States, including one recent one in a trailer park.
He decided to talk to his aunt and tell her he didn't want her to fall victim to the same fate as his mom, but when news of the conversation got back to Meehan, he was furious and started to aggressively harass Vickers.
“Why don’t you simply go away,” Meehan would later text him, according to the Los Angeles Times. “You’re not invited here. You come near and I call the cops… Worry about your own miserable life and I’ll worry about Debbie, who is a lot closer to me than you can ever imagine. You won’t win this."
While Newell still wanted to believe the best in the new husband she'd secretly married, her family had begun to put together the pieces and were convinced Meehan was a dangerous man who was a threat to anyone who stood in his way. They would sadly end up being right.
[Photo: Terra Newell and Debra Newell on in January on "Megyn Kelly Today;" via Getty Images]
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