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Crime News Dirty John, The Dirty Truth

All The Crimes Tied To ‘Dirty John’ Meehan

The real-life family that the Bravo show is based on isn't the only one who felt threatened by John Meehan.

By Gina Tron

“Dirty John” is a riveting new Bravo show based on the true story of a successful businesswoman who joined a dating site looking for love, but instead, found a violent con artist. Debra Newell met John Meehan, who she later found out previously earned the nicknames “Dirty John” and “Filthy John,” on an over-50 dating site. She was 59, divorced four times, and ran a prosperous interior design firm, according to the Los Angeles Times. Meehan seemed like the perfect match — but it soon came out that he was anything but.

On the dating site, Meehan framed himself as a handsome anesthesiologist who owned multiple homes, but that soon proved to not be the case. Not only was Meehan not a doctor, but he had a history of stalking, harassing, and terrorizing women. He was known to peruse dating sites like Match.com and PlentyOfFish to lure in victims. “Dirty John” was also a convicted felon with a serious drug addiction habit. The story is so shocking LA Times journalist Christopher Goffard spent a whole year investigating Meehan’s case for an  investigative project for the LA Times called “Dirty John,” as well as a popular podcast of the same name.

Bravo’s newest scripted series, "Dirty John,"  is based on these true events and premieres Sunday, November 25. Fans can get a first look at the premiere of the seductive scripted anthology series which is streaming now. 

On the Bravo show, Meehan’s character is played by Eric Bana (Newell is played by Connie Britton), and as the episodes unfold, Newell investigates her new man. In the show, there are some fictionalized characters, events and elements, but Meehan’s true past is just as intense as any movie.

Here are all the crimes that the real-life Meehan has been accused of and linked to.

Stealing drugs

After his first wife, Tonia Sells, became suspicious of John in September 2000, she searched their home only to find a hidden box containing surgical anesthetics like Versed and Fentanyl, which he was stealing from the hospital to use to get high. She told police, who started an investigation and John eventually lost his job, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The day he was supposed to surrender for drug charges in Ohio, Meehan was arrested in Michigan after kicking a state trooper who was trying to force him from a hiding place above an elevator inside of a mall, according to Dayton Daily News.

Why was he hiding in the mall? He had escaped from a moving ambulance while being transported to a hosptial after he was found semi-conscious in a hotel room, surrounded by narcotic drugs. Police believe he stole drugs from hospitals across the country, including Indiana and Kentucky, in addition to Ohio and Michigan. He ended up losing his nursing license because of the charges, according to Dayton.com, and spent 17 months in a Michigan prison.

Bringing a gun into an operating room

According to The Los Angeles Times, hospital workers claimed they had witnessed Meehan bring a gun into the operating room while he was being investigated for stealing from the hospital. (They also claimed they saw him steal Demerol from a patient who really needed it).


Meehan wasn’t just terrorizing Newell. He was also convicted of menacing his ex-wife. After a decade of marriage, Meehan and his previous wife, Tonia Sells, officially divorced in 2001. Once the divorce was finalized, Meehan harassed and threatened Sells.

In one instance, he told his ex-wife he couldn’t stop smiling. She asked him why. “What, the Mafia’s coming after me again? Or what?” she questioned him,  according to the “Dirty John” podcast.

His response?

“When it happens, Tonia, and you see it in your eyes, remember it was me, OK?” He continued,“Tonia, you enjoy your time left on this earth, OK? Because that’s what it’s gonna come down to.”

She took him to court and he was convicted of menacing and received a suspended sentence, according to the LA Times report.

Stalking and Extortion

In 2013, Meehan met a 48-year-old Laguna Beach woman who had woken up to find Meehan standing over her hospital bed after she had brain surgery at a San Diego hospital, according to the podcast. He claimed he was her anesthesiologist. The two struck up a romance, but it didn’t end well. He suggested she transfer money into his account, and after she said no, he tried to extort her by sending intimate photos of her to her family.

“You’re in way over your head on this one,” he told her, according to the podcast. “Make it happen and I walk away. If not, I will be your nightmare.”

She called police, and when they searched his storage unit they found a Colt .38 Special, which he wasn’t supposed to have because he was a felon. They also found a  bottle of cyanide powder and eight cyanide capsules. He pleaded guilty in 2014 to stalking the Laguna Beach woman and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Trying to hire a hit

While Meehan awaited trial in 2013 for the above charges, he allegedly offered money to jailmates if they’d have two Laguna Beach detectives and the five witnesses against him, including several ex-girlfriends and his ex-wife, murdered, according to the podcast.

Violating a restraining order

In 2014, Meehan was arrested for violating a restraining order against another woman he had threatened.

He met Debra Newell just two days after being released from jail for the incident.

More stalking and violence against women

By the time that Meehan and Newell were married later in 2014,  three separate women around Southern California had standing restraining orders against Meehan and at least three others had requested restraining orders against him, according to the “Dirty John” podcast.

“He threatened to leak nude pictures of me if I did not give him money,” one woman claimed, according to the podcast. Another stated, “He was choking me, telling me if I tell the police anything else he’ll kill me.”

Stabbing his wife’s daughter

In August 2016, Meehan attacked Terra Newell, Debra Newell’s youngest daughter, in the parking lot of her home. Though he stabbed her, she was able to knock the knife out of his hand and fight back with his own knife; Meehan died after a few days from his wounds. Terra Newell was never charged because it was determined that she fought back in self-defense.

[Photo: Eric Bana as John Meehan in "Dirty John;" Credit: Bravo]