John Meehan was a master of deception — attracting smart, beautiful women with well-rehearsed narratives that painted him as a charming, well-educated, and handsome doctor.
But hiding behind those lies was a much grittier reality that included jail time, drug addiction, and a history of threatening and intimidating women.
His uncanny ability to convincingly lie to those around him allowed him to gain the trust of unsuspecting women who would grow to regret the day they met him. His deceptions were chronicled in the "Dirty John" podcast produced by the Los Angeles Times and an accompanying series of articles. The story is now being dramatized the show also named “Dirty John,” airing on Bravo, which is based on the true story and the LA Times podcast and articles.
Here are some of the craziest lies Meehan ever told:
1. He was a doctor.
Meehan presented himself as a successful doctor with homes in Newport Beach and Palm Springs, according to the Los Angeles Times. But, in reality, he never had a medical degree.
Meehan did have a nurse anesthetist degree from Middle Tennessee School of Anesthesia in 1998, but his nursing career fell apart after he was caught stealing drugs from patients in the hospitals where he worked.
After a lengthy investigation, Meehan pleaded guilty to felony drug theft in 2002 and would serve 17 months in a Michigan prison, The Los Angeles Times reports.
He was permanently barred from working in the state of Ohio as either a nurse or nurse anesthetist in 2003, according to the Dayton News Daily, a local Ohio newspaper.
But, even without the medical doctor degree he claimed to have, Meehan would regularly wear a pair of faded scrubs around town to aid him in the ruse he pulled on women he dated, telling them he had just come from surgery.
2. He had been in Iraq with Doctors Without Borders.
The first time Debra Newell met Meehan, he told her he had just come back from Iraq after spending a year with Doctors Without Borders, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Not only was Meehan not a doctor, he also hadn't been in Iraq, or doing anything close to humanitarian work. Instead, he had been in jail.
Meehan pleaded guilty in February 2014 to stalking a woman, whom he had dated after showing up in her hospital room as she recovered from brain surgery and pretending to be the women's anesthesiologist, according to The Los Angeles Times.
After she refused to transfer money into his bank account, he had sent intimate photos of the woman to her family.
"You're in way over your head on this one," he allegedly wrote to her. "Make it happen and I walk away. If not, I will be your nightmare."
He was released the summer of 2014, but would soon be behind bars again after he violated a restraining order against another woman, the newspaper reports.
He was released just two days before meeting Newell online.
3. He lied about his name and his age.
Meehan even lied about his age, telling his first wife Tonia Sells, now Tonia Sells Bales, that he was five years younger than he actually was. His real birthday was February 3, 1959, The Los Angeles Times reported.
He also told her his real name was Johnathan, but Meehan's mother, Dolores, would later tell Bales that his birth name had actually been John.
Bales wouldn't discover the deception until 10 years into their marriage, after Meehan had asked for a divorce. He had always strictly forbidden Bales from contacting his family, but after his abrupt decision to walk out on her and their two daughters, she wanted to know more about the man she had married.
"I just had a sense that there was something missing," Bales would later say on a podcast episode of "Murderish" of her decision to contact her former mother-in-law.
4. His family was so dysfunctional he had to cut off contact with them.
As mentioned above, when Meehan and Bales first got married, he told her never to contact his family. He gave her a "very believable" story, telling her that they weren't involved in his life because they were so dysfunctional.
There was some truth to his claim. His father had reportedly been instrumental in teaching Meehan his con man ways, instructing him on how to successfully pull off things like insurance scams and bogus lawsuits, the LA Times reported.
"There was a lot of dysfunction there, but I think he was the blackest sheep," Bales would later say on the "Murderish" podcast.
His father also instilled in Meehan at an early age the idea of vengeance for any perceived wrong.
“If anybody did anything to John, my dad would tell us, ‘You go there with a stick and take care of it,’” his sister Karen Douvillier would tell The Los Angeles Times. “It’s the Brooklyn mentality of you fight, you get even. If you want to get back at somebody, you don’t get back at them, you get back at their family.”
Contrary to his claim that he was estranged from his family, his other sister Donna Meehan Stewart repeatedly tried to help her brother, even rescuing his Ohio house from foreclosure while he was in prison, paying his overdue child support, getting his car out of impound, and giving him a credit card.
"There was nothing he would have to do except to be a better person and go get help," Stewart would say in The Times article that chronicled this story.
5. He had a healthy relationship with his daughters.
Part of Meehan's fake persona was that he was a devoted father to his two daughters, Emily and Abby.
But Emily Meehan would later say in her own episode of the "Murderish" podcast that she hadn't spoken to her father in years.
She said her dad told Newell after the pair got married that he took his daughters out for a "shopping trip" and would take random photos of girls shopping, later claiming they were his children. He also used Emily's social media accounts to pull pictures of her off the accounts to show Newell, she said.
"He used me and Abby and his father figure as a way to attract women," she said, adding that at one point his profile on Match.com featured an outdated photo of her with her dad.
After getting out of prison for drug charges, Meehan did have supervised visits with his children, but Bales said he only went to a few of the visits before he decided to stay in California and lost contact with the family in 2005.
Emily, who is now a nurse, said the last time she talked to her dad was when she was in the seventh grade. He had given her a phone so that the two could stay in touch but after he sent a text she didn't like, she responded saying she knew what he had done and that he had been mean to her mom.
"He texted me something along the lines of, 'One day you'll find out the truth,' and then he cut off my phone and never talked to me again," she said in the podcast.
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