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How Terra Newell's Obsession With 'The Walking Dead' Saved Her From 'Dirty John'

“So, I guess that was my zombie kill," she says, recalling how she used what she learned in "The Walking Dead."

By Gina Tron

Terra Newell was 25 years old, soft-spoken, and uncompetitive. By all accounts, nobody thought that Newell would be the one to take down a seasoned convict who was terrorizing her family. But that’s exactly what she did with some tips from the zombie show “The Walking Dead” according to the true crime podcast “Dirty John,” which details the horrifying John Meehan case in depth, thanks to the work of LA Times journalist Christopher Goffard. The podcast is the basis for the hit Bravo series of the same name. 

Terra’s mother, Debra Newell, met John Meehan, nicknamed (unbeknownst to Debra) “Dirty John,” on an over-50 dating site. He seemed like the perfect match for the wealthy interior designer — but it soon came out that he was anything but. Rather than spending time serving as a doctor overseas as he claimed, he had spent time behind bars for committing numerous creepy crimes.

Terra distrusted Meehan immediately. As explained in the podcast, she just felt like there was something off about her mother’s new boyfriend. And indeed there was. Not only did he terrorize past loves, but he started to harass Debra and her family, too.

“[Terra] wasn’t a fighter and had no background in martial arts, though she studied television violence with uncommon intensity,” Goffard explained. “‘The Walking Dead’ was a reservoir of survival techniques, like biting, as demonstrated in the season 4 finale when a character escapes a tight spot by opening a bad guy’s jugular with his teeth.”

This interest would prove vital to saving Terra’s life.

On August 2016, Meehan attacked Terra in the parking lot of her home. Meehan had what police later called a ‘kidnap kit” on him: a backpack, camouflage duct tape, 13 cable ties, and six knives from a cookware set. He also had a passport and a vial of injectable testosterone, according to the podcast.

Terra explained on the podcast how Meehan grabbed her from behind by her waist and asked if she remembered him. At this point, he was married to her mother and technically her step-dad, even though he and Debra had separated.

“And I didn’t even respond to that,” she said “I just tried to get away from him. He started grabbing me, trying to put his hand over my mouth. I bit him.”

The biting strategy? Remember, as noted earlier that was a message she took away from “The Walking Dead.”  Terra told Goffard on the podcast that she learned that teeth could be a weapon from the show and that she also learned how to hold a knife from it.

“You pick up stuff from watching stuff or, like, hearing stuff,” she said. “I’m more of a visual person, so like how they hold the knife, I guess I learned how to hold a knife automatically. ‘Cause if you hold it the other way it’s more easy for it to fall out of your hand... you gotta hold it tight so that you don't cut yourself and also you… kind of you make a fist [when you hold it], where if you hold it a different way it’s less control over the knife and someone is more [likely] to take it from you.”

She also learned that a zombie needs a zombie kill or a stab to the head to truly die.

“A stab to the head or a shot to the head and then you kill a zombie,” she said in the podcast. “You need to kill their brain.”

“Kill or be killed,” she said is the mindset she learned from the show.

That all proved to be valuable knowledge.

When Meehan attacked her, they wrestled and fell to the ground, where she kept kicking him and fighting back, trying to block the knife. At some point, the knife flew into the air and landed on the pavement. It landed inches from Terra’s right hand and the handle was pointed toward her, Goffard explained.

“I didn’t give it a second thought, and I just starting whaling on him and stabbing him,” she said, adding that she felt like she didn’t have a choice. She used her knowledge of how to hold a knife to stab Meehan. She repeatedly stabbed his shoulder, his shoulder blade, his triceps, his upper back, his forearm, triceps, and chest.

Then, she went in for the zombie kill aiming for his eye. The knife went into his brain.

“The last one was in the eye,” she said in the podcast. “So, I guess that was my zombie kill.”

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, defense moves from “The Walking Dead” that saved her life.

[Photo: Getty Images]