How dangerous is online dating, and could it lead to death?
A new Bravo anthology series called “Dirty John” is based on real-life, “true crime” podcast created about a man named John Meehan. Whether you consider yourself well versed in romance scammers or not, this roller coaster story might cause you to question how readily you trust people and how much of a risk dating puts your family in.
Someone in the real-life version of this story died by murder.
Meet Debra Newell, a successful divorced mother living in Orange County, California. She was 59 when she met a handsome 55-year-old man through a dating app. While they would marry quickly, the drama that would follow was not what she or anyone hopes for when they meet someone new. Her true to life plot was dramatic (and shocking!) enough that it became the basis of a podcast and LA Times series.
Who Was John Meehan?
John Meehan got the name “Dirty John” from schoolmates at college, where he was known for telling extravagant tales (i.e., lying) and sleeping with many women. Debra didn’t know this when John professed his love for her. They met on a 50+ dating site where he claimed to be divorced, Christian, and a physician.
Unlike other dates she’d gone on, John wasn’t dull and wooed her with his intense gaze. He was interested in what she had to say and claimed he’d spent the last year of his life working for Doctors Without Borders as an anesthesiologist.
His church was the same as hers, Mariners and he had children and several houses. Their attraction and attention made her feel good, and they went back to her place. When he wanted to go further, physically, than she did, they argued, and he left. While that could have been the end of their story, it wasn’t. He apologized the next day and by the 2nd and 3rd date told her he loved her.
Her adult children knew something was wrong. Debra’s daughter, Jacquelyn, lived with her and thought John might be homeless or, at least, strange. However, Debra was confident that John was who he said he was. He even wore faded blue scrubs when they went to fancy events.
So Debra could avoid scrutiny, the new couple began looking for a new place together. He stayed off the lease, claiming “tax trouble,” but they got a $6.5k lease for a home on Balboa Island. By this point, they’d known one another five weeks.
Meanwhile, one of Debra’s other children, Terra, age 23, was living in Vegas and thought her mother liked to see the best in people, especially men. In the past, Terra knew her mother had been tricked by “fake” Christians and even experienced violence from dates.
As time went on, Dirty John seemed overly interested in the contents of Debra’s safe. Her children would eventually have John investigated, and Debra would later learn that he had a criminal past and felony. Without realizing it, she’d gone on her first date with John days after he left jail. Although he posed as a doctor, he was homeless and – at most – had been a nurse whose license wasn’t active.
At one point, he had problems with illegally getting access to prescription meds. While they married in December 2014, after dating two months, the relationship officially ended in March 2016. As she tried to annul the marriage, John became violent and set fire to Debra’s car.
By August 2016, he attacked Debra’s daughter, Terra, in a parking lot and grabbed at a knife he’d had in a bag and used it to attempt to stab her. Terra kicked it away, grabbed the knife, and stabbed him multiple times. An investigator said that sometimes happens when people try and defend themselves when adrenaline is high.
Debra and her children, along with Dirty John’s ex-wife, now speak out about their experience. After the knife went through his eye into his brain, from Terra stabbing him, he was declared dead at the scene but revived and taken off life support four days later.
All of this, because Debra trusted someone she met on a blind date through a dating site.
Whether you’re worried about someone you met or want to make it a policy to a background check every date, Social Catfish can help. Our specialized proprietary algorithm is similar to facial recognition and finds photo matches across the web to unmask any scammers.
Sociopaths and psychopaths are skilled at lying and trickery. Meeting someone who seems genuine, but comes on too strong, is a red flag which shouldn’t be ignored. Healthy people won’t push to move in on the first or second date. Fact check your date on Social Catfish: