He Seemed Like the Real Thing, Until He Wasn’t

(The Los Angeles Times)

Journalist Christopher Goffard of The Los Angeles Times may be the bard of crime in Orange County, California. Last year, his six-part series “Framed” told the story of fear and loathing in an Irvine PTA. His 2017 opus is “Dirty John,” a seven-part series — and podcast — that unravels the life of a con man as he takes on his final victim.

When Debra Newell met John Meehan for a first date, she thought he was handsome and kind, but shabbily dressed and a little strange. He said he was a doctor, an anesthesiologist; he always wore medical scrubs but he never seemed to go to work. When they married in Las Vegas less than two months later, she kept her family in the dark. It was only after she learned about his past that she began to fear for her life, and the lives of her children.

John towered over [Debra’s daughter Terra] by a full foot, and a coldness came off him. He barely made eye contact. He cut her questions short. As he helped Debra move into her new house, he huffed and strained and wrestled her queen mattress down the stairs single-handedly, a show of ludicrous machismo…

…She brooded on some questions. What kind of doctor had no car? Why had no one seen John’s houses in Newport Beach and Palm Springs? Why did he seem to spend all day playing “Call of Duty” on the 70-inch plasma TV her mom had bought?…

Terra discovered the truth the day before Thanksgiving, when she opened a closet and found a nursing certificate bearing John’s name. Her mom said she was getting his certificates framed, but Terra knew, and she did something uncharacteristic. She confronted her loudly.

Here came John, instantly transformed by rage. Why was Terra snooping through his stuff? Why was she trying to steal Debra from him? Did she realize that kids should be smacked for this?

Terra screamed at her mother: “How could you let this guy talk to me like this?!”

Terra left, badly shaken, with the sickening feeling that her mother was choosing John over her.

“They’re jealous.”

That was John’s explanation for her kids’ hostility to him. They didn’t want her to be happy. They just wanted her dead, so they could collect.

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