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Creepy tale of catfish 'Dirty John' who met his end after plan went terribly wrong

Darcy Rafter May 11, 2022

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If you have watched Bravo’s thriller series, Dirty John, then be warned – it’s nothing compared to the chilling real-life story that inspired the show.

John Meehan was known to catfish his way into innocent women’s lives and use revenge porn as a way to extort money out of them. He was nicknamed Dirty John for the ways he described having sex with women at college. The crook’s creepy tale became the centre of Netflix’s hit crime drama; based on Christopher Goffard’s infamous podcast of the same name.

It all began when a rich mother-of-four, Debra Newell, became Meehan’s perfect target. But no one could have predicted how her fairy tale marriage to ‘Dirty John’ could go so terribly wrong.

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Creepy tale of catfish ‘Dirty John’ explored

Photo by: Jordin Althaus/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

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After being married and divorced four times, Debra finally thought she had met her match. She came across John Meehan on an over-50s dating platform. They hit it off and he soon began staying at her Irvine penthouse, where her daughter, Jacquelyn, also lived.

Jacquelyn immediately had suspicions about her mom’s new man as their relationship was so fast-paced. Not only did they quickly move into a bayfront rental on Balboa Island together but a couple of months later they decided to tie the knot in Las Vegas.

It wasn’t long until the truth was unveiled about ‘Dirty John’s’ past life and the family hired a private investigator.

The Sun reports criminal records showed he had been in jail for stealing anaesthetic drugs. Reports also state he had three stalking injunctions from women he’d harassed. This certainly wasn’t the first time he had pretended to be a doctor on online dating sites, catfishing his way into women’s lives before harassing them.

How ‘Dirty John’ met his end as plan went terribly wrong

Photo by: Adam Christopher/NBCUniversal/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Debra started noticing he was stealing from her and dug deeper into Meehan’s long history of conning, manipulating, and abusing women. When she finally left him, he sought revenge and tried to sabotage her company, set her car on fire, and sent her family threats. That led up to the evening he attacked Debra’s daughter, Terra Newell, in her apartment complex. Subsequently, this led to John Meehan’s death as his planned assault went terribly wrong.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Meehan had prepared what the police call a ‘kidnap kit’: duct tape, kitchen ties, a vial of injectable drugs and a set of kitchen knives. He then grabbed Terra from behind and cut her arms with a knife.

Screenshot from ABC News YouTube Channel | The chilling true story behind ‘Dirty John’ |

“He was trying to push me into his car and I tried to get away from him,” she told Dateline. “I was screaming. As he put his hand over my mouth I bit down as hard as I could.”

Terra then used her boots to kick the knife from his grip. As it dropped to the floor she grabbed it and stabbed John Meehan 13 times.

“I just started stabbing him,” she continues. “I thought if he got back up he’s going to kill me.”

Terra left wounds to his shoulder, arm, back, chest and left eye, which went through to his brain. Four days after the attack his life support was turned off due to the brain injuries he sustained.

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Darcy is an experienced journalist passionate about celebrity culture and entertainment. After gaining a degree in Media and Communications at Goldsmiths University she has also become a social media specialist, always keeping informed on the latest trends. With almost five years of experience in media, her expertise is analysing platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. When she's not tracking the latest trending content, she’s watching films and eating lots of chocolate.