Dirty John's Love Gone Wrong

Updated: Mar 6

A 'love story', manipulation and murder....


Spoilers below for Dirty John, both a TV series and a podcast. If you don't want to know the ending don't read on.


This is NOT your normal love story....it's a true crime, Emmy winning television series.


Los Angeles Times journalist Christopher Goffard wrote "I’ve written hundreds and hundreds of stories about very bad people....I’ve been a reporter for 20 years … but there’s something about this guy, John Meehan, that chills me, that gets under my skin in a way that nobody else has.”



"Dirty John is a Bravo (also find it on Netflix) original series adapted from an extremely popular true-crime podcast (itself inspired by host Christopher Goffard’s series of L.A. Times articles) about one really bad guy (that would be John Meehan) who manipulated a spectacularly wealthy woman (self-made successful designer Debra Newell) as part of a long con that led to an incredibly violent end."


According to Vulture, a pop-culture website, "despite the adaptation’s impressive cast", the original series "never quite matches the morbid sensationalism of the actual story". "And, as disclaimers throughout Dirty John readily concede, events and characterizations are frequently fictionalized for the sake of narrative expediency and — in some cases — to respect the wishes of those involved." Meehan had an extensive criminal background and was in every word, a con man.


John Meehan was also a police informant (aka confidential informant, CI, rat, snitch and other superlatives enjoyed by the men in blue) for The Night Police author, Chris Berg and his undercover partner Bob Cooke. Berg was a narcotics detective in California when he met John Meehan. Later John would be killed by his wife's daughter Terra. Terra stabbed John in the eye fending off his brutal attack on her. The attack on Terra, and John's death, was provoked by John's fear of Terra exposing his criminal background to her mother.


The story of Dirty John is a tale of love, betrayal, and death. Rolling's Stones tells the story like this: "Meehan was a 55-year-old’s ruggedly handsome, “all-American quarterback” good looks" kind of guy, that first captured Newell's attention as a love interest. "He had an impressive career as an anesthesiologist, owned multiple houses and had “riveting” stories to tell about the year he spent in Iraq working with Doctors Without Borders. But what charmed Newell most of all was how riveted Meehan seemed to be by her, showing a keen interest in her work and family. But their otherwise perfect first date was not without glaring red flags – like how, after Newell invited him into her home for a nightcap, Meehan became sexually aggressive and she had to repeatedly ask him to leave. Yet Meehan worked his way back into her good graces, and after a two-month courtship, they were married – but in secret, as Newell’s daughters had become suspicious that there was more to Meehan than their mother realized."


According to The Night Police's Chris Berg, "John was most assuredly a narcissist. Some say he was also a sociopath. I'm no doctor, but I can tell you, he had absolutely no feelings for others"


Berg met Meehan, not surprisingly, in the middle of the night. John had been arrested for selling a relatively small amount of cocaine in a local bar. Routinely, the narcs got those calls regardless of the hour whenever a crook opted to squeal. During his first interview with Meehan, the detective was unimpressed. Meehan came off as a preppy college kid with a chip on his shoulder. Full of false bravado and claiming he could lead the cops to some seriously high level cocaine dealers. Berg was suspect.


Within minutes of meeting Berg and his partner, John stated he was willing to "snitch off" one of his best friends. That set up red flags for the veteran narcs who asked why he was so willing to "rat on a best friend." According to Berg, Meehan calmly and immediately chirped "Oh, I have no intention of going to jail."


John Meehan's vanity and egotism turned out to be attributes of a sort that Berg and his partner used to their advantage. His self-flattery, perfectionism, and arrogance were tools for the narcotics detectives. Adding to the mix, his social skills, ability to charm and total lack of concern for anyone made him a diamond in the rough, confidential informant, under the tutelage of Berg and Cooke.


During the 70s and 80's narcotics detectives aimed to make hand-to-hand buys of illicit drugs. While this was significantly more dangerous for the lawmen, it was the strongest case in court; just the narcs and the crook(s). Over time, usually a series of drug buys, the detectives would cut out the informant in these transactions. This hardened their cases making a court trial stand up without the informant in the middle. Why would they do that? Because the informant was always the weakest link in an undercover drug case. The motivations of any CI were suspect and they were often not as reliable as the court would wish. The narcs would make a couple of cases with the informant, cut him out and then make follow-on chargeable dope cases almost always increasing in quantity, and for that matter, danger.


John was the poster boy for the "cut out" strategy. He'd introduce the detectives to his network of high level drug dealers and the narcs would work him out of the case. They'd meet and develop their own relationships with drug dealers, ingratiating themselves and eventually buying the dope sans the snitch. Meehan's intro's ultimately yielded several multi-kilo cocaine cases, not to mention weed and weapons. It's worth noting that back in the 70s and 80s seizing a pound of cocaine was a big deal. Buying several kilos at a time, hand-to-hand, was a seriously sexy case for narcotics agents.


In John's case, being cut out of a case caused "a bit of a burr under the saddle" as Berg would say. Meehan wanted to be the superstar, the hero of the moment. He grew to crave the limelight, to be the key component (surprisingly, especially among the cops) that made the "badass case" putting Mr. Big in the slammer. The self described "pre-med" student needed that status as much as he needed to work off his beef. And of course, it wouldn't have mattered to Meehan if Mr. Big was his brother.


The Night Police's Berg and his partner Cooke worked with John almost daily for months, packing away an assortment of higher-level dealers. They worked, drank and laughed with him. Frankly, they enjoyed his company in an odd, knowing way. Not an uncommon situation between some snitches and the cops. Ultimately they spent hundreds of hours together and a few more than tense moments until Meehan met his commitment to the narcs.


According to Berg "The guy that's now known as Dirty John was a seriously effective informant. He also had his share of toys in the attic. I couldn't have predicted the course he'd take, but I was confident it wasn't going to be good. Never saw the knife in the eye on the horizon, but can't say he didn't have it coming."

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Sources:


https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/dirty-john-inside-hit-l-a-times-podcast-199428/,


https://www.vulture.com/2018/12/true-story-of-dirty-john.html


© 2020 by Chris Berg & Paul James Smith.