A true crime podcast involving manipulation, deception and murder captured the nation this fall. "Dirty John" is about a woman in her 50s who is swept off her feet by someone she thinks is the perfect man. In reality, he was a socio-pathic con artist who ended up trying to kill her daughter. That woman and her daughter have been living part-time in Henderson.
Debra Newell met John Meehan in Oct. of 2014. At the time, she lived in California, she'd been married and divorced a couple times before, and she said she thought, “Finally, this was the real thing.”
However, very quickly, things took a turn, and she and her family realized they were dealing with a dangerous con artist; one who would stop at nothing to get what he wanted, she said.
“I met him on a dating website and he tended to have everything on my checklist I was looking for,” Debra said.
Debra Newell had become a very successful woman. As the owner of a thriving interior design business, with a beautiful family, she said she was ready to share her life with someone who valued those things.
“I liked that he was a doctor, that he had been successful helping people, and then when he said he had been to Iraq, Doctors Without Borders, that impressed me also,” Debra said. “It moved very quickly, and I was sort of, how do I put it? Swept off my feet because he knew what to say. Everything was so calculated,” Debra said.
John said he was a doctor, owned multiple homes and was a family man.
“He would get dressed in his scrubs and yet he wasn't bringing in income. He said all his money was going towards his kids,” Debra said.
Debra said she was blinded by love at the time, but her kids were not.
“I just wanted her to look at the red flags and slow it down and pump the breaks,” Debra’s daughter Terra said. “My first impression of him was that he was kind of cold.”
Her daughter and other family members expressed their concerns about John, but Debra was head over heels.
“It was like a swept off your feet, like I'm saying, romance and I just fell hard for him. I wasn't quite ready to get married. He would ask me at least I'm gonna say between 10 and 20 times a day,” Debra said.
Finally, after knowing John less than two months, Debra said “yes.”
“I let my heart lead as opposed to my head and I should have let me head lead, and we went to Vegas and got married,” Debra said.
However, the happy moment didn’t last long.
“I was seeing signs and I was like ‘What did I do? What did I do? Why did I marry this man?’” Debra said, “I had my family, which is amazing, I have the best family, and a couple of my kids started looking into him.”
They hired a private investigator and found prison records, restraining orders, proof that he wasn't a doctor after all, signs of drug addiction and more.
“I was so torn because part of me made a commitment and I need to honor it. The other part of me says ‘He's a bad guy, you need to get away,” Debra said.
Debra got out, but it wasn’t long before John reeled her back in.
“He's got an excuse for every single one, but he's got a lawyer saying that he can prove John's innocent,” Debra said. “You've fallen in love with someone, you wanna believe them. At the same time, your gut’s telling you, it's just not right.”
A few months later, Debra said she realized she'd made a mistake.
“He has sent some pretty evil text messages,” Debra said, “‘I hope you went to church today because I have a really bad feeling about you.’”
Debra said he sent her daughter something even worse.
“One of them was, ‘I hope you fall out of a building um land on your head and your brains splatter all over the place. I will be laughing,’” Debra said.
Then they read a chilling report about his time in jail.
“He cut his stomach open in jail and then he put poop in it so he could go to the hospital and get a fix and I thought, ‘If he could do that to himself he could hurt someone else without giving it a thought,” Terra said.
“I got out. I started hiding. I wore a brown wig. At times, I couldn't go into my office,” Debra said.
Debra lived with fear and anxiety for months, scared to death that John would find her or her kids. In Aug. of 2016, her fears came true.
“My dog started to bark and growl at this person and I just thought it was a homeless guy to be honest,” Terra said.
Terra had just gotten home from work. Her mind was on the concert she was going to that night.
“This guy came up and grabbed me by the waist, looked me in the eyes and he said ‘Do you remember me?’ I just didn't even say anything to him, I just tried to flee and get away from him and he started to like punch me but I didn't realize it was stabbing,” Terra said, “He tried to cover my mouth. I bit him as hard as I could.”
Terra said they continued to fight. She said he was stabbing at her and she was kicking and screaming, doing anything she could to get away.
“I ended up like going down to the ground and being on my back and he was doing this [stabbing motion] with a knife, but the knife was in a Del Taco bag,” Terra said. “I did this one kick and the knife fell out of the bag and it landed right here. So, I picked up the knife and I started just wailing on him.”
She said in that moment, it was going to be her or him.
“I just started stabbing him. I started to push him off of me and then I got him right here [shoulder] and I also got the last one in his eye and the last one I kind of did give a second thought. I was like ‘I don't want him to get back up, I don't want him to try to hurt me again. If he gets back up he's gonna kill me,” Terra said.
She said she started screaming for help and ran.
“I called my mom and I told her, ‘I'm so sorry I killed your husband,’” Terra said.
“She had been stabbed in the chest, in the arm and a little bit of a fracture here [above her eye] where he missed. Thank God,” Debra said.
“I had more guilt than you know what to do with. I just thought, ‘I caused this,’” Debra said.
Doctors declared John brain dead. Two days later, they pulled the plug. Finally, this family's nightmare is over.
“I'm happy that he's gone and not able to hurt anyone else,” Terra said.
Since then, Debra has made it her mission to help others in similar situations: victims of people who use coercive control.
"First, they try to listen to you to get to know you. Then, they say everything right; what you want to hear. So they're able to be what you want,” Debra said.
She’s been using her nightmare to try and save others.
“There are women that are probably scared to death to leave. (They) don't see any other way of getting out of the relationship and I want to have a voice for them,” Debra said.
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