entertainment

Debra thought John was the man of her dreams. She couldn't have been more wrong.

Content note: This post contains mild spoilers for the podcast Dirty John. 

Debra Newell thought she was too old to ever find love again. At 59, she had already been married and divorced four times. She had four grown up children, a successful interior design business and a whole lot of money.

Then she met John Meehan.

At first, John seemed like the man of her dreams. He was 55 years old, six foot two and he had the kind of good looks you’d associate with an old-school Hollywood heart throb.

They met on an over 50s dating website and on their first date, John opened the door for her and put Debra’s napkin on her lap. The conversation just flowed and within a few weeks, they had moved in together.

Less than two months later, they married in secret.

John told Debra he was an anaesthetist who had just spent a year in Iraq with Doctors Without Borders. He told her he was a victim of his ex-wife’s lies and that he really missed seeing his two daughters. John also told Debra he was the best thing that ever happened to her.

Debra’s family, however, weren’t so convinced by John’s smooth operation. Their initial misgivings and what followed is the now the subject of the podcast Dirty John.

Dirty John is a seven-part feature podcast produced by the LA Times, distributed by Wondery and narrated by Christopher Goffard.

As the story of John’s past unfolds on the podcast, the audience learns the truth along with Debra – who speaks at length on each episode – John definitely isn’t who he says he is.

A letter that arrived in their mailbox unravelled a web of lies and destruction.

Debra learned the man she loved was a serial conman who lures wealthy women into his scheming, before turning on them and blackmailing them.

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In episode four, Forgiveness, we learn that John used to be a nurse anaesthetist before he lost his licence for stealing the drugs he was supposed to be administering to his patients. John had never been to Iraq, and John was definitely not the best thing to ever happen to Debra.

We also learn that Debra takes him back anyway.

She takes him back even after she finds a bunch of paperwork in their study that actually documents his long history as a serial conman. Paperwork that proves, without a doubt, John is dangerous and not the man she thought he was.

But John is able to explain away the paper trail and Debra actually believes him. She ignores the pleas from her family and reunites with him.

And that’s what makes Dirty John such an enthralling listen; the idea that a highly educated, wealthy woman could be manipulated by a dangerous hustler over and over again, even when all the evidence is right in front of her, is baffling. Yet, it happened.

And it happens to thousands of people around the world, every single day.

Dirty John explores the roles of trust, power and manipulation in relationships, how anyone could fall victim to a conman like John and our refusal to see what’s right in front of us.

Will Debra eventually find the courage to leave? One can hope. So far, though, that seems unlikely.

Because, as the podcast shows us so eloquently, we’re all a lot more vulnerable than we think.

The first four episodes of Dirty John are available to download now and the last three will be released in the coming week.

What’s your all-time favourite podcast? Let us know in the comments below…

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