At 59, Debra Newell had found professional—but not romantic—success. Divorced four times, the Irvine, Calif., interior designer hadn't totally given up on love, and then it found her in a whirlwind. She met John Meehan via an online dating site in October 2014, and he seemed too good to be true: a 55-year-old anesthesiologist with washboard abs prone to obsessive flattery and so attentive he carried her purse for her. She spotted a few red flags—he wore tattered scrubs to a formal evening event—and her kids spotted far more: He called himself a doctor but had no car and dirty fingernails; he played Call of Duty constantly. And, unbeknownst to them, by that December he had married their mom. So begins a tale of "love, deception, forgiveness, denial, and ultimately, survival," told in six parts by Christopher Goffard for the Los Angeles Times (parts one and two out thus far).
"Dirty John" recounts how, after knowing John just five weeks, Debra rented them a $6,500-a-month Newport Beach home. He later outfitted it in security cameras he could monitor from his phone, which is how he ended up spotting her opening a letter addressed to him from someone who said he spent time with John in county jail. He had an answer for it, as he did for everything, but while he was out, she began to chip away at the truth, as told by papers sitting in plain sight in their shared home office: Court records painted the picture of an alleged conman who had served time for drug theft and had a history of seducing and then taking advantage of women. He had met Debra two days after leaving jail after violating a restraining order. Printouts from DatingPsychos.com logged women's complaints about him. She began packing her things. Follow the story here or listen on iPhone or Android. (Read more Longform stories.)