Married for a Decade. Then She Met the Real 'Dirty John'

Conman called 'the most devious, dangerous, deceptive person I ever met'
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 4, 2017 4:08 PM CDT
'Dirty John': The Birth of a Conman
John Meehan   (California Department of Corrections)

John Meehan became "Dirty John"—occasionally "Filthy John"—in law school. The nickname was bestowed by his classmates for the sheer number of women he would bring home, but it seemed to cover a lot of his unseemly behavior, Christopher Goffard writes in the third installment of the Los Angeles Times' six-part series on a conman who posed as a too-good-to-be-true anesthesiologist to marry and eventually extort a California woman named Debra Newell. But back in law school and the years before, Meehan made his money on smaller scams: jumping in front of fancy cars, putting broken glass in his fast food, renting a roommate a truck with no brakes, leaving roofing jobs unfinished, selling cocaine.

Meehan's sisters say he learned it from his father. “He was taught to manipulate at a very early age," sister Karen Douvillier says. Meehan saw himself as James Bond as played by Sean Connery. A sheriff's investigator who helped get Meehan convicted on a federal drug charge saw him differently: “The most devious, dangerous, deceptive person I ever met." After bailing on law school after two years, Meehan married a nurse named Tonia Sells in 1990. Following a decade of marriage and two daughters, Meehan asked for a divorce—and Sells discovered his real name and age. She had already helped put him through nursing school and would, like Newell, come to describe Meehan as "evil." An addiction to surgical anesthetics would lead to 17 months in prison for Meehan. His sister Donna Meehan Stewart says no sooner was he released than he was on looking for another victim. (For more on "Dirty John," parts one and two are here.)

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