Debra Newell on the way she’s portrayed in Dirty John: ‘I don’t feel desperate’

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Mild spoilers for Dirty John, which is based on a true story that’s been widely publicized
Over the holiday I binged the Dirty John podcast, which told the true story of John Meehan and Debra Newell. This fascinating and horrific story has been made into a Bravo series starring Connie Britton and Eric Bana, airing now. For those unfamiliar with this, John Meehan just got out of jail in 2014 when he met successful interior designer Debra Newell online. (A full timeline is here.) He misrepresented himself as a successful doctor when he was in fact a failed nurse anesthesiologist who lost his license for stealing drugs. He had served several prison stints for committing multiple crimes, most against women. John moved quickly with Debra and she was completely charmed by him, moving in with him after a few weeks and marrying him after less than three months together. Debra’s young adult daughters, one of whom lived with her before she moved in with John, rightfully distrusted John and warned their mother about him. Debra ignored their pleas (her behavior makes more sense when you learn about her family’s past) and remained loyal to John for a time, missing so many red flags. The way Debra explains it on the podcast, John was just so helpful and loving that she didn’t see anything else. (Most people know how this turns out but I’m not going to reveal it here.)

To her credit, Debra has been very open with the press about this painful period in her life. She’s a strong woman who got sucked into an abusive relationship. You can be highly competent and brave in some areas of your life and still get taken in by an abuser and con artist. They’re the best at scamming women after all. In the Bravo show, of which I’ve seen the first episode so far, they show Debra dating multiple men who are disappointing to her. However Debra tells US that this isn’t accurate and she wasn’t desperate when she met him. She also planned her escape carefully:

“Remember, it’s Hollywood,” she told Us. “First of all, I don’t feel desperate. I think that it’s very natural to want to have a companion and to be in love I was not quite described the way that I think that I am.”

She continued: “The other thing is I did do my investigation – unfortunately too late. It is very, very important to do it in the beginning, obviously. But I did do an investigation into John, and I went into hiding. I had to prepare to go into hiding for seven months, which isn’t just walking away. You have to change accounts, find another place, look at your business, get a new phone, a new residence, even rental cars. There was time to prepare for it, and so I was in hiding for seven months.”

On Monday, January 14, the story will be told again through a two-hour documentary on Oxygen, Dirty John: The Dirty Truth. Newell, 59, explained to Us that on the podcast and show, they missed what Meehan really did: “coercive control.”

“Laura Richards opened my eyes to it. It really helped relieve me, to some degree, knowing that it is such a common thing, unfortunately, but I now knew what happened to me and that it could happen to anyone,” the interior designer explained. “There was a relief there knowing that somebody really knew this type of person and that it is very, very common.”

Many who watched the show took to social media to react, shaming Newell for continuing her relationship with Meehan. However, the response was “better than it was from the podcast,” she said. “More people are becoming aware that it could happen to them. You’re still dealing with negative comments, but it’s OK. I’m tough.”

[From US Magazine]

I got so immersed in the podcast that I didn’t realize how much they missed about the abuse Debra endured and how common that is. People often blame victims for staying in these type of relationships when they should have our sympathy and understanding. Not only is Debra dealing with everything about this still-recent tragedy getting widespread attention, she’s also facing criticism for marrying a man who had decades of experience scamming women. I like how Connie Britton seems to understand that though, and how she’s explained that and defended Debra.

Incidentally, US has personal photos from Debra too. I couldn’t find her Instagram so I don’t feel comfortable posting those here but you can see them on US’s site. They kind of bring this whole story home. I did find Debra’s daughter Terra’s Instagram! Terra is a dog groomer and she loves dogs. I was so happy to see these. Let’s look at photos of her good dogs! Cash has so much personality.

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32 Responses to “Debra Newell on the way she’s portrayed in Dirty John: ‘I don’t feel desperate’”

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  1. HK9 says:

    I love the dogs (and I’m a cat person) and I’m glad she got out.

  2. Tiffany says:

    I did not listen to the podcast but I did read the LA Times story on the two of them and while there was never a question of abuse, Debra has the privilege of rewriting her own history. I just cannot with this woman. I can’t.

    • Val says:

      OMG. I totally agree. I read the article too and I just could not believe that nonsense. Like, GIRL. C’mon. He’s allegedly a doctor but you’ve never seen him out of his scrubs and never seen his degrees??? A quick google search could tell you everything. I felt bad because I didn’t want to shame a woman but it really kills me when you see a person not being able to recognize a red flag!! It’s just sad what people will put up with for companionship.

      • cbbm says:

        I listened to the podcast and her stupidity hurts. Yes, you can fall for a conman, they’re professionals, it happens and I feel for women who do. But it’s hard to sympathize with the victim once she’s aware of the con, has been warned by her entire family and seen proof he’s lying, and still chooses to let him back into her life over and over, putting her family in danger.

        She literally put her need for companionship (I’m tempted to use a different word here) before her children’s lives. If that’s not desperate, I don’t know what is.

        The worst part is, listening to her you know she hasn’t learnt anything and she’d do it all over again. She has no self-preservation, or maternal instinct to protect her kids when she sees a man interested in her. She sees a parade of red flags bigger than in a communist parade and hits the gas. I actually think that if her daughter lost the fight and he ended up in prison for her murder, Debra would visit him there and continue their relationship.
        I think her kids should stay away from her for their own safety.

    • pottymouth pup says:

      I don’t know how accurate the Bravo show was with regard to Debra’s history – I believe they had her admit to 4 prior marriages and they did make her seem pretty desperate w/the naivete of an adolescent.

      Based on the history of how her mom treated her ex-BIL after he murdered her sister, I get the impression her mother raised her daughters in a way that probably infantalized Debra

    • Kelly says:

      Agreed, at some point you need to take responsibility for your own actions. Tara was the real victim.

  3. Oc says:

    People tend to judge and say that they would have noticed the red flags earlier or that they would have reacted differently or that they would never fall for the scam. We never know how we will act in a situarion unless we are in the situation.

  4. Abby says:

    I listened to a good number of episodes on this podcast, but I had to quit because I couldn’t deal with how clueless she was portrayed. As successful as she was, it just drove me crazy. And I couldn’t handle the california / kardashian voices of her kids. :-/

    • Olive says:

      I read the long form article about her and she came off desperate and needy. if the netflix series, podcast and original article all made her look desperate, well…

      • me says:

        I think she says yes to any guy who proposes. She seems to be pathologically lonely and desperate for male attention.

    • Lolly says:

      Oh god their voices. I thought it was a parody at first because the one kept ending every sentence like a question. Debra definitely came out looking clueless from the podcast, from her own words. I get that hindsight is always 20/20 but girl there were clear signs, and you barely knew the man.

      And don’t get me started on how Debra’s mother treated her sister’s killer. I was so angry, I had to stop listening for a bit.

    • kellybean says:

      The voice is the worst. I understand abuse doesn’t discriminate . I’ve been there and she doesn’t have a good foundation for a healthy relationship….but that voice .

  5. Idiotsgalore says:

    I watched the series & wouldn’t use the word desperate…. maybe passive. She definitely comes off passive & weak. Not desperate

    • Sarah B says:

      I watched the finale last night and I was struck by something that her daughter “Veronica” (name different than podcast) said about John being back on the dating websites and looking for his next victim. Debra was just stuck on the “I can’t believe he’s back on the dating websites”… just hurt and harping on the fact that he could be dating again–NOT the fact that he was looking for his next victim. I don’t know if I’m explaining that right because my mind was swirling about this series. I became way too invested in the whole thing!

      • TEAM HARDY says:

        I actually think she comes off MORE competent in the series. Yes, the voices are BAD, but the voices of the actresses they hired to play her daughters are actually even worse. If I were them, I’d be pissed at how I was portrayed, especially the older one.

  6. me says:

    I binged this podcast in one day after seeing her on Dr Phil.

    Now I’m watching the Bravo series.

    Debra is infuriating. She is a little long in the tooth to be making such idiotic decisions with strange men she met online. Getting married at 2 months at age 59? I mean, she needs to own that this is stupid or desperate or both so which is it?

    I’ve been in physically abusive relationship and I can attest to how difficult it is to walk away after years together because of conflicting feelings of love and fear but I learned my lesson and will never ignore the red flags again.

    Debra is 59 and married 5 times. She knows better. She really needs to reflect on why she allowed this in her life and put her daughter Terra in danger. I don’t see enough remorse from Debra for the danger she put both of her daughters in.

    • Heather says:

      She was married 5 times. Obviously she doesn’t know better. I liked one of the last scenes when Debra/Connie was in the bathroom stall hearing strangers talk about how she should have known, the look on Connie’s face at it was great acting.

    • kellybean says:

      I’m glad you got out. It takes a lot of strength and, in my experirnce, multiple attempts. Totally agree about her daughters. She didn’t seem they concerned with putting in safeguards for them,

  7. LadyLuna says:

    I listened to this podcast in one day, and I have to say by the end of it I thought Debra was dumb, I could never understand why people would choose a stranger they just met over their own children/family. I get that she was lonely, and I don’t blame her. I just will side eye her for not listening to her own family in the beginning.

  8. Harryg says:

    The TV series is very good.
    Those dogs are super cute!

    • me says:

      Cash is adorable!! I think the real heroes are cash and the two daughters. They have a strength their mother is lacking . I can’t imagine growing up with a mother who was married and divorced 5 times. The daughters felt compelled to protect their mother from her horrible decisions about men.

      Debra still seems clueless to me and doesn’t seem to be able to express that she understands the seriousness of what ultimately happened and how she is responsible for allowing a monster access to her daughters due to her own weaknesses. Maybe she is low IQ or something off with her?

  9. Cynthia Perry says:

    Have to disagree; she is not a strong woman. I have sympathy for what she & her family went through but I’m not going to give her a medal. Anyone who marries for the 5th time after 2 months is pathetically needy and/or desperate. While watching the mini-series I kept thinking to myself “WTF is wrong with her?”. Thought the same thing reading the LA Times series. Unlike a lot of woman in abusive situations she is financially secure & has family support. I really hope she has a good therapist

  10. LT says:

    I haven’t watched the show, but I’ve had a second row seat to a relationship between a competent woman and a lying psychopath and it’s amazing the mental gymnastics otherwise smart women will do to rationalize a man’s behavior. It oftentimes starts with love bombing and just escalates from there (spoiler alert: if a man tells you that you are soulmates and is suddenly consumed with all aspects of you, it’s oftentkmes a flag. Not always, but oftentimes).

  11. Ampersand80 says:

    She reminds me of Vicki Gunvalson from RHOOC with cancer faker Brooks. Smart woman, manages to do decently in business but out of her mind stupid when it comes to men. Everyone has an Achilles heel. With Vicki and Debra it’s men. And in particular these men literally sense the minute they meet them that they’ve got a live one, hook, line, and sinker. All these scumbag men need to do is compliment them, make them feel attractive and loved and boom: the men are moving in, rent free, taking over their lives, credit cards, bank accounts, alienating them from their families and kids. Controlling them. All the while the women are defending the man left and right to all the naysayers that everyone is just jealous of them and their true love. It’s sad but a tale as old as time. Sadly I predict this will not be the last time Debra will find another man to take advantage of her. Same with Vicki. Some women (and of course men too, it’s not exclusive to women at all) base their entire worth on if they have a partner and will do anything and overlook glaring red flags to have someone in their lives validating their self worth. It’s sad and only years of therapy will make someone like Debra realize she’s worthy even without a man or a ring on her finger.

  12. FYI says:

    She is still milking this situation for all its worth — the very situation that nearly got her daughter killed. I will repeat that: nearly. got. her. daughter. killed.

    Why would you continue to do PR (and that’s what it is, no mistake) about something like that? Don’t tell me it’s “to help others know it could happen to them.” If your boyfriend always has dirt under his fingernails, you should dang well know he ain’t a nurse. That actually happened, her kids (you know, the one who later got attacked) TOLD her that, but she CHOSE not to listen to what even a teenager could figure out.

    • Debby says:

      She’s definitely emotionally needy, even if she doesn’t want to admit it. You often see it with these kinds of women that their emotional needs come before anything else, even their children. I feel so sorry for her kids to feel like they matter less to her than her getting validation from a man. They’ve probably had to look out for her from a very young age and often times to no avail.

  13. kellybean says:

    I neither read the article not listened to the podcast. I was hesitant to watch it, because Bravo. Everything about it is unappealing to me although I do love Julia Garner overall. I know Connie Britton has a solid est fan base from FNL. However, I didn’t watch it and only have this performance to judge her abilities. I think the acting is horrible! I don’t think it makes it even a shade above Lifetime quality and don’t find it compelling in the least. Britton’s mannerisms and Bana’s ubiquitous sa which gobbling are the worst. I feel a bit guilty saying this as I want to have empathy for her and I’m glad she and her family are out of danger but she makes it difficult at times. Her daughter a bratty and spoiled yet I want to scream she played a part in that. Regardless, I find her very unsympathetic that she was so callous and dismissive when both her daughter and nephew raised very legitimate concerns. Maybe she is in fact a very talented designer and that explains her success because she doesn’t come across as particularly bright or having good instincts.
    Sorry, rant over.

  14. incognito08 says:

    As many folks have noted, Terra is the real victim here. In 2017, the L.A. Times had an extensive expose on Debra Newell and her sh*t storm. My take-away from newspaper’s coverage was that she desired love at all costs – even if that meant placing her daughters’ lives in jeopardy. The red flags couldn’t have been more apparent during her relationship with John and she continued to ignore all of the warning signs. As one of my aunts has noted over the years, “Common sense ain’t common!”

  15. BuddyJack says:

    I’ve been a bit of an addict on this story…..heard of it late, binge watched the Bravo take, then circled back to the LA Times story. Have teed up the podcast for next.

    I’m not an apologist for Debra Newell, because I too watched it going “how the hell did a business savvy 59 year old woman” get here? And I was screaming at the TV.

    But I had a sense of sympathy, Because 20 years ago, I was a 40 year old woman who got taken. A savvy, career successful 40 year old who thought her last chance at love and a second child was wrapped up in a guy who was thisclose to being a conman. Luckily, physical violence and threats wasn’t a part of it. But lies, deceit and misrepresentation? Oh yeah. And I too was married to mine briefly and disastrously.

    So yeah…..I’m fascinated, Fascinated and pissed, Maybe I was lucky to have mine happen at 40 …..and my cost was my pride, $100k, and my last reproductive years.

    But I may have judged Debra a bit at 60. And thank god mine happened at 40. And wasn’t violent or physical. But psychologically absuive ? Oh yeah.

    • Tootsie45 says:

      I’m with ya. It’s so easy to judge when you aren’t in it, but who stalks their partner to see if they’re eating a peanut butter sandwich if they SAY they’re eating a peanut butter sandwich? Being in a relationship with a sociopath made me realize how much we ALL take at face value, and trying to date afterwards has shown me how impossible it is to have a relationship if you don’t do that. I’m not privvy to this particular case, but I have been in the position of people saying, “well surely you knew.” No, I surely didn’t. I read once that this kind of sociopath is so successful because they’re able to become literally your perfect, ideal partner, down to just the right amount of non-dealbreaker faults and quirks. That helped me forgive myself.

  16. greyate says:

    I LOVED the Dirty John podcast, BUT it was so frustrating listening to her stick to that awful man over and over and over despite the danger to herself and her family. And then, how scary and horrifying what happened at the end. SHE put her daughter thru that awfulness which could have ALL been avoided. I am not sure i can even watch the TV series. Not sure I want to go thru that again.

  17. Lucy2 says:

    I listened to the podcast a while back, and have been watching the series, it’s pretty engrossing even though I knew the story. I hope everyone involved is getting some serious therapy, I can’t imagine going through all that, and while Debra may not feel desperate, someone who is been divorced four times marrying someone that quickly again…