Allison Mitchell Allison Mitchell | April 25, 2019 | People Feature
After the success of a Los Angeles Times podcast and Bravo TV series on her life, Debra Newell, the woman behind the infamous Dirty John saga, is turning her trial into triumph.
Shot on location at Ambrosia Home Furnishings in Henderson, Nev.
Her love story began like most—girl meets boy, boy charms girl and the two fall head over heels in love. But when Debra Newell, the beautiful 50-something interior designer who called Newport Beach home for most of her life, connected online with the handsome John Meehan, an alleged anesthesiologist and Iraq war hero, their spark would ignite a firestorm that no one saw coming. It all played out in Dirty John, a Los Angeles Times investigative report and podcast by Pulitzer Prize nominee Chris Goffard, which was subsequently made into an Emmy-nominated Bravo miniseries starring Connie Britton as Newell and Eric Bana as Meehan. “I thought he was a great family man, and he was loving and interested in me,” recalls Newell, who frequented Corona del Mar’s Gulfstream and Fashion Island’s R&D Kitchen during their courtship. “The red flags began when I introduced him to my kids and there wasn’t a lot of interest.” But her kids were certainly interested in him. During a whirlwind courtship of less than three months, Newell and Meehan moved into a home on Balboa Island and eloped to Las Vegas. During the following year, Newell met the real Meehan—a drug-addicted criminal who had stalked and terrorized numerous women and was stripped of his medical license. The culmination? Meehan’s attempted murder of Newell’s 20-year-old daughter, Terra, at her Costa Mesa apartment, during which she fought back and stabbed him a total of 13 times, killing him with a gash through his eye. “I was in this nightmare; it was just surreal to me,” says Newell, who now calls Henderson, Nev., home, where she operates Ambrosia Home Furnishings. “If I knew who he was, I wouldn’t have even answered his messages. But they’re [con men] good at what they do; they can charm the pants off you—literally.”
These days, Newell has made it her mission to give back to women walking in her shoes. “I feel like I’ve achieved everything I’ve wanted personally, besides marriage, which is not one of my goals! Bringing awareness and helping other women is really important to me now. I’m coming out with a book based on my life and what probably lead up to this, and what’s been going on ever since,” she reveals, with a tightly lipped mention of a TV show in the works as well. On the weekends, Newell can be found spending time with her four children and grandchildren in Orange County. As for her love life, Newell reveals: “Dating hasn’t been a focus until recently, and I am obviously doing things differently, taking things slowly.” And her vision is clear on what that special someone looks like. “Someone with a good heart, who loves family and has great moral values,” she shares. “Let’s just say the opposite of John.”
Photography by: Emily Wilson