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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  April 2, 2022 11:00pm-12:00am PDT

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her daughter. the families left with a snapshot album with the young woman in the pictures inside never's always staying the same. never gonna have her own album of her daughter graduating, getting married. being killed on a hilltop before she could kiss her daughter goodnight. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline". i'm natalie morales, thanks for watching. >> i'm craig melvin. >> and i'm natalie morales. >> and this is dateline. >> i felt like this was the one -- a whirlwind. a love affair. i feel like this is the one i've been waiting for. maybe was too good to be true did you love me, or was a solid game? >> a beautiful business woman falls for a dashing doctor, but her daughters have doubts. >> i have lots of suspicions.
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>> she thinks his fingernails are dirty, and this is not look like the hands of an actual doctor. >> who was this guy? >> his name was dirty john. >> this woman who i'm all too well? >> i started snooping and i found everything. >> this reporter found someone irving discoveries to. >> he's got a lot of, people he's when the lot of people. >> the story of his dirty deeds riveted the nation and a hit podcast. >> this is "dirty john". >> but dirty was about to turn dark. >> he's got duct tape, he's got all the tools ready to kidnap her. >> will this mom and her daughters learn the truth in time? >> she was in a panic. she said, i saw john outside in a car. >> a story ending in savagely that would stun even a police. >> there's no way he gets away with this. unless he killed her.
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>> hello, and welcome to "dateline". after string of failed relationships, debra newell thought she had finally found her mr. right. john meehan seems smart, handsome and kind. but from the get-go, debra's daughters said something fell wrong about him. so, the girl started digging into his past. their harrowing search for answers would reveal a double life and expose a dangerous men. but with the truth will the truth be discovered too late? here's keith morrison with "the women & dirty john". >> in the beginning was desire. natural, human desire, for connection, for love. and so, she aimed her arrow at that online ocean of intimate strangers. and found? him. >> newport 9-1-1, do you need police or paramedics? >> hi, i need an ambulance right away. and the police. >> it was summertime when the
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awful climax came. a late afternoon. a marmalade sun beating down on the parking lot of the rental apartment complex in newport beach, california. that's when they heard it. >> and she says this woman is just screaming. >> all right. >> the whole complex must of herd. it terrified, howling, desperate. >> is she okay? >> there was a man down there. they could see him. he had a knife. he was stepping at the screaming woman. and nobody was helping her. >> it's really bad -- >> all right, i understand. we have officers on the way. >> too late. too late. >> oh, the ambulance is here. they're doing cpr on somebody. >> the bloody ending. but the story, the whole, terrible tale, is much deeper than that one thing. dreadful though it was. the story christopher goffard of the "los angeles times" spent months unraveling. strand by disturbing strand.
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>> it's a story about trust and betrayal. and it's a story about family. >> about a woman, two protective daughters. and what those daughters did when the man came into their mother's life, before the death in the parking lot. >> hi i'm christopher goffard -- >> the story became a podcast produced with the podcast network wondery. the number one podcast in the country at one time. voted by "entertainment weekly", "usa today" and "the guardian" as one of the best of 2017. download a 28 million times in the first year of its release. the story and the man at the heart of it was called dirty john. >> he was a very creative, supermilitant of the militia people live, charismatic, handsome, charming, intelligent. >> he was a nightmare to everybody. >> but not to her.
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two debra newell of orange county, california, the man who presented himself on the dating web side doctor john meehan, anesthesiologist, looks very promising. >> he was the total package. doctor. very intelligent. family man, loved his kids. >> not that attracting men had ever been difficult for debra, or any of the women in the family. according to her daughter, terra. >> men kind of flocked to them. [laughs] >> really? what is it about women in your family? >> well, they have really great hearts. and they're pre-pretty decent looking. >> good, women, happy, successful, attractive. >> i love those bar stools -- >> debra owned a thriving interior design firm and a moving company. and a silk flowers business. had dozens of employees. certainly, no money worries.
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but, she was in her 50s. marriages behind her. and she was looking. h potential mate carefully vetted by her watchful daughters. >> we were very judgmental of all the men that she dated. >> a little too judgmental? maybe. >> me and my sister could go over the top sometimes. just very protective over my mom. >> but now debra wanted a romance. just for her. on her terms. >> i had always done everything for my children. so, i felt like it was me time. >> and this guy on the website? it was me time, too. >> he's just back from a year and iraq, where he volunteered with doctors without borders. >> he was charming. kind of old-fashioned. when he asked her out, he didn't just meet her somewhere and wait in his car. >> he insisted on coming upstairs to get me. so, that's why a gentleman does.
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>> yes. he took her to a fancy place for dinner and oral courtly manners paid the not inconsiderable bill. on their second day, he arrived in medical scrubs. he'd come straight from an operation and he was handsome and tall. and very fit. and very into her. >> he swept me off my feet. said everything right. took me everywhere that i wanted to go. >> did he have that did you have that walking on air feeling? >> yes, i fell in love. >> she called me one day and told me that she met someone amazing and that she really liked this guy. she wanted me to meet him. >> but true to form perhaps, debra's daughters reacted just as they often did to a new man in her life. especially terra's sister. >> she didn't like him immediately. and i thought, oh, she'll eventually like him. he's a lot of fun. he will win her over. >> debra rented a house. part of her new start. in a picturesque part of newport called balboa island.
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and she ran her business with a new likeness. and at night was love by this accomplished doctor. this sensitive man. what did he do for you? >> everything. from run errands for me to back rub every night. just would listen to my day. we would take walks every night. he held my hand. i mean, he was everything that you would want. >> pinch yourself. you've got it, finally. >> yeah. >> then, just before thanksgiving, as terra helped her mother moved into the balboa house. >> he started moving his stuff in, to. >> terra didn't like it. not a bit. she confronted her mother. >> i told her it was fishy. i don't get it. she told me i needed to mind my own business. and he came up behind her -- >> what did he say? >> he was saying that you are just trying to get your mom all to yourself. and i started screaming back at
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him, no, john that's what you are trying to do. >> the next day was thanksgiving. and debra, quite fed up, told her suspicious daughters and not to bother showing up for dinner. neither one of you? >> neither one of us. >> what was that like? >> really hard. >> hard for debra, to. but she needed her own life. she and john asked a counselor for advice. >> and the counselor suggested that i have rules for the girls. >> boundaries. >> the therapist said, look at you, have a right to be happy. this is your relationship. and john's position was this therapist is absolutely right. >> so, debra weighed the options. listening to her family? or embrace what felt like the best thing to come along in years? she chose love. or what certainly felt like it. what's the old expression? till death do us part?
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>> the bond between mother and daughters already fraying, might just break thanks to a startling decision by debra. coming up -- >> i knew my family would be, not very happy with me. >> their daughters fight back by doing some digging into john. >> she bought these trackers four cars and she put one on my mom's tesla, so she found out where john was going. >> when "dateline" continues. relief extra strength. the first and only 24-hour eye allergy itch relief drop without a prescription. a single drop of pataday once daily relief extra strength works on the cells that make your eyes itch. fast. in minutes you get relief that lasts 24 hours. that's a full day and night in one drop. available everywhere my a1c stayed here,
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>> las vegas, nevada, the great glittering temples to gambling will happily take your money, of course, and perhaps you leave the city a little poorer. but if you want to bet your heart in las vegas, well, you could put that on the line as well. if you are in a betting mood. and debra newell was. >> i felt very adored and very loved and i thought oh, well, if he's the love of my life, i am ready. >> they've been dating two months when she went to vegas on business in december of 2014. john meehan went along and... >> we went to a courthouse and just got married before a judge. >> like that? >> just like that. >> married. nobody there but them. and their secret, they decided, said debra, it wouldn't tell anyone. >> i knew my family would be not very happy with me.
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>> what did it feel like? >> very mixed emotions. a little empty knowing that they are not on board with this. >> but that's all on that one side. the other side this is rush of happiness and good feeling? >> yes. >> so, debra's daughters, protective as usual, had no i the other mother was a newlywed. the therapist debra had seen recommended to keep her relationship separate from her family. but of course christmas was coming. and they were very important family traditions like the one where terra would have our own special time with nieces and nephews of her extended family. so they made a deal. john would stay in a different room while terra had the kids to herself. >> she was going to be able to enjoy the kids and he had to sort of stay away. >> didn't work out so well. what actually happened? >> well, he walked in with all the presents and of course the kids congregate all around him. he went straight up to them, he
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gave them gifts. >> like being santa claus, or something? >> something like that. >> yeah. >> did he do it on purpose? of course, thought terra. >> that made me so upset. >> terra was very emotional, i thought, just suck it up its christmas. have fun. >> instead she felt that man had come and usurped something? >> yes. >> something? >> yes. >> not only stolen their christmas, not the daughters, but both of them worried he was stealing there too trusting mother. taking advantage of her. she just let him drive her car. why would he need to? wasn't he a prosperous doctor, and anesthesiologist, couldn't he afford a car? well, there is a reason, debra told them. while john was in iraq working with doctors without borders, he was robbed. >> his house, his clothes, his cars, he was working with insurance company getting the claim.
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so, i let him borrow my car. >> john would get all his money back soon enough, said debra. didn't wash with terra. sounded like a shaggy dog tale. >> at that time, i had lots of suspicions. >> that's when she and her sister decided to do some snooping. >> she bought these trackers for cars and she went and put one on my mom's tesla, so she found out where john was going. >> where was he going? >> he was going to multiple doctors offices. >> not so unusual, perhaps, for and anesthesiologist. but the sisters noticed something. >> he was there for not that long of time. >> not long enough to conduct any medical procedures, so whatever those quick visits all about? seemed more like a man trying to get access to something like maybe drugs. it was just a hunch. but they went to debra with that, said maybe he is an addict. and debra refused to entertain their wild suspicions. >> this is more like stop interfering in my life?
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>> somewhat, yes. but i'd fallen in love. >> debra's daughters were not about to be put off. >> one of her daughters is particularly suspicious. she doesn't know why he wears surgical scrubs everywhere. it seems to be a costume he's wearing. she thinks his fingernails are dirty and doesn't look to her like the hands of an actual doctor. >> and so they started digging and an investigation that would be halfway across the country. to the depths of evil. to an appointment with death. >> coming up, troubling revelations about john. >> they learned he was not a doctor. >> discoveries that we're about to go from disturbing to terrifying. >> i said he's very, very dangerous. >> when "dateline" continues.
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miniature australian shepherd, were inseparable. >> he has unconditional love. and he wants to be there, no matter what. [laughs] >> terra went to cosmetology school but chose to work with four legged clients instead, as a dog groomer. what do you like about dogs? >> i really like that they are innocent. they don't have any evil in them unless they were taught to
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have evil in them. >> and terra was something of a student of evil. she was a fan of the tv show "the walking dead". zombies. and she had a feeling that evil was lurking in the life of john meehan. so did her sister. they knew he was hiding something said reporter christopher goffard, and they were determined to find out what a was. >> they hired a private investigator to look into his past. >> debra, meanwhile, was in love. the newlyweds had settled into a simple life on newport beach 's balboa island. debra, convinced she'd found the perfect man, even when sometimes things didn't quite make sense. like the time she picked up the mail and saw a strange return address on the letter to her husband. you opened a letter to him? >> yes, i did. [laughs] i was so curious and he was irate. that's fraud.
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you know, i can't believe you did that. >> but what had caught her attention was that letter was from an inmate at the orange county jail. did you read the letter? >> i did. >> what was in it? >> it was talking about how lucky he was that he had found love, and that his life had turned around. i'm thinking, life had turned around? so, i questioned him and he said that he writes and sends care packages two people in prison. >> sounded plausible enough to debra. but not to the sisters. especially not once they're private investigator began reporting his findings on john meehan. >> they learned that he was not a doctor. he was not done anesthesiologist. >> john had worked as a nurse anesthetist, but not recently. and he had certainly not been in iraq with doctors without borders. instead, just before he met debra -- >> they learned that one of his
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recent addresses was the orange county jail. >> john was not a sender of care packages. he had been an in meat. and then in march 2015, four months after john moved in with debra, the sisters snooped around the balboa house and jackpot, they found a stash of paperwork john had left there. legal documents. police reports. >> reports that he stopped other women and that other women had restraining orders on him. >> john's papers outlined a long criminal history. multiple arrests and incarcerations, drug convictions. alarming stuff. >> and debra was hesitant to believe this stuff. she believed john. >> even after her daughters told her what they had found debra went straight to john. and he said, they had the wrong guy. >> he said, there is going to be allegations that other john
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meehan's did. i thought well, okay, you've got a point. >> john said he was the victim of mistaken identity, in some cases. and in others, he was framed. >> and he said, i was set up. and i said, but you lied to me. he goes, because i knew you would never date me if you knew the truth. and i said, you're right, i wouldn't have. >> thing was, john was so sad. seemed so sincerely contrite. >> he started crying and crying and crying. and he said please forgive me. i love you so much. i can never live without you. >> and it was true that he made her feel like she was the only woman in the world. when they were along together, she felt truly loved. >> i'm thinking, okay, 90% of me doesn't believe him. but there is that 10% that maybe he is right. and i'm going to throw away the person that i fell in love with
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without trying to work it through. >> and so, she accepted his explanations. and she forgave him. there's always a reason? >> yes. >> in march, 2015, soon after they found that stash of papers, and terra her sister discovered their mother was married to the guy. that was it. they were fed up. refused after that to speak to her. this is a very big, bad problem in your life? >> yeah. >> just how big and how bad? they didn't know yet. but buried in that stash of john's papers was the name of someone who did. a detective, way off in ohio. one of the sisters picked up the phone. called him. what did you think when you got her call? >> i said, he's very, very dangerous. you need to talk to your mother. you need to have her call me. i will tell her everything. >> that is, the strange and disturbing tale that begins with her.
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>> coming up -- thousands of miles away, this woman also had questions about john. >> i started snooping and i found everything. >> and when she spoke up, that's when things got really scary. >> tonia, you enjoy your time left on this earth, okay? because that's what's going to come down to. >> when "dateline" continues. i love my new home. i always wanted a house with historic architecture... but it might be too victorian?
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centuries ago, native californians thrived on this land. now, we share a destiny with all californians. when voters granted our sovereign nations exclusive gaming rights, it advanced self-sufficiency and created thousands of good jobs. but now, out of state corporations are coming to california. their online sports betting initiative would break the promise between us. it's bad for tribes and all californians. join us. protect the promise. hello, i'm dara brown.
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here's what's happening. will smith announced that he resigned from the academy a motion picture arts and sciences after slapping quiz rocked during the oscars. the academy's president said the global four -- against actor. the ba.2 omicron sub variant is the dominant form of the sub variant in the u.s.. it accounts for half of all new cases in the country. coming to the cdc, most americans are considered to be in low --
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now, back to dateline. ♪ ♪ ♪ >> welcome back to "dateline". suspicions about their mother's new husband, john meehan, how driven debra newell's daughters to become amateur detectives. so far, they had uncovered a hornets nest of deception. not only had john lied about being a doctor, several women had restraining orders against him. and he served time for multiple crimes. yet debra was still standing by her man. now a woman from john's past was about to tell even more disturbing tale. was debra in danger? here is keith morrison with "the women & dirty john". >> who was this man, who had a stolen debra's heart? this john meehan? tonia bales had no idea either when he stole her heart. decades ago. >> he was playful, he was interested, engaging, smiling. >> it was the late 19 eighties,
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tonia was a young nurse anesthetist in dayton, ohio. john was in law school there. until he met her, that is, and said he had a kind of epiphany. >> he said, you know, i'm not sure i will be happy being an attorney. i think i want to be a nurse anesthetist. and i think my jaw fell to the ground. because i thought he was second year law student. >> in fact, he wasn't, he had been kicked out. though he didn't tell her that. so, in her blissful ignorance, she married him. in her family's church, in 1990. >> mr. and mrs. john meehan. >> and she helped put him through nursing school. they had two daughters. before things stopped adding up. >> i found out he was having an affair. >> tonia wondered what else did she not know about her soon to be ex-husband? like, why did he refused to invite his family to their wedding? why not let her even meet them?
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she decided to call his mother. >> i said, dolores, this is tonia, i'm married to your son john. the phone was quiet for a moment and she said, oh, tonia, i know you'd call me someday. >> wow. >> so then, of course, my heart was racing and my knees are shaking just to make the phone call. and she just unloaded on me all the details of trouble in the past. >> according to his own mother, john had been cheating and stealing and lying for years. even lied to tonia about his age, lopped off five years. oh, and even convicted of cocaine trafficking. >> she said, you know, is he still using drugs? and i said, what? >> so, in something like shock, tonia became a slew. who was this man? >> i started snooping, and i found everything. under my nose all the time. >> evidence of a criminal double life and something else. >> a cedar box full of fentanyl
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and some other things that aren't controlled substances. >> she started watching that cedar box. >> and things did come and go. so now, i thought -- >> it's a stash. >> it's a stash, yeah. >> was he using his position as a nurse to steal drugs? like getting a ticket to be in the candy store all day long? >> right. i mean, it's like putting an alcoholic as a bartender. >> she told the authorities she had to. it was the law. >> he had to be stopped. he was going to hurt patients. >> and on a dime... >> he turned on me. he flipped like a switch. >> now the man she thought she once knew turned scary, threatening. she began recording their phone conversations. >> listen to me, tonia. i'm >> listening. >> i got a big smile on my face, and you know why? because it's going to get done. >> what's going to get done? you're not making any sense. >> well, i don't have to. you will understand when the time comes. and that's all i got to say.
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when it happens, tonia, i do see it in your eye, you remember it was me, okay? >> remember what, john? >> keep that in mind, it was. me tonia, you enjoy your time left on this earth, okay? because that's what it's going to come down to. >> he was arrested for making threats against tonia in june, 2001, convicted of menacing and put on probation. >> he wasn't the man she thought he was? >> that's exactly right. there was another version of john. >> dennis luken was a police detective back then. investigated the source of those drugs tanya bound in the cedar box. he started at john's house, and found a gun. illegal because john was on probation. so, he was arrested again and sent to jail. >> when you went to montgomery county jail, i called the supervisor and said you've got an individual there, john meehan, and he is going to try to call you out of drugs. he says, he already has.
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he claims he fell out of the top bunk and he got pain medication. >> you are dealing with an incorrigible person here? >> yes, sir, an addict. a very smart, articulate addict. >> eventually, thanks to luken, john did jail time for stealing drugs in ohio and michigan. and tonia felt guilty. wondering if she missed warning signs, wondered what else john might've hidden from her. never thought about the clue, way back at the beginning, on her wedding video. >> in the groomsman who had some drinks and had their arms around each other, and they are talking about how they met him. >> here to celebrate john. >> one of the groomsman said -- >> john meehan's nickname is filthy john meehan. >> john meehan over the years became dirty john and the nickname stuck. >> he found out later on there was a story to that? >> yes. it was basically calling little old women out of money for jobs that he didn't do, and also that he had away with the
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ladies. >> luken discovered darker secrets as well. john supplied the opioids that killed his own addicted brother. he was alone with his sick father, the old man died rather suddenly. john wasn't charged in those cases, but there were others, said luken, and as the years went on, he developed a certain criminal specialty. >> he would go on dating websites and would find women that usually had good financial backing. he always told people he was a doctor. >> he seemed like an ideal catch, i suppose, for a lot of these women? >> he was a true con man. he'd take their money, and when they would find out about him, john would threaten them, he would terrorize them. >> how bad was he? >> john was the most dangerous, treacherous, manipulative, deceitful, criminal i'd investigated in 40 years of law enforcement. >> once terra learned about
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john's past, she was consumed with worry. >> i was very distraught at the time. >> because this dangerous man was now married to a very successful businesswoman who happened to be terra's mother. >> he couldn't get enough of me. >> that's a good feeling. >> it is. >> the trickery of love. >> yes. >> trickery, but something far worse than that was coming soon. >> coming up, one of debra's daughters is about to make an ominous discovery. >> she was in a panic. she said, i saw john. i said, where? she goes outside in a car. >> are this terrified families worst fears about to come true? when "dateline" continues. for adventure. your home... for romance. your home for big savings.
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love with a con man. and when her daughter spoke with a detective who had been investigating john meehan for years -- >> i said, this guy is bad news. you need to get your mother away from him. >> debra bought a house near las vegas were john could live away from her family.
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she split her time between there and orange county. but the doctors want to to went into rescue mode. one thing they found especially alarming was yet another police report about dirty john. this one from just two years earlier and much closer to home. the police in laguna beach had arrested john meehan for stalking a woman. and they discovered he had rented an office space in which they found zip ties, cyanide and two loaded guns. what did all of that seem to you? >> he might be a killer and she has to get out of this. >> has to? >> has to. >> john had an explanation, of course. even for that cyanide. >> he says, he has multiple sclerosis and that he kept the capsules around empties in case he needed to kill himself if it got too painful for him. >> this time, however, john's story didn't ring true. not even to debra. >> he still continued to treat me incredibly well. but he tried to isolate me from everyone. >> especially your family? >> especially my family. >> and now, chastened and afraid, she reconciled with her daughters and read everything
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they had uncovered about john meehan's past. i assume by this time, you didn't feel in love with him anymore? >> no. >> what did you feel? >> confusion. i thought, how could this man fake it to this degree? did he love me? or was this all a game? i realized i was his newest victim. >> and april 2016, 16 months after marrying john meehan, she fled from the home they shared in las vegas, back to orange county. and from a safe distance, she filed for an annulment. and soon discovered it just as tonia bales had discovered years before that john could turn on a dime. he started by trying to ruin her reputation. sent weird, inappropriate emails to her colleagues and clients. did he send photographs of you to anybody? >> he sent nude photos. yes. >> that's a nightmare for any woman to be in. >> oh, yeah. there are so many things that he did. but one of them, he brought my
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car. he took it, stolen and events to set it on fire. >> did he threaten you physically? >> yes, but not in a direct way. he would say, i know where you are. it's not going to be far long. >> the same way he threatened tonia. >> tonia, you enjoy your time left on this earth. okay? because that's what it's going to come down to. >> i went into hiding. i bought a dark wig, changed my clothes, got a rental car, stayed in different hotels. i went everywhere that he wouldn't suspect. >> how long did that go on? >> six months. >> wow. >> yeah. >> now, stories jon had told her before she left played over and over in debra's worried mind. disturbing stories. he told similar ones to tonia years before. stories about the mafia. >> if they want to get back at
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you, say you took money from them or something, they don't kill you. but they kill someone you love. because then you would be in pain the rest of your life knowing that your actions caused the death of a loved one and now you don't have them. i learned that from him. >> and the man debra once loved, she now feared. that had to be a very, very strange feeling. >> very much. yes. scared for my life. >> and not just her own life -- >> i was afraid he would kill my mom. i was also afraid he would kill me or my sister. or someone. >> after all, they had ruined all of his plans. in the summer of 2016, the debra against saying in secret with her other daughter. hoping she was safe there. and then, it was the night of august 19th -- >> she came home and she was in a panic. she said, i saw john. i saw john. and i said, where? she goes, outside in a car. >> watching them? he was supposed to be in las vegas. why was he back in orange county? she didn't have to wait long to find out.
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>> someone's been stabbed. >> someone's been stabbed? >> coming up -- the evil that had been gathering for almost two years explodes into broad daylight. >> he's planned this out. this was a revenge killing. >> and the shattering end that was stun even the cops. when "dateline" continues. that may help you see up close. i did. it's an innovative way to... so, wait. i don't always have to wear reading glasses? yeah! vuity™ helps you see up close. so, i can see up close with just my eyes? uh-huh. with one drop in each eye, once daily. in focus? yep. [laughs] like, really? really. vuity™ is a prescription eye drop to help you see up close. ow! wait, what? wait. wait? wait, what?
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debra newell had finally accepted the unsettling reality of her husband john meehan, was a dangerous con man. she filed for an element and was now in hiding, fearing for her life and the lives of her children. her daughter saw him lurking outside their home. he came prepared, but this story how to twist in store. here is keith morrison with the conclusion of the women and dirty john. >> august 20th, 2016, 5 pm. a 14 year old named skylar sepulveda was returning home from her junior lifeguard training, and she heard a woman screaming. out in the parking lot of her newport beach apartment building. >> i never heard anybody else scream like that before. >> a lot of people to dive under the covers and say i hope that stops. >> yeah, once i found out was going on i knew what i had to do. >> she raced to the parking lot. her mother called 9-1-1. >> she's, like mommy, somebody screaming, and she saw this guy
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raising his hand up and down. >> okay, we have offices on the way with the lights and sirens. she said she saw blood. >> i don't know. somebody else she's bleeding, she's bleeding. >> skyler reached the parking lot, saw a man and a woman she didn't know. >> as i was running, i could see everything that was going on, so i saw him stab her. >> that woman being stabbed was terra, who, with her dog cash had just stepped out of her car to find someone waiting. dirty john. >> he said, do you remember me? he looked me right in the eyes. >> there was no pause, no time to think. terra sitting here talking about it was still struggling with what happened. still visibly keeping an emotional distance. as it happened to somebody else. >> he was trying to push me into the car, he actually had the trunk wide open. >> trunk? you want to do in the trunk of his car? >> yes.
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>> john was six to, a foot taller than terra as he pushed her he began hitting her with a bag. something hard in it. >> it just felt like i was getting punched over and over again. >> but it wasn't that. there was a knife in the bag, cutting her, slicing into her. >> and i put my arm up with my purse, above my heart, and i tried to get away from him and i was screaming. he put his hand over my mouth and i bit as hard as i could. >> cash, the dog, barked furiously. bit into johns ankle. >> i got thrown down onto the ground, somehow, and i pushed just kicking him, trying to block the knife when he is... stabbing me. and i kicked the knife out of his hand and it landed on my right hand side. >> and then, full of adrenaline, cheated something astonishing. >> i picked up the knife, and i started just whaling on him and
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stabbing him. and i pushed him down, i stabbed him at the top of his head, and last time was in the eyeball. >> did you aim for that? >> i did. that's the zombie kill. >> that show, the walking dead, her education for fighting evil. >> what did you understand from watching that show about how you deal with zombies? >> you have to kill them in the head. like, you have to kill their brain. >> the police arrived. their dash cam video picked up skylar and the junior lifeguard leading a very shaken terra to the curb. >> at the bottom, okay? >> where, still terrified, she called her mother. >> i think i might have killed him. i'm sorry. i'm so -- i knew this was going to happen. did i not tell you he was going to try to hurt us?
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>> she said, mom, i just killed your husband, i'm so sorry. i'm thinking... what? >> debra raced over there. >> you could see police cars blocking it off, fire engines. it was crazy. >> they wouldn't let you and? >> they said it was a crime scene. >> john meehan never gained consciousness. four days later, dirty john was dead. right after the attack, newport beach detective rick henri found john's killer, terra, at the hospital. her dog, still guarding her. >> she told me the whole story. the >> whole story is pretty complicated mess. >> yes. >> as doctors treated terra's moons, detective henry began investigating. the whole family waited, and worried. >> what were you afraid of? >> well, i didn't know if they would for sure know that it was him attacking her, and it was self-defense. >> so, you are afraid they might charge her with something? >> yes. >> there is a process the law
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must follow. careful consideration. august became september, october, november. debra didn't know it, but the detective had discovered something. in the trunk of john's car -- >> we found a backpack with numerous other knives inside. we found a zip ties, we found duck tape. we found his passport. >> it took some organization. it took thinking. he has planned this out. this was a revenge killing. >> orange county deputy district attorney met murphy believed the evidence spoke for itself. >> there is an image of this young woman in the hospital with her dog, sitting on her bed. talk about a picture saying thousand words. it screams out that this is an innocent woman who came very close to being murdered by a really bad guy, and fought bravely and survived. >> the prosecutor said it was an easy decision. this was self-defense, case closed.
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>> did a feeling come with that? >> a sense of relief, that it's, like finally, -- >> john meehan's ex-wife tonia bales was working when she got the news. >> do you remember that moment? >> oh, yeah. it may be tremble. i was in the middle of a case and it popped up on the screen, as a notification. john was killed. by the time i took the patient out of the room, i was in tears. yeah. i wasn't in tears because he died, i was in tears because i had to tell his children. and that made me very sad, to have to tell them. it was awful. >> her daughters, 16 and 21 at the time said they regretted not being able to show him how well they turned out in spite of him. and now, debra still struggles with guilt. >> i would have never in my entire life put my kids in fear or in danger. that was the last thing on my mind, that he would be going after one of my kids.
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>> we feel lucky, in a way? >> i feel very lucky. i believe terra saved many lives. saved my life, many other victims. >> terra was diagnosed with ptsd. she still has some healing to do, but she returned with us to that parking lot. >> i don't want to poke and prod too much, but what happens inside your stomach when you hear it? >> i just get a lot of anxiety. i have flashbacks of me running down the ramp and just going to these cement. >> she showed us the spot where she looked death in the eye and struck back. this wasn't an easy thing to do. >> i'm just taking it all in right now. >> i think you are a tough cookie, aren't you? >> yeah, that's what a lot of people say. [laughs] i guess so! >> and dirty john meehan is an ever more distant memory now. this trail of victims say from
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his terror. thanks to a young woman, and a little dog who fought for her life, and won. >> that's all for this edition of dateline. i'm natalie morales. thanks for watching. >> i'm craig melvin. >> and i'm natalie morales. >> and this is "dateline". >> marie was a very loving person. she had a heart of gold. what happened to this woman? my job is to be a truth teller and seek out the truth. i wanted to solve it. >> her case was a mystery for years. the mom with a tender heart and tough as nails career. >> she was part of the sheriff 's department. her ultimate goal was to try to get into the fbi. >> she found a new sense of


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