There’s a new true crime podcast in town folks, and it’s one hell of a nail-biting ride. Dirty John is a six-part series from a collaboration between the Los Angeles Times and audio producer Wondery.
Pulitzer-nominated investigative journalist, Christopher Goffard, talks us through the love story of Debra Newell, an attractive and successful fifty-something interior designer and divorcee. In 2014, Newell joins dating site match.com in search of love and soon finds herself seduced by a good-looking anaesthetist, John Meehan, aka Dirty John.
The series unfolds slowly, but surely and with a looming sense of inevitability. The sort you get from a page-turning novel. But this isn’t a novel, it’s real. John is, as one policeman recalls, the ‘devil-tongued flim-flam artist’ whose manipulations of Newell leave listeners crying out in exasperation.
We hear from Newell and her children; we hear from John’s old friends and his family members; we even hear his voice, breathing down the phone line in a series of recordings his ex-wife made. That the story unfolds so intimately – killer’s voice to listeners’ ears – is perhaps why Dirty John currently holds the top spot on Apple’s podcasts. The podcast was also serialized across six issues in the LA Times and appears as an online ‘project,’ complete with black and white photographs so you can put faces to names. But it’s the podcast itself that has proved the biggest talking point. Reading the artfully written LA Times account, while very much reminiscent of Truman Capote’s ‘non-fiction novel,’ In Cold Blood, or a serialized Dicken’s story, is not quite the same as hearing the shake in Newell’s voice as she recalls this harrowing tale of manipulation, deceit and abuse.