Who is the real John Meehan? The true disturbing story of his first marriage and how he terrorized is ex-wife Tonia is revealed in Episode 3 of this dark drama.
“Nice scrubs.” That’s how John Meehan chats up his first wife Tonia in an Episode 3 flashback on Dirty John. It’s cheesy, but it works. The episode begins with the nurse grabbing a drink with her friends at a bar in Dayton, Ohio and, she turns to look at the handsome stranger, with an, excuse-me-are-you-for-real look on her face. “Seriously, it’s a great color,” John says. And that’s the way that he starts to woo Tonia in a series of flashbacks charting their doomed romance.
Just like with Debra years later, part of John’s appeal is his ability to listen intently, especially when she explains that she’s a “nurse anesthetist” and how that differs from an anesthesiologist. (Both administer anesthesia, but one’s a doctor and one’s a nurse. Doctors earn more money.) Before we know it, John and Tonia are getting married. This time, the groom wore a tux. Before John and Tonia wed, he warns her not to meet or contact his family. He was raised by “drug addicts and alcoholics,” he alleges, “monsters” who hated him. So, Tonia doesn’t. Instead she encourages her man, especially when he decides that he too wants to train to become a nurse anesthetist.
On the surface the Meehans seem to have a stable life – they eventually have two kids and John qualifies as a nurse anesthetist. One day Tonia leaves him at home with their daughters while she goes to a presentation given by a pediatric neurosurgeon called Maggie. She grabs a quick word with Maggie afterwards to gushingly say how much she loved the talk. They start chatting about kids and starting a family. Maggie, who lives in Indiana, thinks she’s ready to give it a try with a man she has been dating for 10 months. When Tonia tells Maggie her full name, Maggie looks queasy. She puts two and two together – that Tonia lives in Dayton, Ohio and her husband, who travels a lot, is also an anesthetist with the last name Meehan. When Tonia says that Maggie “might have crossed” paths with him at work, it finally clicks. John’s cheating on her. She rushes home to confront him about it. Tonia has tears in her eyes and looks like she’s dying inside. John shrugs, almost trying to justify his affair with Maggie saying, “She probably makes…$500K…she even looks expensive.”
It gets worse. Tonia’s co-worker Lynn later pulls her aside to say she spotted John slipping vials of the painkiller fentanyl in his back pocket at work, when he was supposed to be giving it to a patient. “It was smooth, Tonia…,” Lynn says. “This was not a day one thing. It was just the first time anyone saw him.” Lynn says she’s reported John to the state nursing board, via a colleague, and she warns Tonia that she could lose her kids if the cops think she’s involved too. Frightened, Tonia races home, tears her house apart and finds empty vials hidden in a toy house in the garage.
As her marriage falls apart she meets up with John’s best man Ethan to find out more about the man whose college friends nicknamed “dirty” or “filthy John.” That’s when she learns that her husband was a scam artist, ladies’ man, who used to do drugs, commit credit card fraud and fling himself in front of cars to con drivers into paying him money. The marriage turns ugly and John – who thinks that Tonia was the one who reported him to the state nursing board – threatens her life in a chilling phone call after she throws him out. “You should enjoy your time left on this earth,” he tells her.
Back to the present, and Debra’s starting to realize that John is not the man she thought he was. She consults a lawyer, armed with photos she took of some of the documents he had stashed in a drawer – restraining orders, a list of social security numbers and aliases, a diagram showing how to build a gun. At first, she refuses to believe it, even regurgitating the lie that John told her – that his ex-wife Tonia cheated on him and dragged his name through the courts and the mud. When the lawyer suggests she annul the marriage, Debra looks like she’s never even considered it.
But she starts to change her mind when she pieces together certain things. The $90,000 cash that he took from her to keep in a safety deposit box disappears. When her attorney tells Debra that she’s done her research and that John has been to prison in several states, for stalking and violating restraining orders – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg – she warns Debra to get an annulment and take John out of her will. “If he thinks he’d be getting your money, I don’t know what he might do,” the lawyer says.
This info all matches what the private investigator tells Veronica, and later Debra. Leave. Dye your hair. Stay in hotels. Be aware of who’s following you, is the advice the P.I. gives. John is a dangerous man.
So, when – as luck would have it – he’s hospitalized after collapsing in pain because of a blocked intestine, Veronica and Debra seize upon the opportunity to move her out of the house. As the episode ends it seems that Debra has left John. For good. Right?