Many listened to the Dirty John podcast, which introduced the world to John Meehan, a dangerous serial predator who infiltrates the life of Debra Newell and ultimately dies at the hand of her daughter, Terra. But there was an overlooked story that’s now being told, in full, for the first time. In The First Wife: John Meehan’s Reign of Terror, Tonia Bales recounts her harrowing experiences as John’s wife of 10 years and the mother of their daughters, Emily, and Abby. Highlighting new details and revelations, Tonia shares the abuse she suffered from the man she once believed to be her soulmate, but who ultimately revealed himself as a coercive and controlling terrorist. Through exclusive archival materials and all-new interviews with the people who knew her and John best, uncovering long-held secrets and including perspective from their daughters, Tonia embarks on a re-investigation of the man she thought she knew. The multiple bombshells she unearths include one that will change her and her daughters’ lives forever.
I never listened to the Dirty John podcast, in fact, I didn’t have any knowledge on John Meehan before I started listening to this podcast. Going in with a completely blank slate, I was able to form my own theories and opinions while listening. This podcast offers a more in-depth view as it includes 8 bonus episodes with Criminal Behavioural Analyst Laura Richards who talks about John Meehan in more depth with Tonia.
Upon first impressions, I was surprise to learn that the events involving John Meehan were so recent. In my minds eye I was listening as though this occurred in the 70s or 80s and not in the 90s 00s.
It was very interesting to listen to Tonia tell her story because she was brutally honest and raw throughout her retelling. John really was a wolf in sheep’s clothing as he presented himself to the world as a completely different person from the one hiding underneath.
A certified psychopath, John didn’t care for how much destruction and trauma he left in his wake. The ultimate conman, he seemed to be constantly planning the next act. That Tonia was able to survive 10 years as his wife speaks highly of her character and listening to her talk, you can clearly understand the fear and paranoia she felt in the last years of being his wife and the years after their marriage was over.
There are so many descriptive words to use to describe John, but I’m inclined to leave him as thus. The fact that he didn’t see his own actions as problematic or disruptive only lends to make him seem more detached from human emotion.
This podcast was one that has a lot of information and goes into a lot of detail over the deceptions committed and I don’t want to delve into things too far because that could potentially ruin the experience of anyone else listening.
I think also, this podcast makes a good listening of how difficult it can be to get law enforcements involved in domestic disputes/violence etc. It definitely showed some holes in the system that need amending. But as Tonia and Laura Richards mentioned in the last bonus episode, they hope that the story shared encourages other women to leave abusive relationships and if they have managed to help one women get away then they have done their job.
The ironic way in which John Meehan died almost read like a comic strip. Of course, it was much more than that and left those involved with intense PTSD. However, for all his lies, deceptions, cons, violence, and behaviour, the way he died couldn’t have been more different if he tried and really, it shows that for all he strived to do, he was brought down by that which he tried to belittle and scare for the majority of his life.
Tonia might now have a loving husband and two beautiful grown up children, but she notes that John is still there is some capacity. She knows he’s dead, but the lasting impact of his actions lingers on today.
I give this read: ✨✨✨✨