Avoid a predator — read “Dirty John”



By Caitlin Kelly

This is a must-read for any woman dating people she doesn’t know well or hasn’t met through people she completely trusts.

If she’s easily prone to being quickly wooed, beware!

It’s a new six-part series, and podcast, from the L.A. Times, by Christopher Gofford, and took more than a year to report.

It’s the true story of a multiply divorced California woman, a financially successful interior designer — desperately lonely — who was targeted by John Meehan, a con man.

It’s terrifying, compelling and an essential read to understand that:

— such men exist

— such men seek out victims and select them carefully

— such men groom their victims, love-bombing them with gifts and cards and “kindness”

— failing to ask why they’re so “kind” to someone they barely know is imprudent

— such men quickly insinuate themselves into their victims’ lives

— such men are sociopathic and vicious when exposed

— such men are professional liars and who, really, will others believe — them or you?


I know this because I’ve also been a victim of one.


In December 1997 I met a charming, handsome, intelligent man who — within a few weeks of meeting me — brought a pot of home-made soup to my door, bought me gifts and told me repeatedly how much he loved me.

He pretended to be a successful lawyer, a partner in a three-person downtown New York City law firm, complete with engraved stationery, business cards and other “evidence” of his false identity; in Chicago (where his exploits made front page of the Chicago Tribune) he’d posed as a doctor, using a business card with impressive initials that anyone who knows medicine would instantly know was fake.

He kept proposing marriage, sending dozens of emails and cards attesting to his immediate attraction and devotion, as did John Meehan, a standard MO for con men. (I found this weird and excessive, not romantic.)

It took me longer than it should have — (lonely and insecure = vulnerable) — to flee his clutches, at which point, like Meehan, he began threatening me and my family. Not with physical harm, as Meehan did, but in my case called my local district attorney to lie about me; as someone who lives in the U.S. as a resident alien (i.e. not a citizen) he knew this could make my solo life difficult. And knew, even irrationally, I feared that.

I was terrified by his screaming phone calls, and stayed at a friend’s home for a few days.

As did Meehan’s victim, I hired a detective, a former NYPD policeman, who quickly discovered and told me the sordid truth.

By that point, the guy had stolen and opened my mail, activated my new credit card and used it, forging my signature — all felonies.

The police and district attorney all laughed in my face. It was “only fraud” they said.

“No harm done,” they said.

Because “my” con man was careful to steal only a certain amount from each of his many victims, the banks didn’t care — it’s a cost of doing business to them.

Because the amounts were small enough, (typically $1,000 or less), the credit card companies also wouldn’t chase him and prosecute — and the costs of this fraud is built into our interest rates.

Because the women he victimized were so embarrassed and ashamed or police disbelieved them or DAs wouldn’t take on their cases, he was rarely arrested, prosecuted and convicted.

Because the women he chose to steal from should have known better, should have asked tougher questions, should have dumped him fast, their friends and family — like mine —  were furious at our stupidity and gullibility.

These men (and women!) lie for a living.

Like Meehan, the man I was victimized by is now dead. Thank God.

A book I highly recommend to every girl and woman is The Gift of Fear, written by a security expert, with a one page checklist of warning signs. It clearly explains how the way women are socialized to be “nice” and compliant can endanger us.


I urge everyone to read this series or listen to the podcast — and share it with women you know and care about.


It’s highly instructive and shows how to spot the warning signs of a similar predator.

If you recognize them, please flee, fast.

They’re out there.

20 thoughts on “Avoid a predator — read “Dirty John”

  1. such a good reminder, especially for me, as a single woman. over they years, i’ve become pretty attuned to behaviors that are over the line, though i’ve had some close calls. i can imagine how that could have happened to me, and somehow, it has not, while i was in the long trial and error process of learning to recognize the signs. i’m so sorry that you had to go through that, these people are despicable and feed on others who are kind and open.

    1. Thanks!

      It’s such a horrible experience — but it can happen to anyone who’s feeling so crappy about their life and is susceptible to what APPEARS to be kindness and devotion. We all enjoy that, but sometimes it’s fake.

  2. benleander

    Stay strong! I think it’s always hard to remember
    A) that some people are more horrible than your worst nightmares and
    B) that not everyone is like this.
    It’s hard to find out how to trust someone as it is.

    1. It took a while to regain my ability to trust — not to trust others but my ability to judge them clearly and rationally and to trust my judgment of them.

      By the end, you are quite punch drunk from their barrage of lies and manipulation.

      1. benleander

        That’s true! Especially if you meet someone new… No one is really ‘honest’ about themselves, but most people for ordinary reasons like their own baggage our insecurities they don’t want to share with you. So of course it’s hard to trust people. I believe the art of learning who to trust and who not to trust is something we’re learning over the whole course of our lives.

  3. My mom gave me The Gift of Fear when I moved away for college. I rolled my eyes at first, but I’ve recommended it to maybe a dozen friends over the years. Such a powerful tool. This Dirty John story is wild.

  4. Jan

    It takes a long time to really know someone. A woman in my social circle just married a man she’s been dating for only 3 or 4 months. Seems awfully naive to me, yet she’s not a kid, she’s got to be around 60. I wonder, what’s the hurry? Won’t the guy still be there next year, if it’s a good relationship? Dirty John – I think it’s clear that he was a psychopath. But more normal people
    have traits that don’t emerge for a while – it’s not necessarily that they’re trying to hide it from you. A person can have horrendous baggage that they don’t hide because they don’t realize it’s not normal. Yet it’s not always obvious to others. They can be well-meaning, yet still toxic. Character traits can take a long while to reveal themselves. Not all of it is a problem, but some of it is, and it can be very serious – enough to ruin an otherwise-loving relationship, or turn your life upside down. You don’t want to be already married when you find this stuff out. Nobody ends up dead in these scenarios, but still….

    1. I would never ever marry quickly — and the con man’s wish I do so was a HUGE red flag for me.

      It’s true that every marriage is a bit of a leap of faith. But I spent a long long time getting to know my second husband before I married him.

  5. These people are just like parasites, feeding off emotionally/financially stronger hosts until they become weak and can no longer bolster their needs. Their disregard for other humans experiences is truly shocking and appalling. Check out the term Narcissitic Personality Disorder, it’s crazy common. These people are literally everywhere – charming and abusive they are parasites that latch onto trusting, loving people.

    1. They are sociopaths — with no normal emotional behaviors, which is another reason they succeed. We judge them by normal standards and end up in the weeds of deep cognitive dissonance.

  6. Pingback: Avoid a predator — read “Dirty John” — Broadside – Apeelolo's Blog

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