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“Dirty John” — Do you know your date?

There are countless stories of people meeting their true love online — and living happily ever after.

But still — when you see the picture of that handsome stranger and start chatting him up, you have to ask yourself: “Just who am I talking to? What secrets does he have? What isn’t he telling me?”

dirty john couple

A revolutionary new podcast and print collaboration from the L.A. Times and Wondery is gripping — and has widely been praised for telling the story of one woman and her harrowing experience with a man who she later found out was called “Dirty John.”

The suspenseful and psychologically intense true-crime series has captivated millions of listeners. The #1 rated podcast on iTunes plays out over six chapters…

Chapter 1: The real thing

They met on a dating site. He seemed like the total package but something was dangerously wrong.

Chapter 2: Details and doubts

A mysterious intruder. A letter from jail. A husband who vanishes. Strange things have been happening since John came into Debra Newell’s life. As the truth begins to emerge, she wonders: Whom exactly did I marry?

Chapter 3: ‘You are evil’

Debra learns about John’s nickname, which dates back to his law school days. To some of his classmates, John Meehan was “Filthy.” But he was mostly “Dirty John.”

dirty john mug

Chapter 4: A murder close to home

Debra Newell was afraid she might end up like her sister, who was killed by her estranged husband. So why would she consider returning to John Meehan?

Chapter 5: ‘Scariest man I’ve met in my 70 years’

John Meehan insisted he’d been a victim, in case after case. To prove it, he planned to unleash lawsuits against his accusers. The attorney he approached had other ideas.

Chapter 6: ‘Kill or be killed’

Terra Newell always sensed that John Meehan was dangerous. Her sister told her to keep her pocketknife handy. But her mind was elsewhere that day, and she was on the lookout for the wrong car.

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and co-creator of “Dirty John,” Christopher Goffard, joined “CNN Newsroom L.A.”

“This is journalism,” Goffard explains. “This is long-form, non-fiction.” And it is expertly told.

As to how Goffard came across it… and without giving away the ending: “The death of one of the central characters gave rise to the story,” he said.

“I structured it so that by the end of part six, you understand that everything in the story points in a certain direction. It’s not a shaggy dog narrative that meanders toward no conclusion. This is a story with a set of characters in a very tense situation. It’s basically about the scariest and strangest man I’ve ever written about in my 20+ years as a reporter.”

dirty john verticalClearly, this story doesn’t end well.

But it does more than just illustrate the plight of one family’s journey, it serves as a cautionary tale for anyone trying to break free from an abusive relationship.

“I hope that it raises awareness about a very serious issue which is something called coercive control, which I didn’t know a lot about before I got into this,” Goffard said.

“This is a form of psychological manipulation in a relationship,” Goffard said. “It doesn’t necessarily involve physical violence — but a partner can control another in psychological ways. They might install cameras to watch you. They might demand that you dress a certain way. Control is the issue.”

In the U.K. this is a crime and people can be prosecuted for it. Not so much in the United States.

“I think this series is a very vivid, real-time illustration of how this process works and how a manipulative psychopath works on a victim,” Goffard concludes.

“Dirty John” also highlights the concerns many have with on-line dating.

“They met on an over-50 dating site,” Goffard explains. “This guy, John, seemed to check all of the boxes: he’s handsome, he says he’s a physician, he says he’s just back from Doctors Without Borders where he volunteered in the Middle East and he’s a very charming charismatic man.”

Debra had been married before and she’d just gotten out of a relationship that had damaged her self-esteem. John exploited all of her vulnerabilities setting up the classic scenario: Predator vs. Victim.

The podcast will intrigue you, scare you and, perhaps, force you to never go on a date again.

dirty john graphic la times

Written and produced by: Ben Bamsey for “CNN Newsroom L.A.

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