“I’ve written hundreds and hundreds of stories about very bad people,” says Los Angeles Times journalist Christopher Goffard, host of the newspaper’s first podcast, Dirty John. “I’ve been a reporter for 20 years … but there’s something about this guy, John Meehan, that chills me, that gets under my skin in a way that nobody else has.”
John Meehan first appeared on Goffard’s radar almost a year ago exactly, when he learned that police were investigating a possible murder in the sleepy nearby enclave of Newport Beach – coincidentally, the same Orange County suburb where Goffard got his start as a reporter for The Daily Pilot. The story piqued Goffard’s interest because, as he notes at the start of Dirty John, Newport Beach is not a city where a lot of murders happen. The early details were scant but strange; intrigued, Goffard began asking questions, and soon found himself unraveling a bizarre tale of deceit so compelling, it was quickly deemed “a natural candidate for our first really ambitious podcast.”
Goffard spent seven months reporting the story, and then another three months writing and recording with the podcast network Wondery, and writing an accompanying print feature for the Times. “It’s reinvigorated my love of storytelling in ways that I could not have expected,” Goffard says. “I think the structure of Dirty John owes a lot more to the stuff to the stuff I absorbed as a kid – like old time radio suspense dramas and anything with Orson Welles – than any of the current podcasts I enjoy.”
What began as an intriguing crime story “grew and grew,” Goffard says, to an “all-consuming” deep dive. “One success begets another, you know? One person opens up and that opens another door and that opens another door.” And with each open door, the more fascinating and disturbing Meehan became.
“I think it has to do with the complete concentrated malice that this guy exhibited, and the way that he seemed to have no pleasure in life other than to hurt people,” Goffard says about the podcast’s titular character. “It was as if he was finding victims and feeding them into the void where his soul ought to be, like a sacrifice to the volcano god, you know?”
Read more at Rolling Stone.