• Dr. Adina

#BravoGenealogy Blog Series: A Dirty John Discovery

Updated: Nov 8, 2019

This is going to be a different type of #BravoGenealogy post, but nonetheless jaw-dropping. If you haven't heard of it, Dirty John is the newest Bravo TV hit, a crime anthology that focuses on the real-life events and crimes of John Meehan, a con artist, sociopath, and overall terrible human being. You can read more about the backstory here.


"Dirty" John Meenhan is played by Eric Bana on the show. Connie Britton plays Debra Newell, his new wife and victim.

Last week when perusing the articles about Dirty John, I came across a transcript of the original Dirty John podcast that inspired the show. Sitting down with John's sisters, Donna and Karen, investigative reporter Christopher Goffard discussed how he wanted to learn more about their brother's upbringing:


"The family was related to Albert Anastasia, the east coast mobster who ran Murder Inc. This is a name you know if you have even a passing interest in mafia history. Reporters called him the Mad Hatter and The Lord High Executioner and he was famous for eliminating potential witnesses. He died in 1957, riddled with bullets, in a New York City barbershop. You might have seen the photo. John and Karen’s grandmother did have the surname Anastasi, but I couldn’t find a conclusive genealogical link to the mob family. What matters is that John grew up with this as the family lore and, in the way others boast about forebearers who were on the Mayflower, John bragged about this supposed mafia pedigree."


Of course, I saw this as a challenge, and I decided to dig deeper into John Meehan's Anastasi family.


Lord High Executioner Albert Anastasia

I started to build Dirty John's family tree and was able to trace the Anastasi line (or Anastase as it was recorded) back to John's 2nd great-grandparents, but there was no indication that Dirty John was related to the mobster. Lord High Executioner Albert Anastasia and his brothers immigrated to the United States in 1919 from the Calabria region of Italy, while John Meehan's great-grandfather, William Anastase, arrived in 1904 hailing from Messina, Sicily, although I could not find him in the ship manifest he noted in his naturalization papers, even under his Italian name, Guglielmo Domenico, other variations, or elsewhere.


Naturalization papers for William Anastase, Dirty John's great-grandfather.

Although I could not find a familial connection, it was certainly possible Anastasia and Anastase crossed paths. Albert Anastasia was to control the the International Longshoremen's Association and the entire Brooklyn waterfront, and Dirty John's great-grandfather worked as a longshoreman on the same waterfront by 1937, possibly earlier. Perhaps they were related, or maybe because they shared similar last names, it became a good tale to tell for additional clout in both his professional and personal lives.


But there's more.


Although I can't definitively prove a connection with Albert Anastasia, I found an article that still gave me chills. Great-grandfather William married his first wife, Walborg ( née Johnson) in 1913 and had son William and daughter Carmelina, John's maternal grandmother. Although the 1920 and 1930 censuses listed Walborg as still married, her husband was not recorded living with his family in either census.


Sometime in 1936 or 1937, however, William Anastase married his second wife, Grace, a divorcée with a son, Daniel De Carlo. Married for only about a year, a Mar 23, 1938 edition of the New York Daily News published the article, "Shoots Wife, Self; Pleads for Her Life." The article showed a photo of William being questioned in a hospital bed; he had shot Grace and then turned the gun on himself.


Excerpt from one of the articles that describes the crime.

"'Don't let her die,' moaned the husband, as the ambulance sped to the hospital. 'Try to save her. Don't mind me, but don't let my wife die.'"


This particular quarrel began at home when William, unemployed as a longshoreman, suggested his wife get a job to which she replied, "Why should I get a job? So you can run around with other women?"


Enraged, William took a revolver from the kitchen cabinet and shot his wife in the arm and breast and then himself in the stomach. An article about three weeks later reported that Grace survived and had been released, while he was charged with felonious assault and a violation of the Sullivan Act.



William Anastase being questioned by the Assistant District Attorney in his hospital bed.

Although I was not readily able to find the outcome of this case, William's obituary 40 years later noted Grace, his two children (someone connected to the family that Dirty John's grandmother went by Jean after seeing this post), and his stepson. Husband and wife were buried together at Saint Charles Cemetery in East Farmingdale, New York.


Obituary of William Anastase. One of those great-grandchildren, of course, is Dirty John.


Fascinated by Dirty John's family history? Contact me at adina@myfamilygenie.com, and I can do the same for you!

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