Dennis DePue: The Terrifying Inspiration Behind ‘Jeepers Creepers’

Victor Salva’s 2001 Jeepers Creepers became an instant horror cult classic. While its reviews were initially mixed, the film was nominated for a Saturn Award and for Best Movie at the International Horror Guild Awards. The Los Angeles Times once said its opening sequence was scarier than “any horror picture in recent memory.” That opening sequence was actually inspired by a true story. Meet Dennis DePue, the murderer who inspired the Jeepers Creepers franchise.

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The Jeepers Creepers Opening Scene

Victor Salva wrote and directed Jeepers Creepers, which stars Justin Long and Gina Philips as siblings Trish and Darry Jenner. The college students are driving home on a rural Florida country road after Spring break. All of a sudden, a 1941 Chevy COE starts tailgating them, erratically zigzagging around the road. Justin and Gina let the driver pass, noticing their license plate: BEATNGU. Darry exclaims “Beating you!” as he points out he’s winning a name game they’re playing, 3 out of 5.

Trish and Darry also bring up two young people, Kenny and Darla, who went missing and were found dead 23 years earlier. Darry points out that their mutilated bodies were found 100 miles away, but on the same highway.

The siblings happen to pass the truck again as its parked next to an abandoned church. What they see is terrifying. The driver is sliding bloody bodies, wrapped in sheets, down a pipe. The driver spots them and pursues them, this time forcing them off the road. With the truck out of sight, they decide to return to the church and investigate. There, they come across “The Creeper’s” demonic lair.

The movie is frightening on its own, but when one realizes how much of it is based on real life, it gets even creepier. Victor Salva threw the audience a bone when Trish and Darry brought up the story of Kenny and Darla. But to truly know how much of it was inspired by Dennis DePue, you need to know his story.

Dennis DePue’s Wife, Marilynn, Filed for Divorce in 1989

Unlike the scene in Jeepers Creepers, Dennis Henry DePue was a Michigander. Born in 1943, he married a Detroit native, Marilynn Lee McClenahen, in 1971. Dennis and Marilynn lived in Coldwater and together, they had three children: Julie, Jennifer, and Scott.

But before the couple made it to their 19th anniversary, Marilynn filed for divorce. Her husband was allegedly bullying her and controlling her, complaining that she’d turned their kids against him. He was so controlling that, even after his wife filed for their divorce, he kept an office in their garage. The story goes, after the house was put in Marilynn name and she changed the locks, she came home one day, and he was sitting in the living room. Their divorce was finalized in December of 1989.

A few months later, on Easter Sunday of 1990, Dennis DePue was at Marilynn’s home to pick up two of their kids. But an argument broke out, and he ended up brutally assaulting his ex-wife. After he threw her down the stairs while their children watched, Dennis said he was going to bring her to the hospital. He never did, and soon after the Michigan State Police were searching for both of them.

This is where the real-life Trish and Darry Jenner come in. However, unlike the Jenners, the true story doesn’t end tragically.

Jeepers Creepers‘ Trish and Darry Were Based off of Ray and Marie Thornton of Coldwater, Michigan

On April 15, 1990 — Easter Sunday — Ray and Marie Thornton were driving on Snow Perry Road in Coldwater, Michigan. Unlike the Jenners, the Thorntons were a married couple. But like the Jenners, the Thorntons were playing a license plate game. That’s when a 1984 green Chevrolet van sped by them. Part of the license plate said “GZ.”

Making names and slogans out of other people’s license plates, Marie saw “GZ” and said, “Geez, he must be in a hurry.” The van sped out of view, but they saw it again, parked beside an old schoolhouse. The driver was holding what appeared to be a body, covered in a bloody sheet.

Not long after, the Chevy came up on the Thorntons’ car. After tailgating them for a few miles, the Chevy finally turned off on a side road. And like the Jenners (or anyone setting up the plot for a horror film), the Thorntons decided to turn back around and get a second look. Specifically, they couldn’t remember the entire license plate. They drove up behind the van, just in time to see the driver changing his license plate. His passenger door was open and the Thorntons could see that the interior was covered in blood.

Like in Jeepers Creepers‘, Dennis DePue Stuffed a White Sheet in Some Kind of Hole

Luckily for the Thorntons, the man they just stalked was busy. They managed to get away but still wanted to know more. So, they returned to the schoolhouse, where they saw the sheet stuffed into a hole in the ground. That’s when they phoned the police.

The police forensics investigation matched blood from the schoolhouse scene to Marilynn DePue’s. The tire tracks also matched Dennis’ Chevy van. Searching the area, Marilynn’s body was eventually found on a nearby road, thrown into some bushes and shot in the back of her head.

But Dennis DePue was on the run. Now a wanted fugitive, he relocated to Dallas, Texas. Dennis, now using a fake name, also found himself a new girlfriend. Obsessed with outrunning the law, Dennis aka “Hank Queen,” found himself glued to the TV watching an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. It was March of 1991 — less than one year since he murdered his wife.

Dennis DePue’s New Girlfriend Called the Police

Seeing himself on TV, DePue rushed to pack up his belongings while trying to keep his girlfriend out of eyesight of the TV. Telling her he had to rush to his sick mother, he left in his 1984 Chevy van.

The girlfriend phoned the police, who had already been tipped off by DePue’s license plate, thanks to another person who was watching Unsolved Mysteries. Meanwhile, DePue was driving into the Deep South. But the FBI and numerous state troopers were now looking for him. Louisiana state troopers spotted his van before it crossed the border to Mississippi. Mississippi deputies set up a roadblock on Interstate 20, just over the Mississippi River.

DePue barreled right through the roadblock and a highspeed chase ensued. Police shot at his tires as DePue shot back. Finally, the cops pulled out a machine gun, firing into DePue’s van. But his van was crammed with soft goods like clothes, which prevented the bullets from reaching Dennis.

However, the end came anyway. DePue’s van came to a stop and officers opened his door. Dennis DePue was dead, with a bullet wound that went through his mouth and out his head. He was found holding a “.357 in his left hand and his thumb on the trigger,” and the cops ruled his death as a suicide.

The similarities between Jeepers Creepers and Dennis DePue don’t go on forever, though. Victor Salva’s demonic antagonist comes back from the dead to feast on human bodies once every 23 years. Dennis DePue, although evil, was human.

Read More: Sharon Kinne: The Serial Killer Who Disappeared Without a Trace in 1969

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