The Killer Who Inspired Jeepers Creepers
Dennis DePue evaded police for nearly a year before he was finally stopped, but his actions were forever engrained in the cinematic universe for entertainment.
Dennis DePue via reallifevillains.org
On the 15th of April 1990, Ray and Marie Thornton were driving along quiet Snow Perry Road in Coldwater, Michigan. As they drove, they played a game to pass the time. The game was to make words and phrases out of the number plates that passed them.
As a green 1984 Chevrolet truck passed them at high speed, Marie won that round of the game. The GZ on the plate made her exclaim, "Geez, he must be in a hurry".
They continued their drive, and it wasn't long until they passed an old schoolhouse in the middle of nowhere that greeted them with a horrific sight. A man was standing just beside it, and in his hands was a white sheet covered in blood that he was trying to dispose of. Marie saw the man's vehicle parked between the school and a large tank and knew immediately it was the Chevrolet that had overtaken them earlier.
The pair continued driving to find a phone, and Marie wrote down what she remembered of the license plate. However, their journey was interrupted when they saw the truck quickly approaching them from behind.
The Chevrolet followed them closely for a few miles and eventually turned off the road into a rest stop. Ray and Marie still needed to call the police, but they wanted to gather more information - like the number plate - so they courageously turned around and returned to find the truck.
As they passed, a tall man wearing a white hat stood at the back of the vehicle with the doors open, changing the number plates. He'd also left the passenger door ajar so the interior was visible. The inside was covered in a large amount of blood.
Ray and Marie could only imagine what the man had done, but they would soon find out on the news.
Earlier that day, 46-year-old Dennis DePue went over to his ex-wife's home to pick up his children. Joint custody had been part of the divorce settlement, but Dennis still used the guest house as an office despite not living at home anymore. He'd also got into the house when no one was around, even though his wife Marilynn changed the locks because she was scared of her ex-husband.
The couple's divorce wasn't a surprise, and Marilynn had confided in friends that Dennis was a bully. However, Dennis was forthcoming during the agreements and offered Marilynn whatever she wanted from the settlement. Even so, there were underlying issues that their children had picked up on.
The couple's three children didn't want to spend time with their father, and on that day in April, the youngest refused to get in his car, and the others quickly followed suit.
A fight erupted between the children and Dennis, and Marilynn also joined in. Dennis accused his ex-wife of turning his children against him, and in anger, he pushed her down the stairs and began beating her as their children looked on.
One of the children ran to the neighbour's home to call for help, but on her return, Dennis told her that he was taking Marilynn to the hospital.
They never arrived at any nearby emergency rooms, and Marilynn was never seen alive again.
When the Thorntons saw Dennis by the school, he was disposing of the sheet he'd used to transport Marilynn's dead body. The animal hole he'd tried to push the sheet down wasn't large enough, and when Ray and Marie went back to see what Dennis had been up to, they found it sticking out of the ground.
When law enforcement and forensics arrived on the scene, the Michigan State Police and the Sheriff's office had already begun their manhunt for Dennis, following the call from his daughter. The area was taped off, and nearby, forensics found tyre tracks and a pool of blood. The treads would later be linked to Dennis' truck, and the blood was matched to Marilynn.
The next day, Marilynn's body was discovered in the brush next to a quiet road, halfway between home and the schoolhouse. She'd been shot in the back of the head by her husband.
In the days following his wife's murder, Dennis went on the run and sent several letters to family and friends. He posted 17 letters in total, with various postmarks from across East American states. They were full of long rants in which he tried to justify killing Marilynn.
“Marilynn had many, many opportunities to treat me fairly during this divorce, and she chose to string it out, trick me, lie to me, and when you lose your wife, children and home, there’s not much left. I was too old to start over.”
Three months after Marilynn's murder, Dennis sent another letter. This time, it was 13 pages in length, quoted verses from the bible and contained more rambles from the fugitive.
Unsolved Mysteries aired the episode of Dennis DePue's crime in March 1991, nearly a year after the murder. The night that episode screened, a woman named "Mary" arrived at her home in Dallas, Texas, surprised to see her boyfriend's vehicle in the driveway.
As she opened the front door, she was confronted by Hank, who told her he needed to drive home as his mother was very ill. He asked Mary to make him some sandwiches for the road while he packed his belongings. In reality, Hank was trying to keep her busy so she wouldn't sit down to watch television and see his face staring back at her from the screen.
Hank packed up his green 1984 Chevrolet van and hugged his girlfriend. Mary never saw the man again but would soon find out who he really was.
Mary's friend was the one to call into the hotline, reporting her friend's boyfriend as Dennis DePue. She gave the operator his license plate number, and where they thought he was going, and just four hours later, Dennis was located.
Louisiana State Troopers were the first to spot the truck. They tried to stop the vehicle but instead embarked on a high-speed chase that lasted for 15 miles. Warren County Sheriff Paul Barrett told his team to shoot out the truck's tyres if they couldn't stop Dennis, and they succeeded, hitting both back wheels.
Dennis managed to drive on the rims for half a mile before the car eventually gave up and stopped. He shot at officers with his gun, with two going through the windscreen and one through an open window. He then turned the gun around and shot himself.
Dennis was buried at Eagle Cemetery in Lagrange County, Indiana, far from his wife's final resting place in Oakland County, Michigan.
Specific actions by Dennis DePue were depicted in the episode of Unsolved Mysteries and were the basis of the beginning of 2001's Jeepers Creepers.
Full Unsolved Mysteries episode via YouTube (DePue segment from 28 minutes)
Sources and further reading
Unsolved Mysteries featuring DePue Jeepers Creepers: The True Crime That Inspired The Horror Movie Explained — Screen Rant Man Wanted For Michigan Murder, Featured On TV, Dies During Shootout — AP News