Updated: Jul 26, 2019
Welcome to the Jeepers Creepers Podcast, where we discuss your favorite terrifying films and the even more terrifying true stories that inspired them. It's only fitting that we start with a cult favorite: Jeepers Creepers!
Jeepers Creepers came out on August 31st of 2001. Directed by Victor Salva, this classic horror flick features Justin Long and Gina Phillips as Darry and Trish, two siblings on a summer road trip home from college. If you've seen the film, you're probably wondering how on earth it could be based on a true story. Jeepers Creepers is a creature film at heart and as much as we love creature features, they're not so close to reality. So let's delve into how a true story could be entwined with this low budget masterpiece.
The film begins with Darry and Trish on a nearly deserted long stretch of road. The two play the license plate game where you try to guess what other license plates are supposed to say (this important detail comes into play later). After some introductions and banter between the two, the film quickly revs up (pun intended). A large rusted truck speeds up behind them and begins to aggressively tailgate the pair. The two indicate for him to go around and eventually, the truck driver does so. After basically calling the man an inbred asshole, the two continue their journey thinking little of the matter. After journeying further, they see the truck again, this time parked by a small abandoned building. The two siblings watch as the driver pulls out a large object wrapped in a bloody sheet out of the truck and toss the object down a chute. Of course, they're concerned. Large object wrapped and roped in a bloody sheet? I mean c'mon, 10 out of 10 times that's a dead body. But as they continue their drive (I know, this road is super long), the truck catches up to them, tailgating them even more aggressively than the last time. The pair are able to pull off the road and the truck continues on, but the two feel compelled to go back to the building to see what the driver had left behind. Here is where the true story no longer resides within the film. It is then that the two siblings discover a cavern filled from floor to ceiling with mutilated and rotting corpses. Without going into too much detail, the siblings then become the target of the eratic truck driver, who turns out to be a green-faced winged humanoid-like creature. They spend the rest of the film on the run from the monster. I won't ruin the rest for you, but it's a great horror (or perhaps horror comedy) to watch if you have the time. There has since been two sequels, one in 2003 and one in 2017, each worse, (or if you like a good laugh) better than the last.
So how does an over-exaggerated creature feature stem from a real life event? The entire first half of the movie bears an uncanny resemblance to the discovery of a murder in 1990. Dennis DePue, 46, was a property assessor. He lived in Algansee Township, Michigan with his three children and wife, Marilynn. The marriage was not a happy one, and in 1989, Marilynn filed for divorce stating that DePue was no longer allowing her to make her own decisions and was "trying to ruin [her] life". DePue was disgruntled over the matter, but despite his wishes, it was finalized in December of the same year. DePue had biweekly visitation rights and a key to the guest house to use as an office, but he was constantly coming in and out of the house. This happened so often, that Marilynn had to change the locks. It was clear that DePue was unstable and he accused Marilynn of turning their children against him, citing in later letters "something had to be done".
On Easter Day, April 15, 1990, DePue arrived at the home to pick up his children. His youngest two, Scott and Julie, refused to leave with him. When Marilynn tried to talk it over with him, the conversation quickly escalated to a full blown physical argument. Dennis shoved his ex wife down the stairs and repeatedly beat her in front of their children. He ignored the children’s pleas for him to stop. The oldest daughter, Jennifer, ran to a neighbor’s to call the police. DePue then left carrying Marilynn and telling the children he was taking her to the hospital. Police awaited their arrival but Marilynn never made it there.
This is where we start to see parallels between the film and the true event. On the same day, Ray and Marie Thorton were driving through Coldwater, Michigan, playing the license plate game when they were passed by a speeding van. They didn't think much of it until they passed a small schoolhouse with the same van parked out front. The driver had gotten out and carried what appeared to be a bloody sheet behind the building. Moments later, the same van pulled up behind them and tailgated them for miles before the couple pulled off the highway. They noted the driver had also stopped his vehicle and got out to change his license plate. They also noticed what looked like blood on the interior of the passenger side door. Alarmed, Ray and Marie Thorton decided to return to the schoolhouse to determine what the man had left behind. There, they found a bloody sheet in a small ditch and immediately notified the police.
Tire tracks determined the van belonged to Dennis DePue and the blood was his wife, Marilynn's. It wasn't until two days later that Marilynn's body was discovered on a deserted road by some highway workers. She had been shot once in the back of the head.
In the following days, DePue sent a total of 17 rambled and disturbing letters to his friends and family postmarked from Oklahoma, Iowa, and Virginia, but managed to evade police. DePue's whereabouts went unknown until the night of March 20, 1991. At 8:30 p.m., a woman named Linda Blizzard came home to her boyfriend, Hank Queen, hurriedly packing a suitcase in their home in Grapevine, Texas. He told her his mother was sick and he had to leave (and in classic man fashion, asked her to make him a sandwich for the road). As it turns out, this night was the same night Unsolved Mysteries covered the murder of Marilynn DePue.
A friend of Blizzard's had been watching the episode and recognized Hank Queen as Dennis DePue. She called the police and was able to provide the license plate number of DePue's van. It was presumed DePue had seen the episode that night and was in a rush to get out of dodge before his identity was revealed. However, with the provided information, Louisiana State Police were able to track the fugitive down. When state troopers attempted to pull the identified van over, DePue took off. This resulted in a 15 mile high speed chase through Mississippi. Police managed to shoot out DePue's tires to no avail. In fact, this only angered DePue who then pulled out a gun and fired three shots at police before his car came to a halt and firing stopped. State police approached the vehicle to find DePue slumped over in his seat. It was determined that he had turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.
The experience of Ray and Marie Thorton is the same experience of Darry and Trish in the beginning half of Jeepers Creepers. While playing the license plate game, they were passed by a van that stopped off to dump a bloody sheet down a ditch. They were then tailgated for nearly 2 miles before they pulled off the road. In the same fashion as Darry and Trish, the couple returned to the schoolhouse to determine what the man had left behind. But how did this story become nightmare fuel for director Victor Salva? It is presumed that the director had taken inspiration from the 1991 episode of Unsolved Mysteries. If you were to watch the Unsolved Mysteries reenactment back to back with the film, the scenes are nearly identical (watch this back to back video to get the feel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-pmaY2j8w0). Salva never cited the episode as inspiration for the movie but it's hard to believe he just so happened to create the same scene all the way down to the license plate game.