Terry Jo Duperrault – the girl who survived her entire family being brutally murdered at sea

On the night of November 12th, Terry Jo Duperrault woke up after hearing screams from the ship's deck. She found her mother and brother dead in a pool of blood and the captain about to kill her next.

In 1961, a photograph was taken of a young girl who was spotted alone and adrift on a small lifeboat in the Bahamas. One can only imagine how horrible and bizarre the story of how she got there is.

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Photo of Terry Jo Duperrault, only survivor of the murder of her family on board the Bluebelle, found after four days of floating in the sea. © Image Credit: CBS Via Wikimedia Commons

On November 8, 1961, ophthalmologist Dr. Arthur Duperrault and his family embarked on a journey on their ketch Bluebelle, which took them from Florida to the Bahamas.

41-year-old Dr. Duperrault’s family included his 38-year-old wife Jean, 14-year-old son Brian, and two daughters, 11-year-old Terry Jo and 7-year-old Renee, all of Green Bay, Wisconsin. In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, they boarded the 60-foot ship Bluebelle. A veteran World War II and Korean War pilot, Julian Harvey (44), was the ship’s captain and had been married five times before. In July of that year, he married Mary Dene(34) who had worked as an airline stewardess before joining him on the voyage as the ship’s cook.

Julian Harvey
Julian Harvey © Image Credit: Vintage.es

Around 9 p.m. on the fateful night of November 12th, Terry Jo and her sister Renee retired to their respective cabins on the ship’s main deck to rest. Screaming and stamping came from above at around midnight, waking her up. She heard the sound of her brother Brian yelling, “Help, Daddy! Help!” She lay in her bunk, paralyzed with fear, but eventually summoned the courage to go into the main cabin. There, Terry Jo saw the bodies of her mother and brother. Both were lying in a pool of blood, clearly dead. When she went on deck, she discovered even more blood, and possibly a knife.

“went upstairs to see what it was, and I saw my mother and brother lying on the floor, and there was blood all over.”

She then saw Harvey walking towards her. When she asked what happened he just slapped her in the face and told her to go down below deck. She returned to her bunk and noticed the smell of oil and water leaking through the floor. Harvey came into the cabin with a rifle but left the cabin where the water level now reached her bed.

As water poured into her cabin, Terry Jo knew she couldn’t remain below. She went back up to the deck, and asked Harvey if the boat was sinking, to which he replied, “Yes.” For reasons unknown, the captain handed her the rope to the dinghy, which held the lifeless body of her sister, René. In shock, Terry Jo let go of the dingy. Harvey dove into the water, presumably to recover the small boat. Terry Jo never saw him again.

Bluebelle, Terry jo
Bluebelle was a 60-foot (18 m) twin-masted sailing ketch based out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The ship was scuttled following an act of mass murder by the ship’s captain, Julian Harvey, on November 12, 1961. © Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Despite her fear, Terry Jo remembered there was a cork float on the ship. She untied it and climbed aboard as the Bluebelle sank beneath her.

The cork raft was just two feet by five feet in size, and she could only sit on the tube around the edge because that was the only dry spot. She was dressed in a white blouse and pink corduroy slacks. She wore no shoes and had no head protection.

On November 16, 1961, a sailor on a Greek freighter noticed a tiny speck on the water in the distance. When the ship pulled up to it, the sailors realized it was a float – and they were shocked to discover it was supporting the nearly lifeless body of a girl. Her appearance was so startling that one sailor snapped a photo. This image soon appeared in publications around the world.

The freighter crew quickly lowered a makeshift raft to retrieve Terry Jo. However, before they could get to her, sharks began circling, perhaps drawn by the movement. It was some time before a crew member was able to hoist Terry Jo on board.

Unbeknownst to Terry Jo, by the time she woke up on November 12, Harvey had already drowned his wife and stabbed the rest of Terry Jo’s family to death. He likely killed his wife to collect on her $20,000 double indemnity insurance policy. When Terry Jo’s father witnessed him killing her, he must have killed the doctor, and then proceed to kill the rest of her family.

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Frightened, Terry Jo saw Harvey advancing toward her with something in his hand that looked like a buchet or a pan. © Illustration by Isa Barnett.

He then sunk the yacht they were on and escaped on his dinghy with his wife’s drowned corpse as evidence. His dinghy was found by the freighter the Gulf Lion and brought to a U.S. Coast Guard site. Harvey told the Coast Guard that the yacht had broken down while he was on the dinghy.

Later it was found that Harvey survived an accident which killed one of his previous wives and her mother 12 years ago when the car they were in went off the wooden bridge into 15 feet of water. The police and the diver who investigated the incident believed it unlikely he could have escaped uninjured without being ready to leave the car at the right moment. Also previously, his yacht Torbatross and powerboat Valiant sank under suspicious circumstances resulting in large insurance settlements.

During an inquiry by the United States Coast Guard, Harvey said that the Bluebelle was struck by a squall that shattered the masts, punctured the ship’s hull, ruptured the auxiliary gas tank, and ignited a fire. He also stated that he discovered Renee adrift in the water and attempted to revive her but was unsuccessful.

He was informed by the Coast Guard after receiving word of Terry Jo’s rescue. The next day, he had booked into a motel under a false name, scrawled a hastily written note to a friend, and cut himself on the thigh, the ankle, and the throat with a double-edged razor blade.

To this day, why Harvey decided to let the young Terry Jo Duperrault live is unknown. Because there was little else to explain why he would have no hesitation in killing the rest of her family but would strangely leave Terry Jo Duperrault alive, others speculated that he was motivated by a latent desire to avoid being apprehended by the authorities at the time. It doesn’t matter how you slice it, this bizarre act of mercy made national headlines.

It was because of Terry Jo’s ordeal, as well as the difficulties she had in finding her life raft, that the Coast Guard decided to change the color of life rafts from white to bright orange in 1962.

As an adult, Terry Jo applied for a post in fisheries at the Department of Natural Resources and then worked in Water Resources and Water Regulation and Zoning. After the catastrophe, she stated in an interview with CBS, she forged a wonderful affinity with water rather than a traumatic one.

“water is life and it is soothing for me to be on the beach. I find I can think clearly, relax, and feel closer to my lost family.”

Terry Jo’s life is inspiring especially for those who are always haunted by a horrible moment from their past. Despite losing so much in life, her relentless struggle to survive and his boundless courage to forget everything bad that happened to her have become a great example of a great life for us today.