Terry Jo Duperrault – the girl who survived the brutal slaughter of her entire family at sea

On the night of November 12th, 1961, 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.

Terry jo
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. CBS Via Wikimedia Commons

A journey to the Bahamas

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 set sail from Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his 38-year-old wife Jean, their 14-year-old son Brian, 11-year-old daughter Terry Jo, and 7-year-old daughter Renee, all from Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Bluebelle, Terry Jo Duperrault
Bluebelle was a 60-foot (18 meters) 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. Wikimedia Commons

The 60-foot vessel, the Bluebelle, was captained by a 44-year-old veteran of World War II and the Korean War, Julian Harvey, who had been wed five times prior to his journey. In July of the same 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. Vintage.es

The fateful night

At approximately 9:00 pm on the fateful night of November 12th, both Terry Jo and her sister Renee retired to their respective cabins on the vessel’s primary deck for the night. 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, she 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.” —Terry Jo Duperrault

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.

Terry jo, Terry Jo Duperrault
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.

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 terrifyingly asked Harvey if the boat was sinking, to which he replied, “Yes.”

An escape from death

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.

Despite being in great fear and having repeated flashbacks of haunting events that happened minutes ago, Terry Jo remembered (perhaps from a human instinct to survive) 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, wore no shoes, and had no head protection. She spent the next three nights drifting in the sea with a broken heart.

Discovery of Terry Jo Duperrault

On November 16th, a sailor on a Greek freighter Captain Theo 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 that it was supporting the nearly lifeless body of a girl – Terry Jo Duperrault.

Her appearance was so startling (and disturbing at the same time) that one sailor snapped a photo. This image soon appeared in publications around the world.

The freighter crew quickly lowered a makeshift raft to rescue the poor little girl. 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.

From Harvey’s side

Unbeknownst to Terry Jo, by the time she woke up on November 12th, Harvey had already drowned his wife Mary Dene and stabbed the rest of Terry Jo’s family to death.

Harvey 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.

Harvey 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.

Wait, there’s another twist..

There is another twist in the story, uncovering some more dark secrets of Harvey’s past. It was later 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 case believed it unlikely Harvey could have escaped uninjured without being ready to leave the car at the right moment. Earlier, his yacht Torbatross and powerboat Valiant had also 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.

Death of death: Harvey’s end

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 his death.

Unanswered questions

Terry Jo Dupperault, as photographed recuperating in hospital holding a photograph of the Captain Theo, her rescuer ship. It was pictured in the Thursday, 23 November 1961 edition of the New York Daily News. Wikimedia Commons / Restored by MRU.INK
Terry Jo Dupperault, as photographed recuperating in hospital holding a photograph of the Captain Theo, her rescuer ship. It was pictured in the Thursday, 23 November 1961 edition of the New York Daily News. Wikimedia Commons / Restored by MRU.INK

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.

Life rafts are now bright orange in color, but why?

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.

Terry Jo Duperrault – a brave life warrior

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 went through, Terry Jo 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 Duperrault

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.

After reading about the shocking story of Terry Jo Duperrault, read about the eerily shoking case of Lake Bodom Murders, then read about the miracle story of Juliane Koepcke, who fell 10,000 feet and survived a fatal plane crash.