Orphaned At Sea: The Terry Jo Duperrault Story

The Family’s Plan

Can you imagine being lost at sea with only a small rubber dinghy between your body and the darkness of the deep? Sharks, sun, dehydration, starvation, and exhaustion were all dangers that you would face. This couldn’t really happen, right? Wrong.

In November of 1961, a Wisconsin family, the Duperraults, set off to the Bahamas on a 60-foot boat called the Bluebelle. Captained by Julian Harvey, the Bluebelle was scheduled to sail for a week, and during that time, the Duperraults would experience true paradise. Unfortunately, no one on the Bluebelle could have predicted the tragedy that the family would experience before their vacation was over, and some on the boat would never make it home.

The Duperraults planned to try out life at sea for the week and, if all went well, possibly extend it from a vacation into a year-long sabbatical, carelessly voyaging from island to island. Captain Harvey, accompanied by his wife Dene, assured them that the trip would be an unforgettable experience.
The eager family arrived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where they had rented the Bluebelle and would set sail.

What a Ketch

On November 8th of 1961, they climbed aboard the quietly purring ship, bracing themselves with excitement. Captain Harvey turned the vessel away from the dock and they were off on their adventure, never expecting the darkness of what their future had in store.

The Bluebelle and all of its glory was a sailing ship known as a ketch. On older ketches like these, the main mast typically carries one or more square rigged topsails.

Julian Harvey and His Past

The additional sail adds for a better balance and a smaller mainsail which is much easier to handle.
A ketch is distinguished by having two masts instead of one, and received its name by being the “catch” or fishing boat. 44-year-old Captain Julian Harvey did not have a very well-known past when he was hired on to master the beautiful Bluebelle ship.

On the outside, Captain Julian Harvey possessed everything you could want in a leader. A bona fide war hero and decorated bomber pilot in WWII and Korea, he later became fluent in the art of sailing and owned a number of yachts.
Growing up, his love of sailing was accompanied by his love of working out.

A Busy Man

He was a scrawny child and he threw himself into bodybuilding, eventually developing a physique that he strived to maintain and never grew tired of showing off. He even worked a short time as a model.

Harvey’s wife, Mary Dene, who went with him on the Duperrault’s adventure, was not his first wife… or his second… or his third… In fact, Harvey had been married five times before marrying her. None of his marriages ever lasted very long, but the end of the nuptials with his third wife leave us wondering if the fate of Arthur Duperrault and his family could have been avoided.
Driving home from the movies one night in 1949 with his wife at the time, Joanna, and her mother, Harvey claimed the car went into a skid. They crashed over a bridge and plunged into the murky waters where Joanna and her mother drowned.

Fit for a Dream

Harvey managed to escape without a scratch. Further investigation led many to believe that this stunt was a plan by Harvey, but since no evidence of foul play came through, the case was dropped. Harvey collected on Joanna’s life insurance policy and moved on.

During the first few days the family spent their time forgetting the rest of the world. Their days were filled with sun-tanning, snorkeling, and collecting seashells. Arthur Duperrault saw his dreams coming true before his eyes and hoped the adventure would never end, unbeknownst to the deadly turn their trip would take.
They would stop along sandy coasts of different beaches, never regretting the life they left behind them for the week.

The Trip

Arthur knew they would be back at it sooner rather than later. How could something so good ever turn out to be wrong?

Captain Harvey spent four days circling around the Bahamian archipelago. They hit the Bimini Island chain and Arthur’s surge of happiness skyrocketed.

The Bahamas

They hopped around island after island getting as much of their fill of the beautiful scene as they possibly could.
The Bluebelle seemed to have them in some sort of a trance as her sails filled and she led them smoothly throughout the dark waters. The family was in heaven as they took in the culture and the surrounding beauty throughout the island chain.

Resting southeast off the coast of Florida, USA, the Bahamian archipelago consist of over 700 islands and 2,000 rocks and cays. About 30 of its islands are currently inhabited, stretching out over 970 kilometers.
Back then, the Bahamas were a haven for freed American slaves.

Utter Beauty

Today, 85 percent of the population on the islands population are the descendants of slaves and free Africans.

Bimini, made up of three islands is one of the most well-known and highly esteemed Bahamian locations. It is home to many landmarks, many said to be of mystical properties from obscure origins.
The surrounding ocean of Bimini is considered to be one of the top fishing locations.

Headed Back

Bimini is also home to several unique species, some of which are endangered. The Duperraults were astounded at the glory that was the island.

Roderick W. Pinder, the Sandy Point village commissioner, greeted the Duperraults and the Harveys into his office. They were there to fill out the required forms needed to head back to the United States.

A True Nightmare

According to Pinder, Arthur Duperrault was ecstatic, telling him the family would be back before he knew it.
Their vacation was drawing near to the ending none of them wanted. Sunday evening, Dene prepared a dinner of chicken cacciatore and salad. Not knowing it would be their last, the family enjoyed their meal and headed off to bed.

Young Terry Jo headed to bed around nine o’clock that night, exhausted from the trip and all of the fun they had. Typically, her younger sister, Rene, would sleep with her, but on this particular night Rene fell asleep with their parents and brother in the cockpit. In the middle of the night, Terry Jo was abruptly woken up to the sound of her brother screaming, “Help!!!

A Massacre

Daddy!!! Help!!!”
Disoriented and terrified, Terry Jo lay in her bed shivering, listening to the sounds of running, stamping, and then… silence. After a few moments, she decided she needed to check out what had happened, and ultimately, make sure her family was okay.

Upon mustering up the courage to walk out of her cabin, Terry Jo knew instantly her mother and brother were dead. As she neared, she saw them crumpled up in a pool of their own blood. As she continued up the stairs, she sighted more blood on the starboard side of the cockpit, as well as a knife.
As she pressed on, Captain Harvey appeared out of nowhere and shoved her back downstairs.

Time to Move

“Get back down there,” he growled. With her heart pounding, Terry Jo didn’t know what to make of the scene. She swiftly made her way back to her bunk and crawled in her bed, eyes avoiding her mother and brother’s dead bodies.

As any of us would be, especially at the young age of 11, Terry Jo’s head was swirling as she tried to get a grasp of what was happening. Was she next? Was anyone in her family still alive?

A Moment of Surprise

Soon after returning to her bed, she heard sloshing and then caught a whiff of oil as water began seeping in to her cabin.
Too scared to move, Terry Jo realized the ship was filling up with water. Suddenly, a shadowy figure appeared in her doorway. She knew instantly it was the Captain, who seemed to be holding something that she assumed to be her brother’s rifle.

Terry Jo could hear Captain Harvey’s heavy breathing, accompanied by her own thundering heartbeat in her ears. As the slapping of water weighed more on her mind, the Captain surprisingly turned away and let her be. She could hear him climb the stairs back to the top deck.
By now, the water was high enough to lap over her mattress.

Captain Overboard

Terry Jo started panicking and she knew she had to get out of there. After climbing to the top of the stairs, she could see that the ship’s dinghy and rubber life boat were floating along the ship on the port side. Her fears were sinking in as she shouted, to no one in particular, “Is the ship sinking?!”

“YES!!” Captain Harvey shouted back at Terry. He came up from behind her and pushed the line attached to the dinghy into her hands, telling her to hold on to it. Numb with shock, Terry Jo could not hold on to the line, and she let it slip through her fingers.
As the dinghy drifted away from the ship, Terry Jo watched as Captain Harvey jumped overboard.

A Moment of Clarity

He swam vigorously to catch up with it, and disappeared out of sight. She was all alone on a sinking ship with her dead family.

With the last person alive gone, Terry Jo started to feel the nauseating threat of loneliness. She was terrified and exhausted. Her family had just been murdered right outside her room. The fearless leader that had been guiding the family for a week, just left her to drown along with the Bluebelle.

She Bested the Boat

Suddenly, she remembered the cork life float that had been hanging top right of the main cabin.
As the water was beginning to reach the cabin, Terry Jo shot right to it the float. As numb and scared as she was, she had a tough time fumbling with the knots. Finally, the knots loosened just as her feet were submerged in water. In a feeble attempt at a half-crawl half-swim technique, she pushed the float in to the water.

Terry Jo climbed onto the life float and tried to scramble her way about. One of the lines from the raft got caught on something and she was suddenly dragged below. The line then came free and she and the raft popped back up to the surface. She remained huddled very low, in case the Captain had been waiting there for her, ready to greet her with the same fate as her family.
She had no water, no food, nothing.

Suffrage Day in and Day Out

Her think white shirt and light pink pants were all that clung to her, as she shivered against the chill of the night. As the moon set, clouds moved in over the stars and any glimmer of light was shunned. She could hear the howling of the wind, but she could not see a thing. After being repeatedly pummeled with unexpected waves, her body threw itself into an endless shiver.

Monday morning brought with it a relief from the chill as the sun shown on Terry Jo’s thin frame. Her welcoming feeling of warmth soon turned into utter fear as she realized she now had no escape from the sun. As the day went on, the temperature rose quickly and the sun began to scorch her.
The cork float she depended her life on was already beginning to diminish.

Wishful Thinking

Her legs and feet were now exposed to the bites of parrot fish, who’s teeth were very sharp. As time went on her tongue and throat became drier and drier, though she was not hungry or thirsty.

Monday night brought the same chilling battle, while Tuesday morning brought a brief feeling of warmth, followed by the agonizing pain of the sun’s rays. She was beginning to lose faith in any hope at survival, when she saw a red plane flying near. Terry Jo waved at the plane with every ounce of strength she could muster, frantically swinging her blouse back and forth to try and get their attention.
Her heart pounded with hope as the plane, at one point, came diving directly towards her.

A Gleam of Hope

It passed directly over her head. The plane flew so close she could make out the tiniest details on its underbelly, but it flew at an angle that made it impossible for whoever was flying it to see her.

Terry Jo’s hopes of being rescued began to sink as she realized the white raft and her blonde hair made her look like nothing other than another whitecap in the ocean’s rolling waters. Chances of someone who passed in a plane or ship seeing her were slim. Hopelessness made itself known and weighed down on the poor little girl.
After being struck with disappoint that the fleeting plane left, Terry Jo was faced, once again, with a feeling of loneliness and despair. Then, as if she needed something else to inflict more fear into her mind, she saw shadows beneath the water, swimming nearer and nearer to her.

Her Dream

As that familiar lump returned to her throat, she noticed that they were dolphins. Oddly comforted by the creatures and the sounds they made, Terry Jo sent up a thankful prayer to God for their companionship. They stayed with her for hours as if to tell her she was going to be okay.

As Tuesday night brought Terry Jo the familiar relief from the blazing sun, so too did it bring about the familiar sense of despair with the unknown. As the float rose and fell with each passing wave, Terry Jo drifted off into a dream. She dreamed she was in the cockpit of a plane that was coming down for a landing. She remembered, vividly, the long strand of landing lights stretched out over a deep dark abyss.
The dream went on and she saw her father in the cockpit with her, holding a glass of red wine.

What is Real?

Though she was too young to have ever tasted wine, it looked more than refreshing after days without anything. Arthur Duperrault’s voice called out to her “Come one Terry Jo! We’re Leaving!” For the first time since the Bluebelle sank, Terry Jo felt that she would be okay.

Wednesday brought a clear, hot sun. Terry Jo, now going on her third day without food, water, good sleep, or human interaction, began to hallucinate various scenes. She saw a tiny desert island with a single palm tree. She paddled and paddled her way toward it, never closing in. Finally, the island disappeared out of sight and Terry Jo passed out from exhaustion.
By now, Terry Jo’s muscles were beyond aching.

Rescue at Last

Her lips were swollen and badly burned. Everything hurt. Most of the rope on her raft had been eaten away, and she had to rigidly balance herself on the edge. By now, she welcomed the small slips into unconsciousness.

Thursday made its appearance with the familiar blazing sun. This time, on her fourth day at sea, Terry Jo did not feel the sense of pain she’d gotten on the previous days. She was in a deep sleep, ever nearing the threshold of sweet death.

The Devious Lie

She would finally be out of her misery… Just then, her eyes opened and she regained consciousness, a shadow hovering over her.
A solid black wall was pounding through the ocean toward her, its rumbling so deep she could feel the vibrations in her chest. Barely coherent, she could see people waving at her, hear their voices, and eventually felt them carry her up out of her raft. As the strong arms carried her higher and higher, she felt herself, again, slip into oblivion.

Captain Harvey was spotted floating along on his dinghy on Monday, the day after the Bluebelle went down, by a Puerto Rico-bound oil tanker. When the captain of the tanker pulled nearer, he heard Julian announce himself and said that he had been captain to the Bluebelle.
In the days following, Harvey fed the Coast Guard his tale. He started by telling them the ship had sudden damage due to the masts and rigging collapsing, which killed his wife, Dene, and the Duperrault family.

A Bloodied Hotel Room

He then told them that gas lines in the engine room ruptured and, while the ship sank, it caught fire. While he managed to free himself, he reported that the family and his wife were trapped and could not get out in time.

Harvey caught wind of the news that Terry Jo had survived the Bluebelle incident and had been rescued just after giving his full testimony to the Coast Guard. He promptly headed back to the hotel room he was staying at, under the name John Monroe, to employ his back-up measures.
Three days before Terry Jo could give her account as to what happened, Harvey wrote a brief suicide note at his hotel.

The Truth

He then left ten dollars for the maid and headed to the bathroom, whereupon he took a double-edged razor and cut himself to death. His self-inflicted mutilations were so awful that police initially thought he’d been murdered.

Monday, November 20th, merely five days after the poor 11-year-old girl had been found, Terry Jo had recovered enough to give her full recollection of what had taken place that awful night. Through her testimony alone, Harvey’s story was negated. According to Terry Jo, the masts that he claimed to have been damaged were still intact before the ship went down.
With a heavy heart, Terry Jo confirmed that her mother, father, brother, and sister, along with Dene Harvey, had been brutally murdered at the hands of Captain Harvey.

Remembering the Family

Theories following the testimony suggest that Harvey had planned to just kill Dene and throw her overboard in an attempt to collect on her life insurance money. It is believed one of the Duperraults witnessed this, which prompted the murders of them as well, and forced Harvey into his deep lie.

Besides Terry Jo escaping, the Duperrault family went down with the sinking Bluebelle.

Forced to Repress It

A memorial service was held for them, which Terry Jo missed out on as she had been recovering.
The only body to be recovered was seven-year-old Rene’s.

Toward the end of November, Terry Jo made a full recovery and was released from the hospital. She was flown back to her hometown to be raised by relatives, who had a very unorthodox way of handling the situation.

Terry Jo to Tere

The family believed that disturbing emotions and situations should simply be ignored, and Terry Jo was forced to build a wall around her own experience.
While they avoided the subject of the traumatic experience at home, the family instructed her teachers, other relatives, neighbors, and even friends, to do the same. This sort of repression and forced denial caused Terry Jo to reportedly live on through emotional turmoil, and face a series of marital issues.

The struggle to both overcome the loss of your entire family, and be forced to repress that loss, took its toll on the young girl. When her story was released, she was the most talked about girl in the world. The stress and attention weighed her down and, about a year after her release from the hospital, Terry Jo had her name changed to Tere so that she no longer had to be identified as a victim.
She was psychologically isolated from the world.

Truth Serum

She would never return to a normal childhood and she was now the only child when she’d been used to having a brother and sister. The world pitied her and, naturally, she struggled to deal with it.

Though she was able to give a concise and clear testimony about what had really happened aboard the Bluebelle, Tere admits to later on undergoing a psychological interview. She was under the influence of a truth serum, and was able to drudge up a few details, such as the color of her brother’s pajamas and the bloodied knife that lay next to his body.
Even while under the influence of this truth serum, sadly Tere could not recall any details that further lead to why Harvey did what he did, and the moments that led up to it. One major question stumps us all: why didn’t Harvey kill her when he had the chance?

Amytal Sodium

He had the rifle and he had already killed off her whole family. What prompted her to let her live and go down with the ship?

Amytal sodium, better known in the pharmacological world as amobarbital, was developed as a psychological drug tested on rats. If taken for extended periods of time, dependency can occur.
When given slowly through an intravenous route, amytal sodium has a tendency to act as a truth serum.

The Perfect Companion

A person injected with it will say things they would otherwise block. It was first used to prevent certain inhibitions in psychiatric patients.

Richard Logan, who retired from being a professor in human development, was fascinated with Tere and her story. He had a particular interest in survivors of ordeals such as prisoners of war and prisoners of concentration camps. He spoke highly of Tere and her ability as a young child to have coped with her situation and gotten through it the way she did.
In 2010, Tere emerged in the public eye, releasing a book she co-wrote with Richard.

Deciding to Speak Out

The book, titled Alone: Orphaned on the Ocean, was a memoir of Tere’s experience and life after. After nearly 50 years, Tere wanted to put purpose to her pain and released the book in hopes that it would help others to deal with theirs.

Along with her book coming out, Tere took part in an interview in 2010 with Barry Leibowitz, a senior writer at 48 Hours/Mystery. His first question asked her to explain why, after all these years, she was ready to speak out about the tragedy she faced so long ago.
Tere explained she always felt as if she’d been saved for a reason, just needed the time to figure it out.

No Doubts

She wanted to spread hope with her story, possibly to other survivors, and let them know that healing does not come with a timeline. And that’s okay.

Leibowitz went on to ask Tere if she had ever had any doubts about how the events unfolded that night so long ago in her own mind. She explained that she has never had any doubts.
Tere firmly believes that being 11 at the time was old enough to allow her to understand the seriousness of the situation.

Silence Was Misery

She knew her family had been taken, just didn’t understand why. She knew Captain Harvey had left her to drown but, again, could not figure out why.

When Tere was asked what it had been like to be forced into a state of isolation. She’d spent 20 years not talking to anyone about the ordeal that she went through so long ago at such a young, innocent age. Tere explained that she learned to live quietly.
Other than family ones, she did not attend large gatherings for fear someone would try and talk about her late loved ones.

No Pressure, Just Healing

She would feel awkward in any crowd and did her best to avoid them. Years later, friends and teachers came out to her book signing, apologizing that they acted that way and checked in to make sure she was okay after all these years.

Tere explained that her dear friend, Richard Logan, who helped her with the book, gently encouraged her to do the test. He said it might help clarify some of her memories.

Putting on a Brave Face

She believed him without hesitation as it was his job to work with and help survivors.
Richard assured Tere that the experience would give her the confidence to believe in herself what she had seen and heard. She recalled that she had seen the bodies of her mother and brother that night, but not the ones of her sister and father

After surviving that awful week, most of us never would have set foot near water again, afraid it would lead us back into the darkness of the past. For Tere, she saw it as a challenge she needed to overcome. Rather than fear the water, she developed a bond with it as the ocean, she felt, had actually kept her alive for those four days.
Tere went on to work in Water Resources and Water Regulation and Zoning, furthering her relationship with water.

Forced to Trust

Since it had protected her as a little girl back then, she felt she needed to do what she could and dedicate her life to returning the favor. She admits water is soothing for her and where she feels most relaxed. When she visits the beach, she feels close to her lost family.

When asked what one of her biggest challenges was while trying to heal, Tere’s answer was all about trust. She said that she had been an extremely trusting person before the events unfolded that changed her life.

Attempt to Avoid Missing Survivors

Her family was taken away from her completely, and she was forced to trust those around her in her new surroundings.
Her unwavering trust was granted with many issues throughout her life that she says are explained in her book. She claims to continue being the same trusting person she always was, but nowadays is a lot smarter about handling it.

Tere’s life raft disintegrated moments after her rescue. It was a miracle she was even seen with the fact that it was white and blended in with the whitecaps of the ocean whenever the sun shone.
Tere’s experience ignited a flame under boat safety regulations.

Fear Was Not an Option

During the following year, the white rafts were changed to orange, a measure that went international. Tere is humbled knowing that through her terrible experience, the world would learn and grow from it.

Tere forced herself to be okay around water, never running away from it or boats. She was adventurous before the tragedy, and she remained just as adventurous.

Writing it all down and getting it into a book for the world to see, after remaining silent for so long, helped her to heal.
Tere claims that in her dedication in her book, she wrote ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ for the first time since she lost them.