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Orphaned on the Ocean: The Story of Terry Jo Duperrault

1960s | October 15, 2016

terry-jo

Terry Jo Duperrault, immediately before her rescue by the Captain Theo

Arthur Duperrault had long dreamed of taking his family sailing on the seas of the tropics. By 1961, Duperrault had become financially stable enough to fulfill that dream, at least in part. That year, Arthur, his wife, Jean, son, Brian, 14, and daughters Terry Jo, 11, and René, seven, would head to the Bahamas.

They chartered the Bluebelle, a two-masted, 115-horsepower Chrysler sailboat, and hired Julian Harvey, a former Air Force fighter pilot and an experienced sailor, to captain the ship. Harvey’s wife, Dene, would be joining the group on the cruise.

The plan was to spend a week trying out life at sea on a rented yacht and to extend the sabbatical if all went well.
 

The Voyage

On the morning of Wednesday, November 8, 1961, the Duperraults and the Harveys went aboard the Bluebelle to begin their eagerly awaited voyage.

Over the next four days, the group headed east, toward the tiny island chain of Bimini, then farther east to Sandy Point, a village on the southwestern tip of Great Abaco Island. They spent the week snorkeling and collecting shells on the beautiful beaches.
 

The Last Meal

Early Sunday, they stopped by the office of Sandy Point village commissioner Roderick W. Pinder to fill out forms for leaving the Bahamas and returning to the United States. “This has been a once-in-a-lifetime vacation,” Duperrault told Pinder. “We’ll be back before Christmas.” That night, Dene Harvey prepared a dinner of chicken cacciatore and salad. It was to be the last meal ever served on the Bluebelle.

The Fateful Night

Around 9 p.m., Terry Jo headed below deck to sleep in a small cabin at the back of the boat. Normally, her younger sister René slept there, too. But on this night, René remained with her parents and brother on deck in the cockpit.

In the middle of the night, Terry Jo was awakened by her brother yelling, “Help, Daddy! Help!” She also heard brief running and stamping noises. Then silence. She lay in her bed disoriented and terrified.

After about five minutes, Terry Jo crept out of her cabin. She saw her mother and brother lying in a pool of blood in the main cabin, which functioned as a kitchen and dining room during the day and was converted into a bedroom at night. She knew instantly they were dead.

Heart pounding, Terry Jo returned to her sleeping quarters, and crawled back onto her bunk. Soon, oily-smelling water seeped into her cabin. She realized the ship was filling with water, but she was afraid to move.

Suddenly she saw the captain’s dark form block the cabin’s doorway. He stood looking down at her with something in his hands, possibly her brother’s rifle. He said nothing.

Then the captain turned and walked out of the cabin, and she heard him climb the stairs back to the upper deck.

Alone

With water lapping over the top of her mattress, Terry Jo had to abandon the cabin. Wading through waist-deep water to the stairs, she climbed to the top again and saw that the ship’s dinghy and rubber life raft were floating beside the boat on the port side.

Is the ship sinking?” she called out.

“Yes!” Harvey shouted, coming up from behind her. He pushed the line to the dinghy into her hands. “Hold this!” he shouted. Numb from shock, the line slipped through her fingers.

The dinghy slowly drifted away from the sinking Bluebelle. Harvey jumped overboard to catch it. Terry Jo watched him swim after the dinghy as he disappeared into the night.

She remembered the cork life float kept lashed to the top right side of the main cabin, which was now just barely above-water. She scrambled to the small, oblong float and quickly untied it. Just as it came free, the deck of the Bluebell sank beneath her feet into the ocean. Half crawling, half swimming, she pushed the flimsy float into the open water.

As she climbed onto the float, one of its lines snagged on the sinking ship. For a moment, Terry Jo and the float were pulled underwater as the Bluebelle went down. Then the line came free, and the float with Terry Jo on it popped back up to the surface.

She had no water, no food, and, in her thin white blouse and pink pants, nothing to protect her from the chill of the night. A sudden shower drenched her, and she began to shiver uncontrollably. Soon one thought began to occupy her mind: Where is my father?
 

The Next Day

The next morning, a Monday, the temperature quickly rose to 85 degrees, and the sun began to scorch her. The small float was beginning to disintegrate, exposing her legs and feet to the sharp teeth of parrot fish. With each passing hour, her tongue became drier and her throat more parched, but she had no appetite and wasn’t thirsty.

A Sliver of Hope

On Tuesday, a small red plane circled overhead. Terry Jo waved at it for a long time with her blouse. At one point, it dived in her direction. She waved frantically, her heart pounding with hope. The plane passed directly over her, close enough that she could see the details of its underside but at an angle that made it impossible for the pilots to notice her.

The chances were slim that someone in a passing ship or plane would spot Terry Jo. Her white float and blouse and blond hair made it impossible to identify her among multitudes of whitecap tumbling over the blue surface of the sea. She was floating in the Northwest Providence Channel, which soon would drift north with the Gulf Stream and then east, carrying her across the wide Atlantic to 
the British Isles.

Early that afternoon, Terry Jo saw ghostly shapes about 30 yards from her float, just beneath the water’s surface. The shapes came closer, and she could see they were porpoises. Terry Jo felt oddly comforted by the company. She said a little prayer of thanks to God for sending them. They remained close-by for hours.
 

The Dream

Tuesday night brought back the awful unknown in the darkness, but it also brought blessed relief to her body. That night she had a dream.

In the dream, she saw her father, seated peacefully with a glass of red wine. Although she had never tasted wine, it looked refreshing, just what she needed to quench her thirst. And she heard his voice call out to her, “Come on, Terry Jo! We’re leaving!

Hallucinations

Wednesday grew hot very quickly. The glare of the sun caused her dry eyes severe pain and all her muscles ached. Her skin burned through her blouse and pants. Her lips were rough and swollen.

For most of the time, she had to balance rigidly on the edges of the unsteady float because much of its rope webbing had broken away. She hallucinated more now, imagining a tiny desert island with a solitary palm tree. She tried paddling toward it but it disappeared as she drew closer. Finally, she fell unconscious.
 

The Fourth Day

On Thursday, she did not feel the burning rays of the unforgiving sun. She was in a deep sleep close to the brink of death. Walls of water came at her one after another.

Midmorning on her fourth day alone on the raft, however, she emerged from her stupor and opened her eyes. A huge shadow loomed before her like a great beast. Its rumble was so deep that she could feel its pounding rhythm in her chest. As she watched, it seemed to metamorphose from an unworldly vessel floating above the sea into a great whale and then into a solid black wall suspended in the air above her. When she looked up to the top of that great wall, she saw heads and waving arms. She could faintly hear voices shouting. Finally, she felt herself suspended in space. Strong arms lifted her up slowly as she slid back into oblivion.

raft

Boatswain's Mate First Class Bill Held shows raft that saved girl's life.

 

Julian Harvey

When Julian Harvey was hired to captain the Bluebelle, not a lot was known about his earlier life. The 44-year-old was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel married to Mary Dene Jordan, an aspiring writer and a former TWA flight attendant.

The day after the Bluebelle went down, the lookout on a Puerto Rico–bound oil tanker spotted a small wooden dinghy floating in the middle of Northwest Providence Channel. When the captain pulled the tanker closer, a man in the dinghy yelled, “My name is Julian Harvey. I am master of the Bluebelle.

In the days that followed, Harvey told the Coast Guard in Miami that he was the sole survivor of a grave accident. He said, a sudden squall damaged the sailboat in the middle of the previous night. His wife, Dene, and the Duperraults were injured when the masts and rigging collapsed. Gas lines in the engine room ruptured, and the ship caught fire as it slowly sank. Harvey said he had managed to launch the dinghy and raft and dive overboard, but tangled rigging trapped everyone else on board.

A few days later, installed at the Sandman Hotel, Harvey heard that Terry Jo had survived. The next day, hotel staff found Harvey’s bloody, lifeless body on the floor, a suicide.

Days After

After getting rescued by an officer of the Greek freighter Captain Theo, Terry Jo was taken by helicopter to a Miami hospital. A week after her rescue, officials questioned Terry Jo in her hospital bed. Her story, disproved Harvey’s account of the events. Her family, along with Dene Harvey, had been slaughtered aboard the Bluebelle, at the hands of Julian Harvey.

The police suspect that Harvey killed his wife to collect money from her life insurance, and one theory suggests that Duperrault caught Harvey in the act, prompting the other murders.

Terry Jo returned to Green Bay to live with her father’s sister and three cousins. When she was 12, she changed her name to Tere. Nearly 50 years later, in 2010, Tere finally revealed the details of the night her family was killed and her days spent drifting in open water in Alone: Orphaned on the Ocean. “I always believed I was saved for a reason,” Tere told CBS News. “If one person heals from a life tragedy , my journey will have been worth it.”

H/T RD.com

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