Arthur and Jean Duperrault had always wanted to take their children on the holiday of a lifetime. But, rather than a dream come true, the trip turned into a nightmare and only one of the family of five would survive…
Forty-one year old Dr Arthur Duperrault was a well-to-do optometrist living in the quiet and prosperous town of Green Bay, Wisconsin. He and his wife Jean, 38, had always wanted to take the kids – Brian, 14, Terry Jo, 11, and Rene, 7 – for a dream family holiday.
The couple had saved and made plans to charter the 60ft ketch Bluebelle for a week-long cruise in the sun. And, on 8 November 1961, the family excitedly boarded the boat for their trip from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to the Bahamas.
The boat was captained by ex-Air Force pilot Julian Harvey, 44, with his new wife Mary, 34. Over the next four days, Harvey piloted the Bluebelle eastward. The family spent an idyllic time snorkeling and collecting shells on the beaches of the little islands they visited.
But, unknown to the Duperraults, Julian Harvey had serious financial problems and had devised a horrific plan to get himself out of his difficulties.
For he’d planned to kill his new wife, on whom he’d just taken out a substantial insurance policy. It’s thought he’d probably planned to dispose of Mary’s body later on the trip and to claim she was lost at sea.
But Mary proved to be more difficult to kill than Harvey had imagined. The terrified woman put up a fight before she died – and, in a terrible twist of fate for the Duperrault family – her cries attracted their attention, and would lead to their brutal slaying.
Around 9pm, 11-year-old Terry Jo went down to her cabin at the back of the boat. Little Rene usually slept there, too, but this night had stayed with her parents and brother on deck in the cockpit, and would sleep in the main cabin, which doubled as sleeping quarters at night.
Screams in the night
Then, in the night, Terry Jo was startled awake by her brother’s screams. She heard running footsteps, stamping noises – then silence. The terrified child lay in her bed shivering and confused.
After about five minutes, she crept from her cabin – to be confronted by the awful sight of her mother and brother, lying crumpled in a pool of blood in the main cabin. They were dead.
Terry Jo didn’t see any sign of her father, sister or Mary Harvey.
The petrified child crept back to her cabin, then heard a sloshing sound. Soon, oily-smelling water seeped into her cabin and covered the floor. Terry Jo realised the ship was filling with water, but she was afraid to move. Harvey had opened the sea valves so he could sink the boat…
With the water rising in her cabin, Terry Jo went back on deck. She found Harvey preparing to make his escape in the Bluebelle’s dinghy. He shouted to the scared girl to hold the rope attached to the dinghy while he went to get something – probably a knife or some item with which to kill the only remaining witness to his crime.
But the frightened child dropped the rope and slipped onto a small float. She escaped before Harvey could return. Terry Jo would be alone on open seas aboard the float for three long days, suffering from hypothermia at night and the fierce sun during the day. She had no food or water and was so weak she could barely sit up.
Harvey was found the next morning, along with the body of little Rene. He told his rescuers that the ship had been hit by a sudden squall, that the mast had broken, there’d been a fire, and the Bluebelle had finally sunk with everyone on board, except himself and Rene… He claimed he’d found her floating, face down, in the water and tried unsuccessfully to revive her. An autopsy showed she’d died from drowning.
In the days that followed, Harvey told the Coast Guard in Miami that he was the sole survivor of the grave accident. And, while Harvey’s story raised suspicions, there was no firm evidence to prove it wrong.
Then, on day four of Terry Jo’s ordeal, a Greek freighter spotted the desperately distressed child. They plucked her from the water, and she lost consciousness after managing to tell the captain who she was. She was rushed to a Miami hospital, suffering from dehydration, severe sunburn and a dangerously high fever.
A few days later, in his room at a local hotel, Harvey heard the news that Terry Jo had survived. The next day, a maid saw blood on the sheets in his room. When she couldn’t open the bathroom door, her manager called the police. They forced open the door open to find Harvey’s bloody, lifeless body on the floor. He’d killed himself by slashing his wrists and throat with a razor blade.
And now further investigation following his suicide revealed that Julian Harvey may have used insurance scams to extricate himself from money problems before. It was found that Harvey had survived a car accident that had claimed another of his six wives and her mother, and that his yacht Torbatross and his powerboat Valiant had sunk under suspicious circumstances, yielding large insurance settlements.
When her physical condition improved, Terry Jo returned to Green Bay to live with her dad’s sister and her three cousins. But losing her whole family in such a horrific way, and the trauma of being adrift alone, with seemingly little chance of rescue, must have left her with deep psychological scars. Aged 12, she changed her name to Tere. She went on to marry four times, had therapy later in life, and says she’s now at peace with herself.
And, in 2010, Tere Duperrault Fassbender finally revealed the story of the night her family was killed and her days spent drifting in open water in her book Alone: Orphaned on the Ocean. Tere told the Press, ‘I always believed I was saved for a reason. If one person heals from a life tragedy [after reading my story], my journey will have been worth it.’