In 1961, a photograph was taken of a young girl who was found alone and drifting on a small lifeboat in the Bahamas. The story of how she ended up in this situation was likely both terrifying and strange.
On November 8, 1961, Dr. Arthur Duperrault, an ophthalmologist, and his family set out on a trip on their ketch, the Bluebelle, sailing from Florida to the Bahamas.
Dr. Duperrault, 41 years old, was accompanied on the trip by his wife Jean, 38 years old, and their three children: 14-year-old son Brian, 11-year-old daughter Terry Jo, and 7-year-old daughter Renee. The family was from Green Bay, Wisconsin. They boarded the 60-foot ship Bluebelle in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with captain Julian Harvey, a 44-year-old veteran pilot of World War II and the Korean War. Harvey had been married five times before and in July of that year had married Mary Dene, a 34-year-old former airline stewardess who served as the ship's cook on the voyage.
On the evening of November 12th, Terry Jo and her sister Renee went to bed in their cabins on the main deck of the ship. Around midnight, screaming and stamping woke Terry Jo up. She heard her brother Brian yelling "Help, Daddy! Help!" She was too afraid to move at first, but eventually gathered the courage to go into the main cabin. There, she found the bodies of her mother and brother, both of whom were lying in a pool of blood and had been killed. When she went on deck, she saw even more blood and possibly a knife.
Terry Jo saw Harvey walking towards her. When she asked him what had happened, he slapped her and told her to go back down to the lower deck. She returned to her bunk and noticed that there was a smell of oil and that water was leaking through the floor. Harvey returned to the cabin with a rifle but left again as the water level rose to the level of her bed.
As water filled her cabin, Terry Jo realized that she couldn't stay below deck. She went back up to the deck and asked Harvey if the boat was sinking. He replied, "Yes." For some unknown reason, 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, apparently trying to retrieve the small boat. Terry Jo never saw him again.
Despite her fear, Terry Jo remembered that there was a cork float on the ship. She untied it and climbed aboard as the Bluebelle sank beneath her.
The cork raft was small, only measuring two feet by five feet, and Terry Jo could only sit on the tube around the edge because it was the only dry spot. She was dressed in a white blouse and pink corduroy slacks, and she had no shoes or head protection.
On November 16, 1961, a sailor on a Greek freighter spotted a small object on the water in the distance. As the ship approached, the sailors realized that it was a float and were shocked to see that it was supporting the nearly lifeless body of a young girl. The girl's appearance was so striking that one of the sailors took a photo, which was later published in newspapers and magazines worldwide.
The freighter crew quickly lowered a makeshift raft to rescue Terry Jo, but before they could reach her, sharks began to circle the float, possibly attracted by the movement. It took a while for a crew member to be able to lift Terry Jo onto the ship.
By the time Terry Jo woke up on November 12, Harvey had already drowned his wife and killed the rest of Terry Jo's family by stabbing them. It is believed that he killed his wife to collect on her $20,000 double indemnity insurance policy. When Dr. Duperrault saw Harvey killing his wife, Harvey likely killed him as well and then proceeded to kill the rest of the family.
Harvey sank the yacht that they were on and escaped on his dinghy with his wife's drowned body as evidence. The dinghy was later found by the freighter 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.
It was later discovered that Harvey had survived an accident 12 years earlier that killed one of his previous wives and her mother. The accident involved a car going off a wooden bridge and into 15 feet of water, and the police and the diver who investigated the incident believed it was unlikely that Harvey could have escaped without injury unless he was ready to leave the car at the right moment. In addition, his yacht Torbatross and powerboat Valiant had both sunk under suspicious circumstances in the past, leading to large insurance settlements.
During an investigation by the United States Coast Guard, Harvey claimed that the Bluebelle had been hit by a squall that broke the masts, punctured the ship's hull, ruptured the auxiliary gas tank, and caused a fire. He also said that he had found Renee drifting in the water and had tried to revive her, but was unable to do so.
The Coast Guard informed Harvey about Terry Jo's rescue. The following day, he checked into a motel under a false name, wrote a hastily composed note to a friend, and used a double-edged razor blade to cut himself on the thigh, ankle, and throat.
The reason why Harvey chose to let young Terry Jo Duperrault live is still unknown. Some have speculated that he had a latent desire to avoid being caught by the authorities and therefore spared her. Others have suggested that there was no logical explanation for why he would kill the rest of the family but leave Terry Jo alive. Regardless of the reason, this bizarre act of mercy made national headlines.
As a result of Terry Jo's ordeal, as well as the difficulties she encountered in finding her life raft, 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 job in fisheries at the Department of Natural Resources and later worked in Water Resources and Water Regulation and Zoning. In an interview with CBS, she said that after the tragedy, she developed a wonderful connection with water rather than a traumatic one.
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.