Girl Found Drifting at Sea

More than 50 years ago, a little girl shocked the world. Fished from the ocean by a Greek freighter, the tow-headed girl was severely sunburned, dehydrated and nearly delirious. As she was being nursed by her rescuers, the picture of her tiny frame on a small, tattered raft in the large sea made front pages of newspapers around the globe. Her image shocked and amazed. How had she come to be alone in the middle of the ocean? How had she managed to survive? Her terrible story remained forgotten for 50 years, until she finally decided to share her horrifying story. Read on to find out the horrors she endured and how she came to be lost alone at sea.

A private yacht sailing the brilliant blue seas of the Caribbean provides a fantasy for countless people looking for an alternative to humdrum lives and freezing winter temperatures. For most people, setting sail on a dream vacation proves to be just that, a dream.

But Arthur Duperrault was different. He shared the dream of the open seas, tropical blue waters and exotic island beaches. Duperrault lived in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and often enjoyed views of the beautiful but cold Lake Michigan. Inspired by the warm Pacific waters he encountered during World War II, Duperrault often talked of spending a year living at sea, sailing from one tropical destination to the next. Unlike others who fantasized of the sea, Duperrault was determined to make his dream a reality. He saved his money with one goal in mind: Taking his wife and three young children on the vacation he dreamed of for so long. But how did Duperrault’s tropical dreams end in a nightmare, with his young daughter found alone and nearly dead at sea?

A picture perfect family

In Green Bay, Arthur Duperrault had built a successful life. He worked as an optometrist, and he and his wife, Jean, had three happy and healthy children: 14-year-old Brian, 11-year-old Terry Jo and 7-year-old Renee. In November of 1961, Duperrault was ready to take his family on the tropical cruise he had dreamed of for so long. Rather than setting sail on a large, commercial cruise ship, Duperrault chartered a private yacht, the Bluebelle. The Bluebelle was a majestic, 60-foot two-masted ketch with a 115-horsepower Chrysler engine.

Captivating Captain Harvey

Duperrault himself had no sailing experience and would need someone to captain the Bluebelle for him. He chose 44-year-old Julian Harvey, who seemed like the perfect person to trust with his ship and his family. Harvey was a former U.S. Air Force pilot who saw action in World War II and Korea, and was highly recognized for his service. In his spare time, Harvey raced his own fleet of yachts. He was described by those who knew him as being “handsome enough for Hollywood.” In fact, Harvey had even held a modeling contract for some time. Harvey would bring with him his wife of four months, 34-year-old Mary Dene Harvey. Mary Dene, former TWA flight attendant who dreamed of being a writer, would help to care for the ship and prepare meals.

Goodbye Green Bay

The Duperraults left Green Bay that chilly November for Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where they would meet Captain Harvey and Mary Dene aboard the Bluebelle. Excited to be out of Green Bay’s icy cold weather, the Duperraults would spend a week sailing in the warm, blue waters around the Bahamas. If all went well, Arthur Duperault planned to book the yearlong sailing excursion he had spend so many years dreaming about. What the Duperaults didn’t know was that this would be their last family vacation, and it would end with their middle daughter floating alone, orphaned at sea.

A tropical adventure

The Bluebelle set sail on November 7, 1961. The ketch headed east toward the Gulf Stream, where it would venture toward the 700 hundred islands of the Bahamas. For four days, the Harveys and Duperraults sailed around the Bimini island chain, then on to Sandy Point on the southwest tip of Great Abaco Island. During their weeklong trip, the Duperault family experienced the perfect tropical vacation. They walked along soft, sandy pink and white beaches, collecting seashells. They snorkeled and swam and took in the views of the wide-open ocean. They didn’t know their joy would come to a horrific end.

Goodbye, paradise

On their final day in the Bahamas, a Sunday, Arthur Duperrault visited the village office in Sandy Point with the Harveys to fill out the necessary paperwork to sail the Bluebelle back to the United States. Roderick W. Prinder, then Sandy Point village commissioner, recalled speaking with Duperrault as he and Harvey handled the logistics of their return journey.

“This has been a once-in-a-lifetime vacation,” Prinder recalled Duperrault saying. “We’ll be back for Christmas.”

But that night, everything would go terribly wrong at sea for the Harveys and Duperraults, and only Terry Jo would be able to reveal what really happened aboard the Bluebelle in the ship’s final hours.

The final meal

That Sunday night aboard the Bluebelle, bound back toward Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the Duperraults and Harveys ate a final meal of chicken cacciatore and salad prepared by Mary Dene. Around 9 p.m., a tired Terry Jo headed below deck to her small cabin at the rear of the Bluebelle. Normally, Renee would join and the two would share the small sleeping quarters. That night, however, Renee stayed on deck with her parents and her older brother, Brian. So Terry Jo fell into a comfortable sleep in her small bunk, alone in her cramped but comfortable sleeping quarters. Just a few hours later, however, she would wake to screams and terror, and her life would be forever changed.

A massacre at sea, "Help, Daddy, help!”

Terry Jo awoke in the middle of the night to the terrified screams of her older brother. There were loud bumps and scuffling sounds from above deck. Still alone in her small sleeping quarters below deck, Terry Jo huddled, cold, shivering and frightened in her bed. What horrible things were happened above her, on the deck of the ship? She remained curled up in her bunk, alone and terrified, until she gained the courage to creep up the stairs to find out what was happening on the decks above. She couldn’t know that the screams and scuffles she heard where the last noises she would ever hear her family make.

A terrifying scene

In the main cabin of the ship — a kitchen and living room during the day and sleeping quarters at night — Terry Jo came across the bodies of her brother, Brian, and her mother, Jean. They were lying in a pool of blood, and Terry Jo instantly knew that they were dead. Terry Jo continued bravely up the stairs and stuck her head out of the ship’s hatch, only to see more blood covering the decks. Terry Jo thought she saw a knife sitting in the pool of blood. Her father and her little sister, Renee, were nowhere to be seen. What had happened to her family?

Hiding below

Making her way on deck, Terry Jo finally encountered the only other living person on board — Captain Harvey. Harvey dove at Terry Jo, quickly grabbing her arm and shoving her her back down below deck. He yelled at her to, telling her to stay down in her quarters below deck. Terry Jo retreated to her cabin, past the bloodied body of her mother and brother. She hid horrified in her bunk, not knowing what to do next. Had someone come aboard the Bluebelle and committed the horrors she saw? Or was Captain Harvey the one to fear?

A sinking ship

As Terry Jo sat in her bunk, she heard strange noises in the ship around her. Soon, she smelled oil and her cabin begin to fill with water. Still, she remained on her bunk, too scared to move and not knowing what to do. Captain Harvey appeared in the doorway of Terry’s Jo’s sleeping quarters, holding something Terry Jo thought was her brother’s rifle. Captain Harvey stood there, looking down at Terry Jo, breathing heavily and saying nothing. He turned and walked away. The terrified Terry Jo remained rooted toward her bunk, until water began to lap over the mattress, and she had no choice but find her way above deck. She walked through the oily water, now up to her waist, to the ship’s stairs. Terry Jo once again made her way onto the deck, where Captain Harvey stood waiting.

Abandon ship

Terry Jo asked Captain Harvey if the ship was sinking, and he confirmed her fears. Terry Jo noticed that Captain Harvey was holding a rope attached to the ship’s rubber dingy. Captain Harvey handed her the rope and instructed her to stay put, while he disappeared elsewhere on the ship. The shocked Terry Jo accidentally let go of the rope, letting the ship’s only life raft drift out to sea. Seeing the life raft floating away, a frantic Captain Harvey leapt over the side of the boat and swam vigorously toward the dinghy. Terry Jo was left alone on a sinking ship, the deck quickly filling with water. What could she do to avoid going down with the ship?

A quick escape

Collecting herself against the panic, Terry Jo made a quick decision that saved her life. While the ship’s only lifeboat was gone with the ship’s captain, Terry Jo remembered that there was a cork float tied to the side of the ship’s cabin. She hastily made her way to the cork float and freed it from the ship. By this time, the water had completely overtaken the deck of the ship, so that Terry Jo partially crawled and partially swam the cork raft to the edge of the ship. She bravely pushed off into open water, leaving the deck of the Bluebelle as the last of the ship disappeared below deck. But the danger had not yet passed.

Going down with the ship

As Terry Jo made her way off the ship atop the cork raft, the ropes of the raft became entangled in the sinking ship. Terry Jo and the raft were being pulled down below the water with the sinking ship! Suddenly, the line of the raft broke free, and Terry Jo and the raft bobbed to the surface of the water. She had escaped the sinking ship, but a terrifying ordeal awaited her.

A terrifying first night at sea

Terry Jo was safe from the sinking ship and the terrors she saw aboard the Bluebelle, but her terror remained. As the cork float drifted away from the site of the Bluebelle, Terry Jo laid as low as she could, panic-stricken thinking that Captain Harvey would be watching for her, waiting in the water to thwart her attempted escape. As time passed and her worries that Captain Harvey would catch up to her on the tiny cork raft, Terry Jo’s mind turned to one though, which would haunt her for the rest of the dark, cold night: Where had her father gone?

Reality sinks in

As Sunday night wore on, and Terry Jo floated in the dark emptiness of the ocean, the precariousness of her situation sunk in. Eleven-year-old Terry Jo was lost alone at sea, in a small cork and rope raft that didn’t keep her entirely dry. She wore nothing but pink pedal pushers and a thin white blouse. She had no food, no water, no shelter, no supplies. The roaring of the wind filled her ears, and waves tipped the raft with unsettling unpredictability. Sometime in the night, a rain shower passed by. Terry Jo was left, soaked, cold, shivering and alone in the middle of the dark ocean. She had survived a massacre aboard her family’s yacht, but how would she survive alone with no supplies, lost at sea?

From freezing rain to burning sun

When the sun rose over the ocean on Monday morning, Terry Jo was glad to feel the warmth of the sun’s rays after the cold, wet darkness she experienced the night before. Her relief quickly turned to distress, however. Wearing only light clothes and with nothing to protect her skin, Terry Jo’s skin rapidly began to scorch under the blazing tropical sun. Her lips split, and the salt water stung her eyes and lips. Her throat ached for water and her tongue felt parched and swollen. The ropes on the raft were deteriorating, and a school of parrot fish, with their painfully sharp teeth, nibbled at Terry Jo’s bare feet. The ocean spanned endlessly in every direction around her.

Captain Harvey’s rescue

While Terry Jo floated alone under the blistering sun, Captain Harvey was pulled from his lifeboat, along with the lifeless body of Renee Deperrault, by the crew of an oil tanker that was bound for Puerto Rico. Captain Harvey told officials a tragic and compelling tale. A terrible squall had risen on the ocean, Captain Harvey informed the U.S. Coast Guard in Miami. The terrible storm had forced the ketch’s rigging down.

As the ship sank, the gas lines in the engine room caught fire, Captain Harvey said, and the ship exploded. His wife and the four other Duperraults perished. Harvey told officials he found Renee’s tiny body floating in the ocean, pulled her aboard the dinghy and attempted to revive her. His attempts were fruitless, he told officials, and he was the only survivor of the sunken Bluebelle. An autopsy confirmed that Renee Deperrault died from drowning. Having been told Harvey’s story of a fiery shipwreck with no survivors, no one would even bother to look for poor Terry Jo.

Passed over by potential rescuers

Terry Jo spent another cold, dark night alone in the ocean, and Tuesday morning dawned another blisteringly sunny day. As she floated alone and helpless on her raft, a bright red plane appeared in the sky above her. Terry Jo waived frantically to try to catch the pilot’s attention. The plane dived so low and so close to Terry Jo that she could read the symbols on its underbelly. But on a tiny raft and dressed in white and pale pink, Terry Jo blended in with the whitecaps on the ocean. The plane circled Terry Jo for some time before eventually disappearing onto the horizon. Finding Terry Jo, tiny and alone in a giant ocean, was seeming less and less likely.

A sign of comfort

After the hope of an aerial rescue abandoned Terry Jo, ghostly shadows under the water began to circle cork raft. At first Terry Jo was terrified, but she soon found comfort. A team of porpoises swam soothingly around her. The porpoises brought pushed away Terry Jo’s sense of loneliness, and she silently praised God for sending her a sign of hope and comfort while she was otherwise alone on the sea. The porpoises stayed with her for hours, staring up at her with big, dark eyes and providing a soothing wooshing sound as they came to the water’s surface to breathe. If only the porpoises could alert someone to Terry Jo’s precarious situation in the middle of the sea.

Ocean dreams

Suffering under the heat of the blistering sun and facing dehydration, Terry Jo splashed water onto her skin to find some simple relief. Tuesday’s burning sun gave way to the terrifying darkness of night. While the night brought relief from the scorching sun, it also brought terrifying blackness. Wet and unsheltered on the ocean, the night proved as chilly as the day was hot. As her raft rose up and down on the surface of the ocean, Terry Jo had dreams of being in the cockpit of a plane, going so far as to imagine the long strips of runway lights converging in the distance. She also dreamt of her father, relaxing in a chair with a glass of red wine. Toward the end of the dream, he called to her, “Come on, Terry Jo! We’re leaving!”

Visions at sea

Wednesday, Terry Jo’s third day alone at sea, proved just as brutal. Her skin continued to burn horribly through her thin layer of clothing. Her dry eyes burned against the glare of the sun. Her muscles ached from dehydration. Her lips were cracked, dry and unimaginably painful. Balanced precariously on the edge of her cork float, which had degraded so far that it was barely holding together, Terry Jo began to hallucinate. At one point, she recalled seeing a mirage, a beautiful tropical island, topped with a solitary palm tree, on the horizon. As she paddled frantically toward the island oasis, the mirage suddenly disappeared. Exhausted, badly sun burned, dehydrated and delirious, Terry Jo finally slipped into unconsciousness. Was she to be lost at sea?

A desperate situation

Thursday dawned, and Terry Jo began her fourth day afloat and alone on the ocean. At this point, her poor little body was so badly traumatized by the sun and lack of food and water that she no longer felt the sting of the salt water or the burn of the sun. She was near death, floating in and out of consciousness, but she managed to stay on the tiny cork float. If she wasn’t discovered soon, Terry Jo certainly would perish on the brutal ocean.

An astonishing discovery

As a Greek Freighter, the Captain Theo, made its way through the Northwest Providence Channel in the Bahamas, bound from Antwerp, Belgium, to Houston, Texas, second officer Nicolaos Spachidakis, scanned the horizon. From his watchpoint on the bridge, he watched other ships passing through the channel, when a small object on the water caught his gaze. The object didn’t disappear like the other whitecaps.

At such a distance, in the bright sunlight, it was impossible to determine what the object could be. Spachidakis continued to watch it, thinking it might be a small fishing vessel. Realizing that it was too far into the channel for a fisherman, Spachidakis summoned his captain to the bridge. As the Captain Theo drew closer to the floating object, Spachidakis and his captain had no idea what astonish discovery they were about to make.

The freighter on the horizon

On the small cork float, Terry Jo remained barely conscious and close to death. Her eyes fluttered open, and she noticed a massive shadow drawing closer. She began to hear a deep rumbling sound that vibrated through her exhausted, feeble body. Realizing that it was a ship, Terry Jo summoned her strength and began to waive at the giant shape of the Captain Theo. While her rescue seemed imminent, she was far from safe, and her ordeal was far from over.

The shock of a lifetime

From the bridge of the Captain Theo, Spachidakis and his captain were about to have the shock of a lifetime. As they drew closer to the mysterious floating object, they soon realized that what they were seeing was a small cork float. As they peered down, they saw an unbelievable site: On top of the float was a small girl, horribly sunburned, clearly failing and completely alone. How had this girl come to be in the middle of the sea by herself?

A harrowing rescue

Terry Jo had been discovered, but she was far from rescued. The massive freighter couldn’t approach the raft without capsizing it. The sailors aboard the Captain Theo worried that even the ship’s lifeboats would overwhelm Terry Jo and her tiny cork raft. On their captain’s orders, the sailors aboard the Captain Theo quickly emptied oil drums and lashed them together to form a crude raft.

Even as they worked, sharks — either attracted by the commotion aboard the freighter or long stalking Terry Jo and her raft — circled the small girl. Terry Jo’s bare feet dangled dangerously in the water. Terrified by the site, the sailors aboard the Captain Theo shouted at Terry Jo to remain on the raft and not to swim toward the ship. Had the Captain Theo discovered Terry Jo too late? Would they make it to the raft before the sharks overtook the small girl?

A picture that would captivate the world

As the crew of the Captain Theo raced to rig a raft to save Terry Jo, one of the seamen snapped a picture of the girl, alone on her raft in the massive sea. Her face was distorted and painful with sunburn. She was thin and sickly looking. Back on shore, that single image would captivate the world. Newspapers around the world would run the photo, proclaiming Terry Jo the miraculous “sea waif.” In the coming weeks, Life magazine would run a two-page spread of the image: Terry Jo on one page, the open sea filling the other. People everywhere wondered: What had led this girl to be on a raft in the middle of the ocean by herself? How on earth had she managed to survive. The truth she later told would shock and horrify the world.

Safe at last

The crew of the Captain Theo put their rough-hewn raft over the side of the ship. A single crewman was set aboard to paddle the unwieldy raft out toward the small girl on the cork float. Reaching Terry Jo’s raft, the crewman lifted her from her float, and she instantly went limp in his arms. The crewman paddled his raft back to the Captain Theo, where another sailor waited at the bottom of the pilot ladder. They gently slipped a rope underneath her arms. The crew hoisted Terry Jo’s limp body up the several stories of the Captain Theo to the ship’s deck. Terry Jo was safe at last, but her ordeal was far from over. And she still had an unbelievable and terrifying story to share with the world.

Aboard the Captain Theo

When Terry Jo reached the deck of the Captain Theo, it was clear to the crew that the little girl was frighteningly ill and very close to death. She burned with a fever; she was barely conscious, and she was so weak that she couldn’t support the weight of her body. The ship’s captain gently lifted Terry Jo’s small, limp body and carried her to a spare bunk in and empty cabin. The rough crew of sailors gently cared for the girl. They spread Vaseline on her parched, split lips. They encouraged her to take small sips of water and orange juice. With Terry Jo safe on the ship, the sailors begged to know who she was and how she came to be alone at sea in the middle of the Bahamas.

Too sick to survive?

As Terry Jo laid in bed aboard the Captain Theo, the freighter’s captain begged her for a name and asked her where she came from. She looked at him with glazed eyes, and she was so ill that he couldn’t tell if she knew he was there. The Captain thought that Terry Jo might be past the point of survival. Her story, and her identity, might never be revealed.

Orphaned at sea

The captain of the Captain Theo continued to plead with Terry Jo. “Can’t you tell me your name and how you came to be in the water?” He begged. “I want to report to the Coast Guard that we have found you. If you will tell me your name, I can send information to your relatives that you are still alive.” That prompted Terry Jo to meet his eyes. Slowly, she raised one of her arms and gave the captain the thumbs down, clearly indicating that her relatives had perished in whatever tragedy left her alone at sea. What terrible events could have claimed and entire family? The captain was horrified at the thought.

The beginning of terrible tale

The captain and ship’s crew couldn’t come to grips with the fact that the desperate little girl’s family had completely vanished. “You can’t be sure they are lost,” the captain reassured Terry Jo. “Maybe some other ship saved them.” Terry Jo shook her head sadly. She pointed downward into the sea and let out the rasping word “Bluebelle.” Terry Jo knew her boat was lost at the bottom of the sea, her already dead family members gone with it.

Discovering Terry Jo’s identity

The captain of the Captain Theo didn’t lose hope in helping Terry Jo. He asked her if she had relatives left anywhere else. Terry Jo nodded feebly. Through her dried and damaged throat, her parched mouth and her badly split and chapped lips, Terry Jo managed to tell the captain and his crew that she was from Green Bay, Wisconsin, and she still had family there. Her name: Terry Jo Duperrault. As the captain left to radio the Coast Guard that they had saved Terry Jo Duperrault, seemingly the only living passenger of the sunken Bluebelle, Terry Jo had no idea the dramatic impact her discovery would have.

Alerting the authorities

While the Captain Theo hadn’t been alerted to be on the lookout for the Bluebelle or its survivors, they had heard news alerts of Captain Harvey’s rescue and the sinking of his ship. Knowing the importance of their discovery of Terry Jo at sea, the captain of the Captain Theo quickly telegraphed the U.S. Coast Guard in Miami: “Picked up blonde girl, brown eyes, from a small white raft, suffering exposure and shock. Name Terry Jo Duperrault. Was on Bluebelle.” That brief telegraph would spring the Coast Guard into action. It would make Terry Jo famous overnight. It would also be the beginning of the end for Captain Harvey.

Captain Harvey’s mistake

As the sole survivor of the Bluebelle, which he believed himself to be, Captain Harvey knew that the authorities would have no choice but to believe his incredible story of the Bluebelle’s demise. But Captain Harvey clearly underestimated the young Terry Jo Duperrault. He surely thought she would go down with the ketch. But Terry Jo was stronger than she looked. She was an adventurous girl who, at home, would play for hours on end outside. She had no fear of the water and enough grit to survive impossible odds. Underestimating Terry Jo proved to be a mistake that Captain Harvey wouldn’t overcome.

The undoing of Captain Harvey

Back in Florida, Captain Harvey heard that Terry Jo Duperrault had been rescued at sea. Knowing that Terry Jo would reveal the horrible true story of what happened on the Bluebelle, Harvey quickly checked himself into the Sandman Motel. The next morning, the motel’s maid called police when she found blood on Harvey’s bedsheets and couldn’t get into the bathroom. Harvey was found dead in the bathtub. He had slit his wrists with a razor blade. The true story of Captain Harvey’s history was about to be revealed.

A shady past

Looking in to Captain Harvey’s history, authorities discovered that Harvey had had a troubled and mysterious life. Mary Dene was, in fact, his sixth wife, and she wasn’t the first to die prematurely in mysterious circumstances. Another wife and her mother had been killed in a car accident. Harvey had been in the car and survived. The fortunate widower collected a sizable insurance policy. Two of Harvey’s boats, a yacht and a speedboat, also had mysteriously sunk in the ocean, resulting in more insurance payouts for Harvey. But why had Harvey murdered nearly the entire Duperrault family?

He trusted the wrong man

The sad reality is that Arthur Duperrault had trusted the wrong man with his family, and he paid the ultimate price for his misplaced trust. Had Duperrault known of Harvey’s troubled past, his six wives and his lost boats, would he still have trusted Harvey to captain a ship with his entire family on board? Would the Duperrault’s story be just a happy family vacation, the first of many tropical sea adventures?

Harveys Motivation

So why had Harvey murdered the entire Duperrault family? Authorities investigating the case believe that Harvey had not set out to harm the Duperrault’s; his target with his wife, Mary Dene, and her lucrative insurance policy. Investigators believe that Harvey had planned to quietly kill Mary Dene on the way back to Florida and dump her body overboard. He would claim that Mary Dene was tragically lost at sea and would collect on the new $20,000 life insurance policy he had taken out for her. But his plan went horribly wrong.

An Unexpected Interruption

The single murder turned into a massacre, authorities believe, because Arthur Duperrault discovered Harvey in the act of attacking and murdering his wife and attempted to intervene. To save his plan and avoid the consequences, authorities believe, Harvey felt he had no choice but to murder the Duperrault family. With Arthur, Jean, Brian and Renee above deck, Harvey quickly murdered them all to destroy any witnesses to his crime. It’s not known exactly how Harvey managed to slaughter the Duperraults or what kind of scuffle was had aboard the Bluebelle. What had happened to Arthur and Renee, whose bodies Terry Jo never saw? Was her father still alive as Brian called to him for help, or did Terry Jo just hear the desperate and hopeless cries of her brother?

The Unintended Witness

If Julian Harvey had set out to destroy all witnesses to his despicable crime, why had he left Terry Jo alive? He had stood in her bedroom doorway, gun in hand, as she was trapped on her bunk. Why had he not taken her life then? Those who have studied the case believe Harvey never meant to leave any survivors. When he left Terry Jo holding the rope of the dinghy, Harvey was surely going to retrieve a weapon to finish his slaughter, authorities believe. But Terry Jo caught Harvey off guard when she let go of the rope in her state of shock. As the dinghy floated away, so did Harvey’s hope for survival. He had no choice but to dive after the life raft if he intended to escape from the sinking vessel alive. He could never have guessed what would happen next.

An Unlikely Survivor

Captain Harvey clearly believed that his getaway was safe and his woeful tale would be believed; 11-year-old Terry Jo certainly would go down with the Bluebelle. A girl that age couldn’t be expected to escape from a sinking ship and survive on her own at sea. Captain Harvey’s plan was complete; he was sure he’d be able to solve his financial troubles with his wife’s insurance policy and spend the rest of his life in peace. How could a young girl thwart his plan so horribly?

True Grit and Unending Hope

Terry Jo’s unexpected survival can be credited to her quick thinking, her tenacity and her unbelievable calm in a horrible circumstance. It was her amazing survival instinct and levelheadedness that led Terry Jo to untie the small cork raft from the side of the raft and float herself away from the sinking ship. What other child would be able to witness her dead family and find a way to rescue herself from the sinking ketch that had been the setting for her family’s dream vacation?

Fearlessness at sea

While many other castaways would feel hopeless and lost, finally giving in to the desperateness of their situation, Terry Jo never lost hope as she drifted alone in the ocean. While the sun scorched her skin, the waves rocked her small raft and sharks circled, Terry Jo said she never thought that she would die at sea. “I was never frightened. I was an outdoors child and I loved the water,” Terry Jo said decades after the horrible experience at sea. “I had strong faith. I believed in God and I prayed for him to help me, and I just went with the flow.”

Unbelievable odds

While Terry Jo’s strong spirit and fast thinking certainly led to her survival, it seems like something stronger helped her to survive. The small cork raft she grabbed was merely a 2-foot-by-5-foot float. It was made of canvas-covered cork, and the bottom was a series of knotted ropes. The float was made to last a few hours in the water, just enough to hold survivors until rescuers arrived. The crew of the Captain Theo left the raft float away as they rescued Terry Jo, but a Coast Guard ship picked up the float a few days later. It had nearly entirely disintegrated. It’s incredible, indeed, the flimsy float stayed in tact for four days, keeping Terry Jo afloat and alive at sea. But can you truly survive an experience like Terry Jo’s?

A rapid recovery

After being rescued by the crew of the Captain Theo, a desperately ill Terry Jo Deperrault was returned to Florida. With her fever blazing at 105 degrees and suffering badly from dehydration and exposure, Terry Jo was admitted to a Miami hospital. She would spend 11 days recovering her strength. Miraculously, Terry Jo would suffer no lasting physical effects of her ordeal at sea. The emotional trauma would be another story.

A worldwide sensation

Not surprisingly, Terry Jo’s story continued to captivate the world. First came the awe-inspiring photograph, then came her unbelievably tragic and horrific tale: her entire family murdered, set adrift, orphaned and alone at sea. Terry Jo’s story would capture headlines for weeks, until the fervor died down and life returned to normal. For everyone else, at least. Terry Jo would be left to bear the trauma alone.

Back to Green Bay

Following her recovery in Miami, Terry Jo Deperrault would return to her last remaining family in Green Bay, Wisconsin. She was taken in by her aunt and uncle, and would live alongside her three cousins. To help disassociate herself from her public and tragic past, Terry Jo would change her name to Tere a year later, when she was 12. Would that be enough to forget what happened in the beautiful tropic sea?

Burying the past

The news reporters turned their eyes from Terry Jo to the next sensational story. Terry Jo continued with her life. She was offered no counseling or help for dealing with the trauma. The best thing to do, her family convinced her, was to forget and move on. “Everybody was told not to speak to me about it, so I was never able to talk about it,” Terry Jo would say decades later. “It was always on my mind. I did see a psychiatrist, but he didn’t get to the meat of my problem, and that was the loss of my family.” The trauma, it seemed would linger for Terry Jo.

Horrific images

If there was one fortunate aspect of Terry Jo’s ordeal, it was that she did not have to immediately witness what happened to her mother, her father, her older brother and her young sister. That doesn’t mean that the images Terry Jo saw would every leave her mind. “I didn’t see any killing,” Terry Jo said. “I did see my mother and my brother dead with blood. I never saw my father, I never saw Mrs. Harvey, I never saw my sister.” The not seeing was nearly as difficult as the seeing. Terry Jo would have to find a way to overcome.

A tearful reunion

Over the years, Terry Jo would find occasional media attention, once again sharing her tale and reliving the experience at sea. In 1988, Oprah Winfrey would connect Terry Jo with the man who saved her, the captain of the Captain Theo. Even then, Terry Jo wouldn’t have the strength to share all of the details of her horrible ordeal at sea.

Sharing her story

After five decades of living in relative anonymity, Terry Jo Deperrault, now Tere Deperrault Fassbender decided to tell her tale. Along with survival expert and psychologist, Richard Logan, Fassbender would share the story of what happened that terrible night, and the four awful days that followed, at sea. The two penned a book in 2010: “Alone, Orphaned on the Ocean.” Would Terry Jo Deperrault finally come to peace with what happened to her and her family?

Spreading hope and inspiration

Would sharing her story in the book and in the media interviews that followed its publication be enough to help Terry Jo overcome her tragedy? While it might be too much to expect truly overcoming the horrible murder of your family and drifting near death at sea at only 11 years old, an adult Tere Fassbender said that sharing her story gave her a way to find some good in the horrible tragedy. “I thought that I was spared for a reason, and the reason would be to help other people,” Fassbender said in one television interview. “I would just hope I could help someone after they read the book to give them inspiration.”

Unanswered questions

Decades later, Tere Deperrault Fassbender might have found peace and meaning in her harrowing experience. But that doesn’t mean that her story ends without some questions. What was it in Captain Harvey’s character that had made him believe he could get away with murder? Many blame his unfortunate youth: His mother was abandoned when he was just a baby. His mom went on to marry a vaudeville actor who gave young Julian Harvey everything he could want, including a sailboat for his 10th birthday. Dashingly handsome, life seemed to give Julian Harvey everything he wanted. He received adoration and accolades for his service during World War II and Korea. But even the most decorated war heroes can hide vicious secrets.

Looking to get caught?

While most people agree that Terry Jo Deperrault’s escape from Captain Harvey was luck, and that he really meant to kill her, some experts have a different theory. A few psychologists speculate that Harvey subconsciously wanted a survivor and witness to his crimes. He wanted someone to hold him accountable for the terrible things he had done. Is it possible that Julian Harvey felt remorse for his terrible deeds?