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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.