The Incredible Story Of How Terry Jo Duperrault Survived After Being Stranded At Sea
Unlike most stories of those stranded at sea, this one has a twist no one saw coming. The horrific tale unfolds with a tanker spotting a man in a dinghy claiming to be the captain of a boat, tugging a life raft with a young girl’s body in it.
He identified the d$$d girl as Terry Jo Duperrault, but was she? Read on to know the truth.
A Planned Vacation With Family
Arthur Duperrault was an ophthalmologist who had put aside enough money by 1961 to take his entire family on a well-deserved vacation. As a sailor, he was fond of the sea and decided to take them on a cruise to someplace warm, like the Bahamas, on a chartered boat.
The family of five, including Arthur’s beloved wife, two daughters, and his son, met up with Julian Harvey, an experienced skipper from WWII, and his wife in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
A Trail Run Before the World Tour by Sea
Seven enthusiastic vacationers finally set sail on 8th November 1961 aboard Bluebelle. This trip was a trial run in preparation for a much-longer cruise around the world that Arthur wanted to take with his dear family.
He hoped to plan for a grander adventure if everything went smoothly. His excitement knew no bounds as everyone enjoyed the sunshine, snorkeling, and spearfishing through crystal-clear waters. After a fun-filled few days, Bluebelle began its journey back on the 12th.
The Night When Everything Fell Apart
At night, Terry Jo headed downstairs to the cabin she shared with her little sister Rene while the rest were upstairs enjoying the last leg of the trip. She later woke up to her brother’s screams seeking help from their father.
Terrified of the commotion above, Terry remained motionless for a while. When she finally mustered the courage to get up on the deck, the sight of her mother and brother lying in a pool of blood greeted her.
Facing the Horrific Reality
Shocked at the horrifying scene, Terry walked further along on the deck until she saw Harvey approaching her. Even as she asked him what happened, she noticed nothing amiss with the mast or the rigs on the boat. The waters were calm, unlike the man who shoved her back into the cabin.
Later, Harvey appeared at the door with a rifle as oil and water started filling the cabin but turned away, leaving her alone.
The Ship Was Sinking
Realizing she’d drown if she stayed on the bed with the water still rising, Terry went upstairs, hoping she’d not find floating bodies in the dirty water. From the deck, she saw Harvey and asked him if the ship was really sinking. Confirming her doubts, he threw her a dinghy line but she missed.
Without another glance at her, the captain got away from the ship in a dinghy, leaving her to drown in the boat.
Harvey’s Troublesome Past That Involves Two Similar Boat Accidents
Harvey was an accomplished jet pilot, but some flights were suspiciously accident-prone. His history with women was even more horrendous. The captain had more than five wives until he married Mary Dene Smith, some of whom had passed away under dubious circumstances.
Before the Bluebelle accident, Harvey had been involved in two similar boat mishaps, for which he had claimed insurance. The coast guard investigators who interviewed him three days post-rescue weren’t aware of his suspicious past.
The Tale Harvey Spun
When the Gulf Lion tanker found Harvey, he had a detailed story to convince the coast guards and the captain of his innocence. After identifying himself as the captain of Bluebelle, he identified the little girl on the raft as Terry Jo Duperrault, someone he tried unsuccessfully to save.
He said his ship hit the rough waters that damaged the mainmast so severely that it plunged through the hull and the cabin. It also ruptured the engines, starting a fire.
Massive Loopholes That Sunk His Story
Besides being awfully inconsistent with his details, his narration had major loopholes that did not convince anyone of his innocence. For one, broken masts tip over rather than plunge straight downwards. He also foolishly claimed that Arthur, a Navy veteran, kept steering in the same direction when the fire broke out instead of into the wind.
People soon started to notice that he was telling them all different stories regarding the fire and the engine, which did not add up.
The Return of the Survivor
Three days of questioning Harvey revealed more discrepancies in his story. For instance, the coast guards were curious to know why he hadn’t looked for flares in the dinghy’s emergency kit. Before he could come up with another lie, someone barged into the room, exclaiming they found a survivor.
True terror set in for Harvey but he had to keep calm and pretend to be elated at the news. He had been betting on getting away with it.
A Goodbye Note For a Friend
Harvey knew he was trapped with the return of the only person who knew the truth about his massacre aboard Bluebelle. He left the room, puzzling everyone, and headed to his hotel. Fearing imprisonment and life-long ridicule, he committed suicide in his room at Sandman Motel in Miami.
He had left a note for his friend Boozer, whose account incidentally nailed the evidence against the perpetrator. The man hadn’t even been able to confess to his friend.
Finding Terry Jo in the Waters
In the ocean, with the risk of drowning along with Bluebelle, Terry finally found a tiny cork and rope float to hold onto for dear life. She was adrift for three and a half days before a Greek freighter picked her up.
When they found her, she was severely dehydrated and sunburnt, and her body was about to shut down. She was deep in a coma for several days in a hospital, undergoing treatment for her multiple ailments.
Recounting the Horrors of That Awful Night
Once she emerged from the coma, Terry started recounting the horrific events that night. The details revealed dramatically differed from those given by Harvey, who was now d$$d. She told the investigators about nothing wrong with the boat, the mast, and the waters; there hadn’t been any flames either.
Meanwhile, they also found out about Harvey’s money troubles. He had taken a double-indemnity policy worth $20k on his new wife, Mary Dene.
Revealing More of Her Ordeal in the Ocean
Terry Jo remembered when a line snagged, and her float took her underwater momentarily before it resurfaced. She still huddled low, trying to avoid being seen by Harvey in the darkness. With no food or water, she had only her pink pants and thin white shirt protecting her from a chilly night.
As she was plunged into complete darkness, Terry was cold and wet, and saltwater stung her eyes, but her thoughts drifted to her father.
A Missed Opportunity
The morning came, and with it, the scorching heat that burned her skin, but Terry was determined to survive despite the danger. Her throat was parched, and her mouth got drier with each passing hour. Yet, she was neither thirsty nor hungry.
On the second day of floating aimlessly in the ocean, she heard a plane overhead. She waved frantically, but no one spotted the helpless little girl looking forlorn and pleading to be rescued. The plane passed her by.
Surviving the Third Day
At times, Terry saw ghost-like apparitions floating towards her from 30 yards away but soon realized they were porpoises. The sea animals stayed around her for hours before disappearing from view. That night, miles away from the calm waters of Green Bay and her home in Wisconsin, she dreamed of her dad talking to her.
It got hotter on the third day; her lips were dry and swollen, her skin was on fire, and her float was falling apart.
A Greek Freighter to the Rescue
All her senses dulled by the fourth day; she no longer felt the heat because she was barely conscious. Terry wondered if anyone would ever come to get her. Just then, with half-closed eyes, she squinted at some hands waving and felt hoisted up a few minutes later before passing out.
Aboard the Greek Freighter, Captain Theo was the first to spot her in the distance. After stopping the engines, his men made a makeshift raft to rescue her.
On the Cover of Life Magazine
Less than a month after she was found adrift on a raft in the middle of a vast ocean, Terry and her ordeal made it to the cover of Life Magazine. Picture of her in her disintegrated raft surrounded by the blue waters became a central point of discussion for people worldwide.
They learned of her harrowing story and the young girl’s spirit in surviving the ordeal for three and a half days.
What Was Harvey’s Motive
Investigators slowly concluded about his possible motive for the mass mu$$er. They believed he was after his wife’s insurance money, and Arthur caught him. Unfortunately, that must have led to the demise of the others.
It’s likely that Rene was either thrown off the boat or held underwater until she passed away, then transferred to the raft. Harvey left Terry alive, hoping she’d sink with the ship.
Moving Back to Wisconsin
Losing her entire family at sea in hours is terrifying, and people worldwide empathized with her plight. To return her to a semblance of normalcy, her extended family of uncles, aunts, and cousins moved her back to Wisconsin to live with them.
She changed her name to Tere and started seeing a psychiatrist. While the former helped her a bit, the latter focusing on the mu$$ers did not help her initially.
Years of Believing Her Dad Was Alive
For several years after the horrific incident that made her an orphan overnight, Terry Jo still believed her father was alive. She had not seen his body and often talked about heading to the Florida coast to wait for him.
The young girl shared a special bond with her dad and their similar interests in the outdoors and adventures made her grow close to him. She was in her 30s when she finally accepted that he was truly gone.
She Undertook a Tooth Serum-Induced Interview
In 2010, nearly fifty years after the horrific incident that changed everything for her, Terry co-authored a tell-all book, Alone: Orphaned on the ocean, with Richard Logan, her University professor. To give an authentic account through the book, he suggested she take Sodium Amytal to help clarify some of her memories.
She recalled seeing the bodies of her mother and brother but not of her sister and father. Terry Jo also remembered seeing a bloody knife on the deck.
A Life of Healing to Help Others
It took fifty years of healing to finally share her story. In her initial interview, she wondered why she was the lone survivor of the tragedy and what it meant. Her experience as an 11-year-old taught her to be strong.
After years of being unable to talk about what she witnessed on Bluebelle, she slowly found a way forward that could inspire other victims like her to find the courage to move on.
Building a Life of Her Own
Terry Jo, the young orphaned girl from the ‘60s, has grown into a strong woman, Tere Duperrault Fassbender. From the ashes of her experience, she emerged as a shining beacon of light to other survivors with horrifying tales of their own.
Her relatives and therapy helped her heal. She overcame her grief, fought against all odds, married, has two children, and still resides in her hometown, Wisconsin.
Her Affinity For the Sea Despite the Tragedy
When Julian Harvey mercilessly left her behind on that sinking sailboat so the ocean would swallow her whole, Terry Jo survived the ordeal and emerged from it, forming a deep bond with the sea.
Initially, she applied for a position with the Department of Natural Resources to work with the fisheries. Later, she worked with the Water Regulation and Zoning organization. Working with water allows her to feel closer to her lost family.
Her Ordeal Brought a Crucial Change in Coast Guard Regulation
Terry was stranded on a flimsy, fast-disintegrating cork float for four days before anyone spotted her. A few larger vessels and planes had passed her by without noticing. She remained invisible for a reason.
She was thankful her experience brought about a significant change. A year after the ordeal, the coast guard regulation made a crucial change – that of mandatory bright-colored floats in the waters worldwide. The float was white and merged with the water caps on the waves.
She Never Once Doubted Her Memories
When Terry Jo returned to Wisconsin nearly a month after the tragic incident, she couldn’t speak about it with anyone other than the cops. Since her friends were advised to stay away from the topic, they barely asked her anything about her experience. It remained that way for years.
It took her 20 years to open up to anyone close to her. All the while, Terry never doubted her recollection of the events from that night.
She Took Her Time to Heal
Terry Jo was inherently a trusting person, and even after the horrifying incident that should have shaken her core, she remained true to her nature. She trusted those who took her in, nurtured her back to health, and helped her heal.
Instead of running away from everything that reminded her of her lost family, she became adventurous, embracing her love for the water and investing in herself and her well-being.
Reuniting With the Captain Who Rescued Her
After 27 years after that day when Captain Theo of the Greek Freighter rescued Terry Jo, Oprah brought the two together on her show in 1988. The reunion led to some happy tears. He was the one who spotted her floating in the waters on the fourth day and stopped the engine.
She firmly believes she wouldn’t have survived the ordeal without his help. Terry was grateful to the captain for giving her a second chance at life.
At Peace and at Home With Her Family
There was a time when she could have worked at the hospital as the X-ray technician but decided against it. Terry is happily choosing to work with water-related organizations and is at a place where she is at peace with herself.
After retiring from the Department of Natural Resources, she lives in Wisconsin with her husband, Ron Fassbender, with both sharing six children from their previous marriages and spending quality time with their five grandchildren.