Terry Jo, an 11-Year-Old Girl Who Survived Four Days on a Cork Raft with No Food or Water

More than 56 years ago, an 11-year-old girl was abandoned on a sinking ship, her parents, brother, and sister having been brutally murdered. For four days she had to fend for herself adrift on the sea with no food or water, exposed to the sea and sun. Though she knew what happened that night, she was unable to properly talk about it until her friend, the psychologist Richard Logan who also co-authored her memoir Alone, Orphaned on the Ocean, suggested the use of truth serum in 1999 to help her remember. Here is an account of what took place on the night and after Terry Jo lost her family.

On November 8, 1961, optometrist Dr. Arthur Duperrault and his family went on a trip from Florida to the Bahamas on their ketch Bluebelle. They were accompanied by Julian Harvey who acted as the captain and Julian’s wife. 

Bluebelle's Passengers and Crew
Image Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune

The family members of Dr. Duperrault (41 years) of Green Bay, Wisconsin, were his wife Jean (38), son Brian (14), and two daughters Terry Jo (11) and Renee (7). They boarded the 60-foot ship Bluebelle at Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The man who captained the ship, Julian Harvey (44), was a decorated World War II and Korean War pilot who was previously married five times. His sixth wife, Mary Dene (34) whom he had married in July that year, was a former airline stewardess and accompanied him on the trip acting as the ship’s cook.

On the night of November 12th, Terry Jo woke up after hearing screams from the deck. She found her mother and brother dead in a pool of blood and Harvey about to kill her next. 

Terry Jo Duperrault on raft
Image Source: Crew of Captain Theo

Terry Jo and her sister Renee went to bed in separate cabins at around 9 p.m. on the fateful night. Around 11 p.m., she was awakened by stamping and screaming from above. Upon finding her mother and brother dead, she rushed to the main deck and found Harvey advancing toward her. When she asked what happened, he slapped her and shouted at her to go down below decks. She returned to her bunk and noticed the smell of oil and water leaking through the floor. Harvey came into the cabin with a rifle but left the cabin where the water level now reached her bed. Terry Jo went back up on deck and found that the dinghy had broken loose, so she jumped into the water to catch it and escaped.

Terry Jo was able to untie a cork raft and escaped the sinking ship. She was adrift for four days with no water or food and near death when rescued by a Greek freighter. 

Terry Jo Rescued by Greek Freighter
Image Source: Crew of Captain Theo

The cork raft was just two feet by five feet in size, and the tube around the edge was the only dry area she could sit on. She was wearing only pink corduroy slacks and a white blouse. She had no shoes on and nothing to protect her head. After four days of drifting without any food or water, the Greek freighter Captain Theo spotted the “other whitecap among many whitecaps” in the northwest Providence Channel and rescued her.

It is believed that Harvey planned to kill his wife Jane for her $20,000 double indemnity insurance. He killed Dr. Duperrault and the others since they may have witnessed the murder. 

The Bluebelle
Image Source: rd

Later it was found that one of Harvey survived an accident which killed one of his previous wives and her mother 12 years ago when the car they were in went off the wooden bridge into 15 feet of water. The police and the diver who investigated the incident believed it unlikely he could have escaped uninjured without being ready to leave the car at the right moment. Also previously, his yacht Torbatross and powerboat Valiant sank under suspicious circumstances resulting in large insurance settlements.

Harvey was found three days earlier in the dinghy with Renee’s dead body and gave a different account of the events. After he was informed that Terry Jo was still alive, he checked into a motel under a false name and committed suicide. 

Julian Harvey
Image Source: vintag

During an investigation by the United States Coast Guard, Harvey asserted that Bluebelle was hit by a squall which broke the masts, puncturing the ship’s hull,  rupturing auxiliary gas tank, and starting a fire. He also said that he found Renee floating in the water and tried to revive her but couldn’t. After receiving word of Terry Jo’s rescue, the Coast Guard informed him. Soon after that, he checked into a motel under a false name, scribbled a hasty note to a friend, and slashed his thigh, ankle, and throat with a double-edged razor blade.

Terry Jo’s ordeal and the difficulty in spotting her raft led the Coast Guard to change the color of life rafts from white to bright orange in 1962. As an adult, she applied for work at the Department of Natural Resources for a position in fisheries and went on to work in the Water Resources and Water Regulation and Zoning. In an interview with the CBS, she said she formed a special bond with the water after the tragedy rather than traumatic one. She believes that “water is life and it is soothing for me to be on the beach. I find I can think clearly, relax, and feel closer to my lost family.”
[sources: Wikipedia, SarasotaHeraldTribune]

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