Women Survivors: The Incredible Story of “The Orphan of the Sea” Terry Jo Duperrault

When 11-year-old Terry Jo Duperrault was found after nearly four days stranded in the ocean on a tiny inflatable life raft, her rescuers couldn’t believe their eyes.

When the second officer of the Greek freighter “Captain Theo” noticed something unusual in the waters of the Northwest Providence Channel (which separates two main islands of the Bahamas), he knew immediately that it was not a boat.

He also knew it was too big to be debris. So he immediately alerted the captain to change direction so they could see what it was. As Captain Theo approached, they realized – to their surprise – that a young girl was sitting in the small life raft, completely exposed to the elements.

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Terry Jo Duperrault was found floating alone at sea. (Wikimedia Commons)

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The story of how Terry Jo ended up alone in the ocean is a classic tale where truth is way stranger than fiction. Her incredible survival has led her to be known as “the orphan of the sea”. The fact that she lived to tell her story is nothing short of extraordinary.

On November 8, 1961, Dr. Arthur Duperrault chartered the yacht Bluebelle from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to the Bahamas for a family trip. In addition to Arthur, there was his wife, Jean and his children Brian, Terry Jo and René.

The family lived in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Arthur had planned for many years to take everyone to Florida for a family cruise. An optometrist, Arthur had saved for a long time to realize this dream.

Arthur’s friend, Julian Harvey, was also on the trip, as well as his wife, Mary Dene.

The first days of the cruise were said to be going well, but on the fifth night, Terry Jo woke up to the sound of screaming on the deck above the cabin she was sleeping in. Her seven-year-old sister, Rene, usually slept with her, but that night Rene was with his parents and brothers on deck.

Terry Jo later told police, “I went upstairs to see what it was, and I saw my mom and my brother lying on the floor, and there was blood everywhere.”

Terry Jo knew her family was dead.

Then Julian approached her and, when she asked him what had happened, he told her to go back to his cabin. She did as she was told but, after a while, the ship sank, the water reaching her bed.

Terry Jo Duperrault
The 11-year-old was rescued by officers from a Greek freighter. (Wikimedia Commons)

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Terry Jo came up on deck where she asked Julian if the ship was sinking. When he told her he was sinking, he handed her the line from the canoe, but the line slipped through his fingers. She remembers seeing the dinghy pull away from the sinking Bluebelle. Julian jumped into the ocean towards the dinghy and that was the last time Terry Jo saw him.

Stunned and wondering what to do to save herself, Terry Jo suddenly remembered the small rescue float that was kept in the main cabin. She untied it and managed to push it into the water as she climbed on it, as she watched the Bluebelle sink, right in front of her eyes.

There she was in the middle of the ocean, with no food or water, no protection from the cold of the night or the heat of the day – and wearing only a thin white shirt with her pants.

There was a downpour and Terry Jo was shivering in the rain but the thoughts that crossed her mind were not for herself, but for her lost family. What the hell happened to them?

The next day, the little tank began to disintegrate and Terry Jo had no choice but to hang her legs to the side. A small plane flew overhead, so she waved frantically. But the pilot did not see her.

Wearing a white shirt and sitting on a white float meant that it would be very difficult for anyone to spot her among the white caps of the waves.

Terry Jo Duperrault
Terry Jo said porpoises swam alongside her as she was stranded. (Wikimedia Commons)

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The drift in the Northwest Providence Channel meant that Terry Jo would eventually be carried north with the Gulf Stream. Then his float would drift east before carrying him across the Atlantic to the British Isles.

Of course, she had no idea and she was trying to focus on rescuing her. She later talked about saying a prayer of thanks for having porpoises swimming alongside her for a while, giving her hope.

On the third day, Terry Jo was suffering from heat stroke and she had a severe sunburn. But on the fourth day — a miracle. She woke up to see a giant shape in front of her. She saw people waving to her from a boat, then arms hoisting her to safety.

There was a downpour and Terry Jo was shivering in the rain

She had survived – but what had happened to her family?

The day after the sinking of the Bluebelle, Julian Harvey was rescued from the dinghy. He told his rescuers, “My name is Julian Harvey. I am the master of the Bluebelle.”

The story Julian told the Coast Guard in Miami was that he was the sole survivor of an accident at sea. He claimed that a sudden squall damaged the Bluebelle and that his wife, Dene, and the Duperraults had been injured when the masts and rigging collapsed. He also claimed that the gas lines in the engine room ruptured, causing the ship to catch fire before sinking.

He said he was lucky to be able to escape in the dinghy. At first, people believed his story. But, a few days later, learning that Terry Jo had survived to tell the truth, he committed suicide.

Terry Jo Duperrault
Terry Jo spoke of her ordeal 50 years after being rescued. (Youtube)

The police believe the Duperraults and the Denes were murdered by Julian. One of the motives was to collect the life insurance money following the death of his wife.

It is believed that Arthur saw Julian kill his wife, which led to him killing everyone on board except Terry Jo. No one knows why he decided to spare the 11-year-old, but years later she said “I always believed I was saved for a reason.”

An investigation revealed that Julian had planned to kill his wife to collect her $20,000 double indemnity insurance policy, which would pay her double the sum insured if she had an accidental death. Investigators also believe that Julian killed Terry Jo but, leaving her on the sinking ship, he supposedly assumed she would have no chance of survival.

“I think he probably thought I would go down with the ship,” said Terry Jo.

Terry Jo moved in with her aunt and cousins, changing her name to Tere to protect her privacy.

She did not speak to the media about the tragedy of losing her family for over twenty years. Tere, who is married and has three children, spoke to SCS nearly 50 years after the murders, saying she hoped her story would inspire others.

“If a person recovers from a tragedy in life, my journey will have been worth it.”

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