Previously: Ong’s Hat.
(CW: Homicide, suicide.)
When Captain Julian A. Harvey was found drifting in a small dinghy on the open sea on Nov. 13, 1961, no one had any reason to doubt the story he told: While he was skippering the Bluebelle, a yacht sailing out of Ft. Lauderdale, for the Duperrault family on a chartered voyage to the Bahamas, the ship had run into a storm the night before. Its mast had subsequently not only toppled, but also crashed through the hull, where it hit the gas tank and ignited a fire. The entire ship went down, taking the Duperraults — a family of five — and Harvey’s own wife with it.
The remains of one of the Duperrault children was in the dinghy with Harvey. He said he come upon her floating in the water after he escaped the sinking inferno, and pulled her onto the raft with him. The others who lost their lives aboard the Bluebelle were never located; nor was the wreckage of the ship itself.
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But on Nov. 16, something happened that… complicated matters: An 11-year-old girl was discovered drifting on a cork float in the Northwest Providence Channel. She was severely sunburned and dehydrated, and suffering from exposure.
She was soon identified as Terry Jo Duperrault — the middle Duperrault child, and, aside from Harvey, the lone survivor from the wreck of the Bluebelle.
When she was located, Harvey reportedly responded, with great surprise, “Why, that’s wonderful!” A day later, he checked into a motel in Miami under the name John Monroe, where he died by suicide.
And in the days that followed, it would become clear that a storm hadn’t destroyed the ship.
A storm didn’t kill everyone aboard.
Harvey was responsible for all of it.
And Terry Jo had witnessed it.
What Happened Aboard The Bluebelle?
The Duperraults hailed from Green Bay, Wis. Arthur Duperrault, then 41, had formerly been in the Navy, where he served in the South Pacific during the Second World War; at the time of the Bluebelle’s fateful voyage, he was an optometrist who was both well liked by patients and well respected in the community. His wife, Jean, was 38, and their three children — Brian, Terry Jo, and Renée (spelled in some reports as René) — were 14, 11, and 7, respectively. Arthur had long had a dream of spending a year with his family sailing around the world — and in 1961, the Duperraults were at point in their lives where they could afford to give the plan a trial run: If a week at sea cruising around the Bahamas sat well with them all, they’d consider undertaking a longer journey, with the children continuing to study aboard the boat as they traveled from island to island.
So, that November, they made their way from Green Bay to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where they chartered a ketch — the Bluebelle — from Harold S. Pegg of Hollywood, Fla. The boat would be skippered by Julian A. Harvey, then 44, who, like Arthur Duperrault, was a military veteran — he had served in the Air Force — while Harvey’s wife, Mary Dene, 24 at the time and a former airline attendant for TWA, would cook and maintain the galley.
They departed Ft. Lauderdale on Nov. 8, and for four days, life was bliss. They headed first to Bimini, then to the Abacos. The morning of Nov. 12 — a Sunday — both the Duperrault family and the Harveys went to the office of the village commissioner in the Great Abaco Island town of Sandy Point to fill out the necessary paperwork for their return to the United States. Arthur indicated to commissioner Roderick W. Pinder that the trip agreed with his family enormously well: “This has been a once-in-a-lifetime vacation,” he reportedly said. “We’ll be back before Christmas.”
And here is where the narratives diverge.
When Julian Harvey was pulled from the sea with the remains of Renée Duperrault on Nov. 13 by the Puerto Rico-bound oil tanker Gulf Lion, he said the Bluebelle had been dismasted shortly before midnight the night before; according to Harvey, the falling mast had killed everyone aboard. Speaking to the Coast Guard in Miami shortly afterward, however, he said that the mast may have injured two people, but didn’t not mention it killing anyone outright.
His story continued to take shape nonetheless, with a sudden squall at the center of it. The narrative he arrived at spoke of the falling mast, a smashed hull, and damage to the ship’s gas tank. As a fire tore through the vessel, Harvey said, the mast and the rigging trapped everyone on board — or, at least, nearly everyone. Harvey was able to launch the ship’s dinghy — but, unable to reach anyone else amidst the fire and chaos, he alone escaped. Sometime in the night, he spotted Renée floating by and pulled her aboard the dinghy, but she could not be saved.
The Coast Guard set an enquiry for Nov. 27. It was expected to be an open-and-shut case; with only one survivor, and nothing to indicate anything untoward about his report, there was no reason for it to be anything but.
But on Nov. 16, Terry Jo Duperrault was rescued. A day later, Harvey was dead. And in the days that followed, a new story emerged — one different from the one Harvey had told in virtually every way.
When Terry Jo, who was taken to hospital in Miami, had recovered enough to speak of what had happened, she told investigators that she had retired to her cabin for bedtime at around 9pm the evening of Nov. 12 while her parents and siblings remained on deck. In the middle of the night, however, she awoke to the noise stamping, running, and screaming. She recognized her brother Brian’s voice yelling for help.
After a moment of silence, she emerged from her quarters into the main cabin, where she saw Brian and her mother, Jean, lying dead in a pool of blood. As she continued up to the deck, she saw more blood — and also that the boat was unhelmed. She saw Harvey carrying what she thought might be a bucket; he yelled at her to get back below deck and pushed her down the stairs. She heard more noises: Sloshing, thumping, hammering.
Soon, water began to rise in the cabin.
Terry Jo climbed once more to the main deck, where Harvey told her the ship was going down — although, notably, she did not report seeing a broken mast. Harvey then jumped ship, heading for a dinghy he had apparently loosed into the water previously — and leaving Terry Jo alone on the sinking ship.
Thankfully, she remembered that she had previously seen a cork float on the ship — and, more importantly, she remembered where it was. She was able to untie it and escape upon it as the ocean claimed the Bluebelle and all those left aboard on it.
She floated for three days before a Greek freighter, the Captain Theo, found and rescued her.
The Investigation And The Aftermath
In the investigation that followed, details about Harvey emerged that, while not outright incriminating, were… unsettling, given what was now known about his final days.
Mary Dene was his sixth wife; she and Harvey had been married for about four months at the time of her death. His previous ex-wives described him as difficult, vain, and inconstant in his affections, according to TIME Magazine — or at least, that’s what the ones who were still alive said. His second wife, Joann, died in a car crash in 1949; that same crash also claimed Harvey’s mother. Harvey himself had been at the wheel when the car careened through a bridge and into a canal. Harvey escaped more or less unscathed, but both his and his mother, who remained trapped in the car, drowned. It was never full investigated; however, diver Steve Dacosta, who inspected the wreck, said according to TIME, “At that speed and short distance, it seemed unlikely that a man could get out of the car before it struck the water, unless he was ready to get out of it.”
Conclusive? No. Suspicious? A bit.
Harvey was apparently also in financial trouble — which would be one thing if it weren’t for one additional detail: In August of 1961, just a few months before the Bluebelle set sail, he took out an insurance policy on Mary Dene’s life. The police was a double-indemnity one, and worth $20,000 — meaning that if her death was accidental, the payout would be $40,000.
And, after months of investigating, the Coast Guard came up with a verdict: They announced on April 25, 1962 that Harvey was responsible for scuttling the Bluebelle and murdering everyone aboard.
For curious, here’s the timeline of events from the day the Bluebelle set sail to the day the Coast Guard’s verdict came out, based on news reports from 1961 and 1962 retrieved through the New York Times’ Time Machine archive:
- Nov. 8, 1961: The Duperraults set sail out of Ft. Lauderdale with Harvey at the helm.
- Nov. 12, 1961: Harvey murders the family and his wife and scuttles the ship. He departs on a dinghy. Terry Jo escapes on a cork float.
- Nov. 13, 1961: Harvey is found with Renée’s body. He tells his story both to the tanker who rescued him and, later, to the Coast Guard. At this time, the Coast Guard have no reason to doubt his version of events.
- Nov. 16, 1961: Terry Jo is found.
- Nov. 17, 1961: Harvey checks into a motel in Miami under the name John Monroe. He dies by suicide.
- Nov. 19, 1961: Terry Jo is questioned about what happened aboard the Bluebelle for first time. Subsequent reports include her full statement as summarized by the Coast Guard. Harvey is publicly identified in these reports as a possible culprit.
- Nov. 20, 1961: Harvey is buried at sea. That same day, insurance information is disclosed: The policy taken out on Mary Harvey in August would pay out $40,000 in the event of accidental death.
- Late November, 1961: The Coast Guard investigates. Highlights: A friend/administrator of Harvey’s estate attempts to collect his papers; he is stopped from doing so by police. It also came out that Harvey’s story changed between when he was first picked up and when he spoke to the Coast Guard. Additionally, it is remarked that he did not seem to express any grief about the disaster.
- Nov. 23, 1961: Terry Jo is finally informed of her family’s deaths.
- Nov. 27, 1961: Terry Jo is questioned again. Her story remains consistent, and therefore is, per a Coast Guard spokesperson, “more convincing than ever.”
- Dec. 1, 1961: The Coast Guard turns the case over to the U.S. district attorney on Dec. 1. No further news reports are forthcoming until the investigation is concluded.
- April 25, 1962: A little more than six months after the incident, the Coast Guard rules Harvey responsible for the murders of the Duperraults and Mary Dene, and of scuttling the boat.
But although we now know roughly what happened, we don’t know why it happened — and we probably never will. It’s been theorized that perhaps Harvey intended to kill his wife to collect on the insurance policy, but was interrupted by one or more of the Duperraults and subsequently killed them to cover his tracks — but ultimately, the whys and wherefores behind the crime died with Julian Harvey in a motel in Miami.
But Terry Jo Duperrault? She survived. She made a full recovery. And she’s lived a long, full life.
She now goes by the name Tere Duperrault Fassbender. She married, and had children, and now has grandchildren. In 2010, she worked together with Richard Logan, an “expert in the psychology of solitary survival,” per his academic bio, to publish a memoir about her experiences, Alone: Orphaned On The Ocean. And — most impressively — she built an incredibly successful career in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, where she worked to protect the state’s waterways.
That’s right: Far from spending her life far, far away from the water, she instead immersed herself in it. What doesn’t kill you and all that, right?
“Out Of The Past: The Mystery Of The Yacht Bluebelle,” parts one and two. (Warning: The second part begins with a detailed description of Harvey’s suicide.) In 2014, Marlene Womack published a two-part re-examination of the Bluebelle case at the Panama City News Herald. For a clear, cogent overview of the story, this is a good place to start.
Futility Closet podcast, episode 207: “The Bluebelle’s Last Voyage.” If you prefer to listen to your stories, rather than read them, load up the Futility Closet episode on the case, either here or on YouTube. Major, major points to Futility Closet for also featuring a detailed list of sources consulted in their show notes; not nearly enough podcasts do this, and I greatly, greatly appreciate folks who not only do their research, but cite their sources.
“The Sea: The Bluebelle’s Last Voyage” at TIME Magazine. In December of 1961, TIME Magazine published a feature on everything known so far. At that point, Terry Jo’s story had come out and Harvey had died, but the Coast Guard had not yet released the guilty verdict. What’s here is generally still what is widely known about the truth of the matter.
Alone: Orphaned On The Ocean by Richard Logan and Tere Jo Duperrault Fassbender. The book Terry Jo — now Tere Jo Duperrault Fassbender — wrote with Richard Logan about the Bluebelle and her family. At the time of publication, not quite 50 years had passed since the events themselves, making Duperrault Fassbender around 60 years of age.
Excerpt of Alone: Orphaned On The Ocean at Reader’s Digest. Several excerpts of Alone: Orphaned On The Ocean were published a variety of different outlets at the time of the book’s publication. This one covers the events of the evening of Nov. 12 from Duperrault Fassbender’s perspective, as well the several days she spent floating at sea before her rescue.
Excerpt of Alone: Orphaned On The Ocean at TODAY. This second excerpt covers Duperrault Fassbender’s rescue by the Captain Theo.
Interview with Duperrault Fassbender at CBS News. Another piece of coverage from 2010, when Alone: Orphaned On The Ocean was released. In this interview, Duperrault Fassbender talks about the aftermath of the Bluebelle and her family’s murder, and how she got to where she is now. A quote that stood out to me: “I went on to protect the water that had protected me as a little girl. 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.”
Dead Calm by Charles Williams and Dead Calm, dir. Phillip Noyce. This thriller published in 1963 bears enough similarities with the Bluebelle case for speculation to have been made about whether the novel might be inspired by the real-life incident. The film has even more in common with the Bluebelle’s story; it’s currently available to rent from a variety of streaming services, including Amazon Prime and Vudu.
And lastly, news coverage from the time of the incident.
Here, in chronological order, is a list of all of the news reports from November of 1961 through April of 1962 I used to construct the chronology further up. All are accessed via the New York Times’ Time Machine archive. This is the bulk of the additional material worth reading — hence the slightly shorter list of other types of works this time ’round. (There are 13 articles here, so it’s plenty to peruse.) The publication dates for each report are in parentheses, although note that the dates noted in the ledes are typically one day prior to the publication date.
- “6 Killed As Ketch Sinks In Bahamas.” (Nov. 14, 1961)
- “Shipwrecked Girl, 11, Rescued After 4 Days on Raft in Atlantic.” (Nov. 17, 1961)
- “Skipper Is Suicide After Yacht Wreck.” (Nov. 18, 1961)
- “Yacht Girl Questioned.” (Nov. 20, 1961)
- “Rescued Girl’s Story Indicates Skipper Killed Others on Yacht.” (Nov. 21, 1961)
- “Harvey Buried At Sea.” (Nov. 21, 1961)
- “Insurance Is Disclosed.” (Nov. 21, 1961)
- “Dead Skipper’s Papers Are Held by Court Order.” (Nov. 22, 1961)
- “Rescued Skipper Showed No Grief.” (Nov. 23, 1961)
- “Yacht Survivor Hears Of Deaths.” (Nov. 24, 1961)
- “Bluebelle Survivor Tells Story Again.” (Nov. 28, 1961)
- “New Turn In Sea Case.” (Dec. 2, 1961)
- “Coast Guard Rules Harvey Was Killer.” (April 26, 1961)
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