The date was November 12th, 1963. A crew member aboard the Gulf Lion, a tanker, spotted a small boat in the distance. In it was a man, waving frantically. The ship changed course and headed to the tiny boat and saw its single live occupant, a middle-aged man. Also in the dinghy was a seven year old girl – not alive, sadly.
The man told his rescuers that his name was Julian Harvey. He had been the captain of a sixty foot sailboat, the Bluebelle.
He explained that the boat had been chartered for a vacation trip by an optometrist from Wisconsin called Arthur Duperrault. He had had rented the craft and its crew from Bahia Mar in Fort Lauderdale intending to go on a week long cruise to the Bahamas with his wife, son and two daughters. The other crew member, in addition to the captain Harvey, was his wife Mary.
Harvey told his rescuers that the previous night the boat had been attacked by a violent storm. Strong winds broke the mast which rived apart the deck and punctured the hull. A fire started in the cockpit and the boat was taking in water – fast.
He explained that he had prepared the lifeboat and that although the other passengers could see him doing this, they had all decided to jump overboard because of the fire. They presumed, he said, that he would pick them up in the lifeboat – which he fully intended to do. But the sea was stormy. The only one he found was seven year old Rene, floating face down.The rest of the family – and his own wife – had disappeared.
The police became suspicious. Harvey had no injuries, there had been no reports of bad weather and no-one had seen a burning boat. He also seemed a little placid for a man who had just lost his wife.
Four days later, he was being interviewed by the Coast Guard in Miami when the meeting was interrupted. A member of the Coast Guard brought good news. he explained that at nine thirty that morning, the crew of a Greek freighter, the Captain Theo, had found a tiny raft. On it was an eleven year old girl, Terry Jo Duperrault.
Having been on the tiny raft for more than eighty hours, she was badly sunburned, dehydrated and weak. She was airlifted to hospital.
When Harvey heard this he simply said “Oh my god” and left the Coast Guard to return to his hotel room. A couple of hours later, a maid went into the room.I will spare you the gory details of her discovery – suffice it to say that Harvey had done away with himself, messily and bloodily.
The newspapers and the investigators were now waiting for Terry Jo – or ‘the Sea Waif’ as they had nicknamed her – to recover sufficiently to tell her story.
Eventually she explained that at about nine o’clock on that terrible night she and her younger sister had gone to bed but she woke up hearing noises and screams. Creeping out of her cabin she saw her mother and brother, unconscious or worse, and lots of blood. She went back to her bunk and hid but eventually the cabin was waist deep in water.She went up on deck. She saw Harvey get into the dingy. She shouted to ask him if the boat was sinking and he replied, in an agitated fashion, that it was. She never saw him or her family again. She climbed onto a tiny raft and floated away.
She was adamant that there had been no bad weather, no broken mast and no fire.
Although it is impossible to know fully what happened on the night of November 12th, the official Coast Guard report concluded that the rest of the Duperrault family – and Harvey’s own wife – had been killed before the yacht sank.
It was later discovered that Julian Harvey had taken out a life insurance policy on his wife for $20,000 – just four months before her death. There was also a double indemnity clause should her death be due to an accident. It was revealed that he had been married five times. His third wife (and her mother) had died when a car in which they were travelling, driven by Harvey, plunged from the road into a bayou. There had been at least two incidents where Harvey had collected money from insurance paid due to lost boats.
And Terry Jo? She must have grown up to be a remarkable woman. She married and had three children and in later life explained:
“I’m not bitter and never have been. I never saw him kill anyone and nothing was ever proven. I think about it a lot, about what might have happened. But I’ve never come up with any conclusions”.
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