But the question that hovered in everyone’s mind was how an 11-year-old child got lost in the Atlantic Ocean. Forty-nine years after the incident, the young survivor whose name was Tere Duperrault Fassbender wrote a book “Alone: Orphaned on the Ocean” which told the shocking and astonishing story of her survival.
Terry Jo was the middle child of the 41-year-old doctor, Arthur Duperrault, and his wife, Jean Duperrault.
Terry was also accompanied on the voyage by her two siblings; her older brother, Brian, 14, and her younger sister, Rene, 7.
The family had been saving up for this trip and had been excited for this holiday of a lifetime; a week that was supposed to be filled with fun under the sun and family activities. Their chartered yacht, a 60 feet long boat called Bluebelle, departed from the port in Florida, Fort Lauderdale, towards its destination in the Bahamas where the family was going to explore the surrounding islands.
The Captain of the Yacht, responsible for getting the Duperrault family safely to their destination, was a well-respected war hero and former Air Force Pilot named Julian Harvey. The captain was also accompanied by his 34-year-old wife, Mary Dene who he had married recently. The trip had gone happily, according to plan for 4 days before a terrible event turned the holiday trip into a nightmare.
On the 5th night of the Voyage, things were going smoothly when Terry decided to retreat to her cabin a little early. Later in the night, she was suddenly awakened by the sounds of stamping and screaming from the deck above her cabin. She knew something was horribly wrong and rushed upstairs to witness the most gruesome scene of her life.
In an interview almost fifty years after the incident, Terry Jo recalled her brother’s bloodcurdling screams which still ring in her ears to this day, as he cried, ‘help, Daddy, help!’ Little did young Terry know that those were the last words that she would ever hear her brother say.No one on the board could have guessed that night, that the 44-year-old captain, with an impeccable history of serving as a military official and pilot for the US Air Force, would go on a killing rampage.
It all started a few months before when Harvey, who was facing serious financial problems, married his young wife just so he could take out an insurance policy on her and later, murder her. He had chosen that particular night on the boat to get rid of his wife forever by killing her and disposing of her body overboard, and later claim that she had been lost at sea. But things did not go entirely as planned for this psychotic captain.
Harvey wanted the whole affair to be a quiet one but his wife, Mary Dene, put up a fight to save herself, screaming for help. Dr. Duperrault heard the poor woman’s screams and rushed to the bow to save her, but it was too late. The crazed captain had already taken her life. Frenzied by the whole situation and desperate to get rid of any possible victims that may have caught him in the act, he killed the entire Duperrault family on the deck – but he missed one.
Terry Jo was still asleep as the Captain was manically stabbing her entire family to death. Upon hearing the sounds, Terry made her way up on deck from her cabin, where she witnessed the carnage. In her book, she described, “I saw my mother and my brother lying on the floor, and there was blood all over. I went up to the captain, and he shoved me down.” Knowing that her whole family was dead, Terry was suddenly fearful for her own life thinking that she was next to be killed by Harvey.
The desperate captain opened up the sea valves on the boat in order to sink it and shoved young Terry below the deck. Terry, feeling helpless and terrified beyond measure, went back to her cabin , cowering in fear. As the captain had already opened the sea valves, Terry’s cabin slowly began to fill with water, and she was forced to flee, in order to save herself.
Coming back up onto the deck of the vessel, Terry found the captain trying to escape from the scuttled boat. When the captain saw the young girl back on deck, he suddenly grew fearful that she may survive the wreck and tell others about what he had done. He thought that it would be wise to kill her as well so that he could wipe away all evidence of his horrible deeds.
The captain told Terry to hold a line attached to a dinghy while he went to get something. Terry was convinced that he was going to get a weapon so that he could kill her as well, so she let go of the line and decided to try and escape him.
As soon as he realized she had let go of the line attached to the dinghy, Harvey jumped into the water with the dinghy and seemingly never resurfaced. Terry was now left abandoned on the sinking yacht which was taking her down with it. But Terry was stronger than anyone could have imagined. Her survival was in her own hands and she acted with courage.
As the boat sank deeper into the water, Terry saw a small cork float on the yacht. She rushed to untie it, seeing it as her last hope of survival as the boat plummeted deep underneath the waves of the dark sea.
The next day, Harvey was found floating in the dinghy and was rescued by the coastguard. He had the dead body of Renee with him which he used to attempt to prove himself innocent of his crimes. He told an astonishing tale of a broken mast on Bluebelle which sparked a fire and sank the boat. He claimed that the boat sank with everyone else on board except him. He said that he tried to revive Renee who had drowned in the sea but had failed to do so. The story raised eyebrows, but there wasn’t enough evidence to prove his story false, until four days later when a miracle happened.
While Harvey was busy convincing the police with his shocking survival story, young Terry was fighting to survive the waves of the merciless sea, as she drifted in the Atlantic waters in her tiny cork float without any food or water. For four days she suffered from hypothermia during the night, and the scorching sun during the day which left her skin burnt and her body seriously dehydrated. One can only imagine her terror.
In her interview with a news channel, she said that she had faith that someone would find her and that she would survive. She never believed for a moment that she would die. She said, “I had strong faith. I believed in God, and I prayed for him to help me, and I just went with the flow.”
On the fourth day, she was spotted in the water by a Greek freighter passing through the Bahamas. The captain of the ship described her as extremely sunburned and frail. As she was rescued and taken aboard ship in critical condition, she collapsed onto the deck and was rushed to the nearby hospital for treatment.
As the news of Terry Jo Duperrault’s survival had taken the media by storm and she was suddenly being referred to as ‘The Sea Orphan.’ The news eventually reached the ears of the captain who could not believe that the young girl was able to survive. Out of his fear that the truth might come out some day and he would be charged with murder, he decided to take his own life in his hotel room.
Although Terry was eventually adopted by her relatives, well meaning adults refused to allow her any psychological help to deal with her trauma. Her relatives had forbidden everyone to talk to her about the horrific incident. Hence she never got the chance to tell her story. Terry carried the trauma within her heart for many years to come but eventually the whole world learned her story through her own words.
The dreadful night of 1962 had a terrible psychological impact on Duperrault, with the murder of her family and the image of their bodies laying in pools of blood etched in her mind for years after. After getting medical treatment, Terry returned to Green Bay to live with her father’s sister and her three children. Although she was given a lot of love and support by her new family, she suppressed the events of that night.
She said that even though she saw many psychiatrists later in her life, none of them were quite able to understand her loss or help her recover from the trauma. She changed her name from Terry Duperrault to Tere Fassbender in an attempt to leave behind her tragic past but she was never fully able to make peace with her loss. It drove her all her life and led to some poor judgements and decisions.
It wasn’t until many years later that she appeared in a public interview with a news channel to talk about the horrific incident. In the interview she said, “I always believed that I was saved for a reason. If my story can help one person heal from a tragedy, my journey will have been worth it.” In 1988, Fassbender appeared on the famous show Oprah where she shared her survival story with the audience.
Her counsellor at that time, Richard Logan, who was also an expert on sole survivors, became her good friend and confidant who encouraged her to tell her story to the world in the form of a book. Logan, who later helped Tere co-write her book Alone: Orphaned on the Ocean, described Fassbender as ‘a lady of great substance’.