In 1961, a boat captain found 11-year-old Terry Jo Duperrault floating alone in the Atlantic Ocean on a life raft. Her legs dangled over the side of the tiny cork float where she’d been surviving for four days without any food or water. 

Where did she come from? How did she get so far into the Atlantic? It would take an official investigation before the truth surfaced to answer those questions.  

The Vacation of a Lifetime

Terry Jo and her family set sail on a 60-foot sailboat for a week-long trip around the Bahamas. It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime, something the three kids would remember for the rest of their lives. 

The dream vacation ended November 12 when the captain they hired for the trip, Julian Harvey, went on a killing spree aboard the boat. 

Terry Jo’s family didn’t know Julian was in serious financial trouble. And they certainly didn’t know his plan to get out of it involved killing his sixth wife of only four months, Mary Dene, and collecting the insurance money. 

Four days after setting sail, Terry Jo went to bed early, tired from all the seafaring. She awoke to her brother’s screams: “Help, Daddy! Help!”

“It was the type of scream that you know that something horrible is happening,” Terry Jo said later. 

She went upstairs to find the carnage — Julian killed the rest of Terry Jo’s family in addition to his wife. 

“I did see my mother and brother dead with blood,” Terry Jo said. “I never saw my father. I never saw Mrs. Harvey, and I never saw my sister.”

When Julian noticed Terry Jo, he pushed her back down the stairs, but she surfaced again when the cabin started filling with water. This time, Julian asked for her help before disappearing to “go get something” — probably a weapon to kill her. Terry Jo didn’t wait to find out. She escaped on a raft. 

How She Survived

Julian was found in the water first, floating aboard a dinghy with the body of Terry Jo’s sister. He told rescuers about a fake storm that snapped the mast and caused the boat to catch fire. He claimed he tried to save the family and his wife, but that was all a lie. The truth would surface during an investigation into the tragedy

Terry Jo floated for four days before the captain of a Greek freighter saw and rescued her. During that time, she clung to her faith the same way she clung to the raft. 

“I was never frightened,” Terry Jo said. “I was an outdoors child, and I loved the water. I had strong faith. I believed in God, and I prayed for Him to help me, and I just went with the flow.”

At one point, Terry Jo noticed large shapes under the water. It was a group of porpoises that watched over her while she was stranded. She prayed, thanking God for sending them to take care of her while she waited for rescue. 

She was severely sunburned, dehydrated and had a fever of more than 105 degrees, but she survived. After her hospital stay, relatives adopted her, and psychiatrists talked with her. But it was decades later when counselors helped her find the root of her continual pain. 

It wasn’t being stranded alone for four days, and it wasn’t the murders themselves — she never actually witnessed any of the killing — but it was the loss of her entire family. When Terry Jo made peace with this, that’s when she finally found healing. 

Now, looking back, she believes God kept her alive for a reason. 

“If one person heals from a life tragedy (after reading my story), my journey will have been worth it.”