Arthur and Jean Duperrault and their three children were supposed to be enjoying a holiday of a lifetime. They had hired a chartered yacht to set sail from Florida to the Bahamas for a week of paradise, and with life seemingly affording them such luxury activities, you'd be forgiven for thinking that they had it all. But no amount of money would stop the devastating series of events that unfurled one fatal day in 1961.
Arthur Duperrault, a well-to-do 41-year-old eye doctor from Green Bay, Wisconsin, still had to save up for the trip, but it appeared worth it because when he finally had the money, he and hs wife Jean hired a 60-foot-ketch to cruise the Caribbean's crystal clear waters.
Joining his family on the trip would be the ship's captain and war hero Julian Harvey, who along with his sixth wife Mary, made up the 7-strong cohort of passengers.
However, what started out as a holiday soon turned sinister after Captain Harvey undertook a murderous rampage, killing everyone on board- except Terry Ko Duperrault.
Only 11-years-old at the time of the event, Terri would be witness to a bloody voyage that almost seemed stranger than fiction, losing both her parents and brother Brian, 14 and sister, Rene, 7.
When the story broke in 1961, it was arguably the biggest news story of the year, so it's little surprise that Tere Duperrault Fassbender released a book on her experiences 49 years later.
Titled “Alone: Orphaned on the Ocean," she promoted the book on various TV shows across America and appeared to be of sound mind, telling TODAY'S Matt Lauer, “I thought that I was spared for a reason, and the reason would be to help other people. I would just hope I could help someone after they read the book to give them inspiration.”
The 'voyage of horror', as the fatal event has since been dubbed, occurred because of the captain's financial difficulties, and after taking out an insurance policy on his wife, he had hoped to dispose of her body away from the attention of the family. At least, that is what Fassbender theorizes in her book.
However, Harvey's wife Mary wasn't going out without a fight and alerted Fassbender's parents to the situation, likely causing Harvey to panic and kill anyone who came in his way so as to dispose of any eye-witnesses.
While the 11-year-old never witnessed the deaths of her family, she did see them drenched in blood having slept in a separate cabin, with Harvey likely killing her father below the decks and her mother and siblings in the boat's cockpit.
“Later I heard screaming and stamping, " she revealed in her brilliant book, co-authored by Richard D. Logan," and I woke up and it went away, and I went upstairs to see what it was, and I saw my mother and my brother laying on the floor and there was blood all over. I went up to the captain, and he shoved me down."
Awoken by the horrors, she went on deck only to see Harvey opening the sea valves so he could escape with a dinghy. Giving her a line attached to the dinghy, he told her to hold it while he went to get something, but soon took out a knife and lunged at her.
Intuitively, she let go of the rope, allowing Harvey to drift away. Speaking about the event, her co-author told Matt Lauer, “When he saw her on deck, he realized, ‘Oh, my God, there’s a possibility that she might survive. I better kill her.’ So he went forward to get a knife or something to kill her. But she did not hold onto the line.”
Harvey was rescued the following morning and lied his way out of trouble, telling authorities of a mass fire that caused his boat to plunge to the bottom of the ocean with all his crew onboard. Suspicions were inevitably raised, but there was no evidence to suggest otherwise, and for four days, Harvey was a free man.
But four days later, that would change.
Instead of dying at sea as Harvey presumed she would, Terry Jo, who now goes by the name Terry Jo Duperrault, roughed it out in the ocean and thanks to her Tomboy ways, stayed fairly calm and resourceful.
With nothing but a little float, Fassbender's resilience saw her composed for three whole days as the blistering sun burned her skin. With no food or water, it was a miracle she even survived. But Fassbender never thought she would die. “I was never frightened. I was an outdoors child, and I loved the water,” she admitted “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 cusp of death, a Greek freighter luckily spotted her on the fourth day. Bringing her aboard, she collapsed and lost consciousness after managing to tell the captain who she was. Taken to a nearby Miami hospital, the unforgiving tropical sun had inflicted severe burns on Duperrault's skin, and she was running a fever of 105.
When crew members from the Greek freighter spotted her, one even took a photo of her waving in her little float, and the image was soon picked up by a litany of prestigious publications across the world.
After intense media interest, the survivor was adopted by relatives and revealed that she was advised not to speak about the events. “Everybody was told not to speak to me about it, so I never was able to talk about it. It was always in my mind. I did see a psychiatrist, but he didn’t really get to the meat of what was my problem, and that was the loss of my family.”
“I didn’t witness any killing,” she added. “I did see my mother and brother dead with blood. I never saw my father, I never saw Mrs. Harvey, and I never saw my sister.”
After news broke that the girl had survived, Julian Harvey committed suicide.
Later in life, Fassbender would experience four marriages, but she’s maintained her awe-inspiring optimism and has even sought therapy in her later years, which she claims has given her a better peace of mind.
After reading Fassbender's vivid accounts, we wouldn't be at all surprised if Steven Spielberg adapts her brilliant book into a film. We know we'd watch it. Would you? Let us know in the comments.