The ship was chartered by 41-year-old optometrist Dr. Arthur Duperrault of Green Bay, Wisconsin, for a trip from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to the Bahamas, departing November 8, 1961. Late one night on the return voyage, the captain, decorated 44-year-old ex-World War II and Korean War pilot Julian Harvey, reportedly killed his 34-year-old sixth wife Mary Dene (whom he had married in July) and four members of the Duperrault family – Dr. Duperrault; his 38-year-old wife Jean; and two of their children, 14-year-old Brian and seven-year-old Renee – leaving alive only 11-year-old Terry Jo Duperrault asleep below in a sleeping compartment. Harvey then scuttled the vessel and prepared to leave in a dinghy. When Terry Jo was awakened by screams, Harvey made no attempt to kill her outright, merely ordering her to stay below. As the ship filled with water, Terry Jo was able to avoid the captain and untie a 2' x 5' cork float and launch herself onto it just as the ship fell into the depths. The young girl drifted for four days without food or water, and she was unconscious and near death when rescued in the Providence Channel by the Greek freighter Captain Theo. A crewman on the Captain Theo took a picture of her on the float; this photograph was featured on front pages around the world with stories of the "sea waif".
Harvey had been picked up three days earlier in the dinghy along with the dead body of Renee. He told United States Coast Guard investigators that a squall had brought down the Bluebelle's masts, holing the ship's hull, rupturing the auxiliary gas tank, and starting a fire. He claimed that he found Renee floating face down in the water and tried unsuccessfully to revive her. (An autopsy showed that she had died of drowning.) However, after Harvey was informed of Terry Jo's rescue, he left the hearing, checked into a motel under an assumed name, and committed suicide by cutting his body very deeply in many places with a razor blade.
It is believed Harvey planned to kill his wife quietly at night to collect on her $20,000 double indemnity insurance policy, but he was observed by Dr. Duperrault who was killed when he attempted to intervene. Harvey then killed the remaining witnesses, except for Terry Jo. It was later found that he had seemingly miraculously survived a car accident that claimed another of his six wives and her mother, and that his yacht Torbatross and his powerboat Valiant had sunk under suspicious circumstances that yielded large insurance settlements.
Mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner and others wondered why Harvey did not kill Terry Jo when he had ample opportunity. Many years later, she stated in a television interview with Matt Lauer, "I think he probably thought I would go down with the ship". However, Gardner speculated that Harvey may have wanted to be caught and punished.
In May 2010, the story of Terry Jo's ordeal and survival, including biographical information about Julian Harvey and an account of Terry Jo's life (she is now Tere Duperrault Fassbender) over the decades since the Bluebelle tragedy and the loss of her family, was published by Titletown Publishing of Green Bay, Wisconsin. The book, entitled Alone: Orphaned on the Ocean, was written by survival psychologist Richard Logan and Tere Duperrault Fassbender herself. It was the first time in nearly fifty years that Duperrault had shared her full story. The book sheds some new light on Harvey's character, and also some new light on the events of the night of death on the Bluebelle, thanks in part to Duperrault's willingness to undergo a sodium amytal injection to aid her recall. Duperrault struggled in many ways for many years after the loss of her family, but by all accounts she managed ultimately to live a full and rich life.
- "The Sea: The Bluebelle's Last Voyage". Time magazine. 1961-12-01. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,938800-1,00.html. Retrieved 2010-05-08.
- Moore, Marilyn (1981-02-10). "Murder on the High Seas". Miami News. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=wa0lAAAAIBAJ&sjid=PPMFAAAAIBAJ&pg=2957,2296977&dq=the+bluebelle+sink&hl=en. Retrieved 2010-05-06.
- Gardner, Erle Stanley (1962-03-25). "The Case of the Bluebelle's Last Voyage". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=T0c0AAAAIBAJ&sjid=QWUEAAAAIBAJ&dq=the%20bluebelle%20sink&pg=5386%2C5543991. Retrieved 2010-05-06.
- Ruiz, Michelle (2010-05-06). "Decades Later, Sea Tragedy Survivor Breaks Silence". AOL news. http://www.aolnews.com/nation/article/survivor-tere-duperrault-fassbender-breaks-silence-on-the-bluebelle-tragedy/19467262. Retrieved 2010-05-06.
- "The 'Bluebelle' Mystery". Life magazine. 1961-12-01. http://books.google.com/books?id=AVQEAAAAMBAJ&printsec=frontcover&lr=&rview=1#v=onepage&q&f=false. Retrieved 2010-05-08.
- Alone:Orphaned on the Ocean (Titletown, 2010)
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