• U.S.

The Sea: The Bluebelle’s Last Voyage

8 minute read

Lots of people liked Julian Harvey. A handsome, curly-headed, flat-bellied man of 44, he was a familiar figure around the Florida ports where he worked as a captain and sometime seaman on chartered yachts. He was a weight lifter and a physical-fitness cultist, with a stammer that somehow seemed to enhance his charm. Moreover, he was as brave as he was likable. For 16 years Harvey had been in the Air Force. He flew in North Africa, Europe and the South Pacific during World War II. Between wars he won a special commendation for deliberately ditching planes in Virginia’s James River to test evacuation procedures. In Korea, Lieut. Colonel Harvey flew 114 missions. During his long service, his decorations included an Air Medal with eight oakleaf clusters and a D.F.C. with cluster. But last week Julian Harvey was dead by his own hand. And his suicide opened the books on a strange, star-crossed life.

Cruise of a Lifetime. At first, it appeared that Harvey had committed suicide in a spasm of grief. His wife, Mary Dene, 34, a former TWA airline hostess and a bride of four months, had died just five days earlier, in the sinking of the chartered, 60-ft. ketch Bluebelle, which her husband skippered. Julian Harvey had been plucked from the sea in the yacht’s dinghy with the body of René Duperrault, 7, another passenger.

On his return to Miami, Harvey told the Coast Guard investigators a tale of flaming horror aboard the Bluebelle. The graceful, 33-year-old ketch had been chartered for a week’s cruise by Dr. Arthur Duperrault, 41, a wealthy Green Bay, Wis., optometrist, and his family: Wife Jean, 38; Son Brian, 14; Daughter Terry Jo, 11, and little red-haired René. Mary Harvey served as her husband’s crew and ship’s cook. For two days the vacationers cruised lazily among the Bahama islands. At Sandy Point on Great Abaco Island, their only port of call, they spent a pleasant weekend on the beach, and Dr. Duperrault told Roderick Finder, the British district commissioner, that it had been “a once-in-a-lifetime vacation.” That night, under a mellow moon, Bluebelle set sail for Florida.

About 11 p.m., Harvey testified at a hearing, he encountered a sudden tropical squall, which snapped the mainmast before he could reef sail. Mary Harvey and Dr. Duperrault were slightly injured but not badly, as the splintered mast pierced the deck. Harvey was separated from the others by the fallen mast; then fire broke out in the fuel storage tank, spreading to the crumpled sails. Quickly, Harvey released the dinghy and a raft, ordered the others to abandon ship. Then he dived after them and swam to the drifting dinghy. He recovered René, unconscious while floating in an oversized life jacket, from the water. The five others had vanished in the sea. The next morning the child was dead, and Harvey was picked up by a passing ship.

So Harvey said. But three days later, word came that Terry Jo Duperrault had been found on a small raft, unconscious, cruelly sunburned and in critical condition, by the crew of a Greek freighter. Plainly, if she survived, she would be another witness to the tragedy of the Bluebelle. “Oh, my God,” stammered Harvey when he heard the news. “Why, that’s wonderful.” A few minutes later, he excused himself, slipped out of the hearing room, went to his motel, slashed his left thigh, his ankles and his throat with a double-edged razor blade.

Harvey’s friends explained that his suicide had come from enduring one tragedy too many in a lifetime of mishaps. In 1949 he had survived when his speeding car crashed through a bridge in northern Florida, plunged into a canal, killing his second wife and her mother. Twice in peacetime he had been forced to parachute from airplanes; during World War II he crash-landed a battle-damaged B24. His accumulated injuries caused his eventual retirement from the Air Force. In 1955, Harvey and four companions were rescued by helicopter after his yacht, Torbatross, struck the submerged wreck of the U.S. battleship Texas in Chesapeake Bay. Three years later, his powerboat, Valiant, went down in the Gulf of Mexico, and once more Harvey escaped with his life. The sinking of the Bluebelle, insisted friends, was all that Harvey could stand.

Calm Sea. According to his written wish, Julian Harvey, shrouded in red velvet, was buried at sea, twelve miles off Miami. At about the same time, Terry Jo recovered enough to talk to the Coast Guard investigators—and Harvey’s suicide took on a new sinister significance. The child’s story completely contradicted Harvey’s. On the night of the tragedy, she said, she and René had gone to their cabins about 9 o’clock. “Later I heard screaming and stamping 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.” She retreated belowdecks to her bunk. Later the captain came into her cabin with what appeared to be a rifle in his hand but left again without harming the girl. Soon water began to flow into the cabin, and when it reached her bunk, Terry Jo climbed up to the cockpit again. There was no sign of her father, sister, or Mary Harvey. Captain Harvey came back from the bow, and “I asked him if the boat was sinking and he said, ‘yes,’ and he went up forward to do something, and he came back and he said, ‘Is the dinghy loose?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know,’ and he jumped in after it and I couldn’t see him and I couldn’t see the dinghy so I got the little raft and got in it and went away and I couldn’t see anything.” The mast was intact, the little girl said, and there was no sign of a fire. The sea, she testified, was calm.

With Terry Jo’s testimony, other disclosures of the dark side of Julian Harvey’s life began to appear. At the time of the drowning of Second Wife Joann Harvey, the Florida police, the diver who inspected the sunken wreck of the 1946 Plymouth, and Joann’s father wondered at Harvey’s agility in getting out of the car unscratched and at his failure to try to rescue his wife and mother-in-law after his own escape. Said Diver Steve Dacosta: “At that speed and short distance, it seemed unlikely that a man could get out of the car before it struck the water, unless he was ready to get out of it.”

Other late-blooming suspicions were cast on the wreck of the Torbatross. Last week David P. Harrison, one of Harvey’s passengers on that trip, reported: “I remember we sailed around the wreck twice. Harvey said he was trying to read the markings on the buoy.” Said Jack Stone, former commodore of the Capital Yacht Club, home berth of the Torbatross: “Everybody who has sailed those waters knows about the Texas and just stays away from her. The wreck is way off course. You have to work at it to find her.” Yet a federal court awarded Harvey $14,258 damages for the loss of Torbatross. And last week, after his return from the Bluebelle tragedy, Harvey confided to friends in Miami that he had scuttled Valiant for the insurance.

Harvey, it turned out, had been married six times, and his surviving ex-wives agreed that he was a vain, difficult husband, and a man whose love quickly cooled. Reported Wife No. 1, now remarried to a Fort Myers, Fla., businessman: “I don’t think I satisfied him. I don’t think any woman could. He was very egotistical. He worried about himself. He weight-lifted a lot.” Said No. 3, now married to a Dallas doctor: “I don’t know which wife I was. It wasn’t like being married anyhow. He was constantly interested in his body.”

Most damning was the revelation that Harvey was deeply in debt and being dunned by his creditors—and that he insured Mary Harvey’s life with a $20,000, double-indemnity policy two months before Bluebelle sailed on her last cruise. But the full story of Julian Harvey and what happened aboard the Bluebelle on its last night at sea will probably never be known. And, but for the miraculous rescue of a little girl, it would probably never have been even a half-told saga of the sea.

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