there is so much madness and evil in the world what streaming platforms will never run without True Crime Documentary Material† Girl in the picture (July 6) is the latest chapter in Netflix’s never-ending exploration of everything depressing, embarrassing and bewildering, telling a breathtaking saga of kidnapping, sexual abuse, murder and multiple identities that pile up on a scandalous twist. What it tells us about humanity’s predilection for misery won’t open anyone’s eyes, but that doesn’t change the fact that the details of its story often threaten to amaze and bring you to tears.
Directed by Skye Borgman, whose recent Hulu documentary Dead in sleep detailed another murderous story, Girl in the picture begins in April 1990 with the discovery of the body of a 20-year-old blond woman on the side of a road in Oklahoma City. The victim was Tonya Hughes, a Tulsa stripper who was married to a man named Clarence Hughes with whom she had a 2-year-old son, Michael. Posthumous medical examinations revealed Tonya’s numerous bruises and injuries that did not quite match the idea that she had died as a result of a hit-and-run. But infinitely more puzzling, when Tonya’s exotic dancers used the phone book to find and call her family, they were told by a woman that Tonya was her daughter, but that she had passed away 20 years ago – at just 18 months old. .
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This was a stunning development, and her friend Karen Parsley – who she worked with at OKC entertainment club Passions – says it wasn’t the only quirky thing about Tonya loving her son, but clearly living under her thumb. husband Clarence, a “weird” and menacing older man who Karen suspected was responsible for the bruises on Tonya’s body. In the wake of this tragedy, Michael’s bizarre behavior forced the Department of Human Services to place him in the foster care of Merle and Ernest Bean, who loved the boy for the four years they had him in their home. Unfortunately, Clarence (whom Michael called “that mean man”) retained access to his son, at least until DHS ordered a paternity test that confirmed Clarence had no biological connection to the boy.
The subsequent termination of Clarence’s parental rights was the fuse that lit the psychopath’s fire. On September 12, 1994, Clarence visited Michael’s Elementary School, took Principal James Davis and Michael hostage at gunpoint, then tied the Principal to a nearby tree and disappeared with the child. This caught the attention of the FBI, who sent Special Agent Joe Fitzpatrick to OKC to handle the case, and his first investigation led to another bombshell: In 1990, Clarence had attempted to collect Tonya’s life insurance policy with a Social Security number that went with it. to a person named Franklin Delano Floyd. A look at Floyd’s past revealed a stint at a shelter in 1972, a 1962 kidnapping of a little girl and a 1963 bank robbery that left him behind bars for nine years. In addition, he had been on the run since 1973 after skipping a trial over an assault on yet another woman.
So Franklin was exposed as a sexual predator, con artist, fugitive and yet somehow that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Girl in the picture† After recognizing Tonya’s photo on TV, the murdered girl’s high school friends from Forest Park, Georgia, contacted Fitzpatrick to identify her as Sharon Marshall, a smart, vivacious, beautiful, gifted college student who is taking a full drive to the Georgia Tech University got to study aerospace engineering. Worse, though, was what they had to say about Sharon’s troubled family life with her father Warren, a creep who wouldn’t have her on the phone and paid for risqué yearbook photos that really pissed them off.
Most important of all, Sharon’s classmates recognized Clarence/Floyd – Sharon’s husband at the time of her death – immediately.as her father Warren.
Incest, rape and multiple children are all part of it Girl in the picture‘s rear half, detailing his enemy’s villainy in great detail. When teenage Sharon became pregnant, she and Warren began dating and moved to Tampa, where Warren put his new wife to work at the Mons Venus strip club. There, as friend Heather Lane recalls, Sharon would ask for sex for money on her husband/father’s orders. Their babysitter Michelle Cupples speaks candidly about the strangeness of this household, as well as the budding relationship between the two and dancer Cheryl Commesso, who was promised a future as a Playboy Warren’s model. In 1989, the couple fled from Florida to Oklahoma City, though the reason for their sudden departure would not be known until 1995, when a woman’s body was found by police and identified as Commesso through a fortuitous series of events.
There are additional explosive elements to Girl in the picture, and director Borgman reveals them through a rewind/fast-wind structure that connects everything in a clear way. Her dramatic reenactments are largely unnecessary and come across as perfunctory embellishments that only confirm what her subjects convey. Better are the many first-person interviews she conducts with those involved in this nightmare, be it Fitzpatrick and the Beans, or Sharon’s friends and Choctaw’s assistant chief of police Billy Carter. Their commentary hammers home the shock, awe, and horror that defined this entire affair, and underscores the desire of so many to see justice served—not just regarding Floyd, who ended up on death row for Commesso’s murder, but for Michael (who was never found) and for Sharon, whose real name was derived thanks to the efforts of Fitzpatrick and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
In the end there is not much to get out of it Girl in the picture except that some people are repulsive sociopaths who do unspeakable things to satisfy their own demented urges, and the innocent are often unable to escape the traps they find themselves in. That may make it more of a discouraging reminder than a revelation, but it doesn’t diminish its heartbreaking power.
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