The last time director Skye Borgman released a true crime documentary on Netflix, the world was astounded and disgusted by the case of the Broberg family. Abducted in Plain Sight was an unbelievable, dark story of child abuse, paedophilia and sociopathy, as Bob and Mary Ann Broberg allowed their 12-year-old daughter to spend time unsupervised with their terrifying (but charismatic) neighbour, Robert Berchtold.
The feature-length documentary, which is currently sitting in the top spot of Netflix’s most watched movies list, is concerned with another abduction of a young woman. But unlike Abducted in Plain Sight, not only is the kidnapper’s identity a mystery… so is the victim’s.
It starts with the discovery of a 20-year-old woman at the side of the road in 1990, an apparent victim of a hit-and-run who died from her injuries in hospital five days later. She was identified as Tonya Hughes, a stripper, mother to Michael and wife of Clarence, who was soon found to be an alias of fugitive Franklin Delano Floyd. This is where the story starts to get more complicated, and even more twisted.
Following Tonya’s death, Michael was taken in by the authorities, though Floyd (who was not his father) turned up at his school and took the six-year-old after holding up the headmaster at gunpoint. The FBI not only had a murder case on their hands, but an abduction too. Soon, the case was being publicised on television nationally, and some viewers recognised Tonya as an entirely different person.
Turns out, Tonya was also an alias – the name was taken from a gravestone in Alabama where she and Floyd lived for a while – and she was in fact called Sharon Marshall. Sharon was popular at her high school in Atlanta, and clever enough to gain a scholarship to Georgia Institute of Technology to study aerospace engineering. It was widely thought among her friends that she had left town when she fell pregnant and moved to Alabama to be with her secret boyfriend.Her peers also remember her strange relationship with her father, who was apparently obsessed with her. He bought her lingerie and paid for her to take part in glamour photoshoots. Behind closed doors, their relationship was even darker, and one of Sharon’s friends remembers her father raping her while she was in the room. You might have worked it out by now that Sharon’s father was Floyd, her soon-to-be husband.
This isn’t even close to the end of Sharon/Tonya’s devastating story, because it turns out neither of these personas were the true identity of the poor woman found at the side of the road. In an interview with the FBI, Floyd revealed that Sharon was actually his ex-wife’s daughter, Suzanne Sevakis, who he abducted as a child and raised as his own. While it’s somewhat of a relief that Sharon wasn’t actually related to her kidnapper and abuser, it’s nothing compared to the upsetting realisation that she was a victim of Floyd’s from the moment they met.
And what of Michael? While Floyd has never been found guilty of any crime in connection to Suzanne’s death, he did eventually admit to killing Michael by shooting him in the head twice. Michael’s body has still never been recovered.
The twists and turns of Girl in the Picture have made it a word-of-mouth hit since it was released on 6 July; but the revelations detailed here aren’t even the half of it. That it’s so unbelievable, yet entirely true, makes it irresistible to true crime fans – sometimes you have to hear a story with your own ears for it to truly make sense.
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