Decades of horror

July 17, 2022

Girl in the Picture is a harrowing documentary about a tragic crime spree spanning several decades

Decades of  horror


he Girl in the Picture is a new Netflix true crime documentary. Directed by Skye Borgman (who also made Abducted in Plain Sight), the documentary follows an incredibly disturbing trajectory as the story unravels.

Beginning with a hit-and-run that appears to be a cut and dried case on the surface, the documentary untangles the web surrounding the deceased 20 year old woman. Tonya Hughes, whose real name is Suzanne Sevakis, is found injured on the side of the road with groceries scattered all around her. Her injuries are inconsistent with a typical hit and run. She is taken to a hospital for treatment where she passes away.

With her older husband ‘Clarence’ the only lead and suspect in the case, her two year old son, Michael, is placed in foster care. In an attempt to reach out to other family members who could shed some light on the situation, the authorities contact her mother, who tells them that her daughter passed away as a toddler.

Meanwhile Michael’s foster parents try to adopt him after fostering him for two years, while ‘Clarence’ tries to fight them for custody at every turn. When Michael’s paternity is determined, ‘Clarence’ is not the father. He is therefore unable to file for parental rights. Undeterred, he kidnaps the boy from school after threatening the principal. Once Michael is forced to go with him, they vanish.

As ‘Clarence’ continues to dig himself into a deeper hole, FBI agent Joe Fitzpatrick is brought in to make sense of the situation. He discovers that someone named Franklin Floyd has attempted to access funding from Hughes’s life insurance policy. After some digging, Fitzpatrick discovers that ‘Clarence’ is an alias for Floyd, who is a wanted fugitive.

There are no fast cuts, no overly dramatic music or overacted re-enactments. She lets the horror inflicted by Floyd, and the tragedy of Hughes’ circumstance, speak for themselves.

While tracking down Floyd, Fitzpatrick tries to uncover Hughes’s origins, who has gone by different names over the years. Some people remember her as Sharon, a kind, mild natured girl they went to school with who had dreams of becoming an aerospace engineer, with a scholarship to Georgia Tech University. They also remember her strangely strict father, who prevented her from attending college and forced her to give up on her dream because she was pregnant. An old friend of hers identifies Floyd as the strict father.

The extent of Floyd’s criminal career is explored in depth. With kidnappings, sexual abuse and an extensive rap sheet of felonies; Floyd’s life and atrocities are laid bare. With a depraved crime spree spanning 50 years, he was finally sentenced to death in 2014, twenty four years after he murdered Hughes. Floyd is still alive and in prison, on a death row.

Like her earlier projects, Borgman’s direction filters the story through a compassionate and respectful lens. There are no fast cuts, no overly dramatic music or overacted re-enactments. She lets the horror inflicted by Floyd, and the tragedy of Hughes’s circumstance, speak for themselves.

Borgman manages to keep the victims in the story at the forefront of everything, which is something a lot of documentaries attempt to do but usually fail at. She also avoids glorifying or sensationalising Floyd’s crimes into some kind of mythical event and shows him as the monster that he is. While his crimes are detailed extensively in the documentary, The Girl in the Picture really is about restoring Hughes’s real name and identity, which gives it a level of maturity and gravitas that a lot of true-crime media can often lack.

While the Girl in the Picture is a master class in creating a true-crime documentary, the subject matter is very distressing and heavy, which can make it difficult to watch. It can only be recommended to those with a strong stomach.

The author is a staff member.

Decades of horror