Netflix’s new documentary, “The Girl in the Picture,” tells a horrifying tale with Tampa Bay ties.
The film chronicles the brief life Suzanne Marie Sevakis, who was kidnapped and sexually abused by her fugitive stepfather (and later husband), Franklin Delano Floyd. Floyd is now sitting on Death Row for kidnapping and murder, but was able to get away with his crimes for years by adopting different aliases.
Sevakis, who went by Sharon Marshall and later Tonya Hughes, lived in the Tampa Bay area with Floyd for a time. He forced her into sex work, including a stint dancing at Tampa’s famed Mons Venus. There she found a friend in fellow dancer Cheryl Ann Commesso. Sevakis was found dead in an apparent-hit and-run in Oklahoma City; Commesso’s remains were found near Interstate 275 in Pinellas County.
The then-St. Petersburg Times and Tampa Tribune chronicled the saga in depth over the years:
By Tim Roche, Published Nov. 2, 1997 in the St. Petersburg Times
At 18, Cheryl Ann Commesso wanted to be somebody. She worked in topless bars, hoping to find a rich guy who’d admire her curvacious figure and show her the good life. Fame, however, came from a tragic destiny: Six years after she disappeared, her skeleton was found along a St. Petersburg highway.
Sharon, as investigators knew her, was a young girl when abducted by a man who raised her as his own — then married her. Investigators figure she was about 20 years old when she was struck down in a suspicious hit-and-run in Oklahoma.
At 6 years old, Michael had seen a lot of life — most of it tragic. The sandy-haired boy was fatherless, spent time in foster care and was kidnapped from his first-grade class, along with his principal. He has been missing since.
Franklin Delano Floyd is perhaps the one person who could solve all these mysteries. In his 20 years as a federal fugitive, Floyd touched the lives of Cheryl, Sharon and Michael, and in ways that investigators still are trying to figure out.
Now in prison for kidnapping Michael, the 54-year-old Floyd says he owes nobody any favors.
“Why would I want to convince you I’m a good guy, a nice person or anything,” Floyd said last summer. “F--- that. I’m screwed, tattooed, already. See?”
For Floyd, innocence was lost long ago on a gym floor.
Several boys molested him at a Baptist children’s home in Georgia. He ran away but returned to Georgia in 1962, when he was accused of abducting a girl from a bowling alley.
Floyd was placed in a psychiatric hospital, but escaped. He robbed a bank in Macon, Ga., and was sentenced to federal prison, where a psychologist made an assessment that others would share in coming years:
“The subject attempts to handle his own feelings of inadequacy and guilt by extensive rationalization and projecting the blame onto the environment.”
Subscribe to our free Top 5 things to do newsletter
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.
Again released on parole, Floyd disappeared and became a federal fugitive. Early in his new life, he says he came across a woman who had two daughters. He won’t say where, but he describes the woman as an addict unfit to raise the girls. He says he did her a favor: He “rescued” one of the girls and raised her.
He and the girl moved frequently from one state to the next, taking on new names. They joined Baptist churches and once posed for a family portrait.
In Atlanta, using the name of Sharon Marshall, she graduated with honors from high school and became pregnant by a teenage boyfriend. The baby was placed for adoption.
“You got to always forget the past,” Floyd would tell her.
By 1988, they were living in a mobile home park in Tampa when Sharon gave birth to another child, a son she named Michael. The birth certificate listed Floyd as the grandfather.
While Floyd watched the boy, Sharon worked as a dancer at Mons Venus, a nude club on Dale Mabry Highway. There, she met Cheryl Ann Commesso, 18.
The resemblance was striking, but Floyd says the two young women were very different.
Cheryl, with her wildly teased hair, deep tan and jewel-studded acrylic nails, was the aggressive one. She knew how to get her way, Floyd says. Her true desire was to meet somebody rich.
“Cheryl was a hell of a manipulator, but she was nice about it,” Floyd said. “She was a hustler, but she just liked the attention.”
Cheryl and Sharon became friends, but Floyd says they competed against each other. Cheryl had breast implants, so Sharon got them, too. They’d take one-night trips to Fort Lauderdale. They could make $1,000 for 20 minutes of sex with men who had more cash than endurance, Floyd says.
In early 1989, Floyd and Sharon moved to a mobile home near Pinellas Park. He hurt himself on a job and got a settlement, which he used to buy several boats.
“Sharon was weird; she was more stuck up,” says Michelle Cupples, who was 15 when she lived in the mobile home park and babysat Michael. “(Floyd) was kind of like the grandfather all of us kids always wanted. He would take us out to eat. He’d take us out on his boat.”
Cheryl also was spending a lot of time with Floyd, and he told neighbors that she was his girlfriend. They’d go to the beach, and he’d take along his video camera to tape Cheryl and Sharon erotically rubbing oil on their bodies. He also taped Cheryl alone in her bikini, with the other guys ogling her.
In April 1989, the morning after Floyd and Sharon were expected to return from a Carolinas vacation, a neighbor looked out a window and saw a man rushing from their mobile home and driving off in a pickup.
Moments later, flames leapt from the kitchen, the fire so hot that parts of the mobile home seemed to melt into pools of aluminum. The stove had been turned on, a gas line loosened and combustibles left on a burner. Arson investigators noted the house was empty of clothes, appliances and some furniture.
About a week later, Floyd called a neighbor who had collected his mail and asked her to burn a few letters. He also called his landlord, who says Floyd somehow knew he was a suspect in the arson. He wouldn’t say where he was calling from.
“He wanted his money back for the deposit,” the landlord says.
Using names they picked from tombstones, Floyd and Sharon got married in New Orleans. Floyd said he married her to have a right to Michael, her son.
A few months later, she gave birth to a girl, who was placed for adoption. Floyd, Sharon and Michael then moved to Tulsa.
She worked at Passion’s, a strip joint with brown shag carpet and dingy Budweiser lamps above the pool table. On stage, she liked to strip to the disco version of Locomotion:
There’s never been a dance that’s so easy to do.
It even makes you happy when you’re feelin’ blue.
So come on, come on, do the Locomotion with me.
She spent a lot of time at work, even began dating a bouncer. She told co-workers she didn’t want to go home. One day, she was upset because she had found a life insurance policy in her name.
“She was always paranoid of leaving him,” says Karen Parsley, her closest friend in Tulsa. “I told her to save money, that I’d hold it for her.”
In April 1990, Floyd drove her 2 hours to a doctor’s appointment in Oklahoma City, where they got a motel room.
That night, he says, Sharon walked across a highway to a diner. She later was found by the road, unconscious. Investigators presumed she was the victim of a hit-and-run. She died after several days, and her friends back in Tulsa wanted to give her a funeral. But Floyd was hesitant.
The friends persuaded him to let them pay for a funeral. Her boss found in her employment application that her maiden name was Tadlock; she was from Alabama. The boss called information and got a telephone number in Alabama, expecting to tell her parents about the death. But the Tadlocks had disturbing news:
Their daughter had been dead 20 years.
The friends told Oklahoma detectives, who arrived en masse at the funeral, blocked the exits and seized the body. They fingerprinted Floyd and determined he was a fugitive.
He went back to federal prison. Michael, then 2, went to foster care.
Once Floyd was released from prison, he used the money from Sharon’s life insurance to seek custody of Michael, claiming he was the father. Blood tests showed he wasn’t, but Floyd’s argument used a unique Oklahoma law that said he had rights because he’s the only father the boy had known.
The case was pending when Ernest and Merle Bean decided they wanted to adopt Michael. After four years, he was part of their family.
“We tried to prepare him that he could one day have to go live with Franklin Floyd,” Mrs. Bean says. “We were trying to make him not feel so bad about going back.”
Then, odd things began to happen.
Two nights in a row, the family dog barked ferociously at the woods outside their house, close to Oklahoma City. Mrs. Bean and the kids were playing in the pool one summer night when she heard a noise.
Beyond the trees, Floyd strained to listen and moved closer, his feet crushing the dried leaves and brush. He had been coming here for weeks.
One Monday morning in September 1994, Floyd walked into a rural elementary school and shook the hand of principal James Davis. Floyd said that he needed the principal’s help to get back his son, that he’d been grieving for four years, that he had a gun.
Floyd walked down the hallway with Davis to get Michael from his first-grade class. All three walked calmly out of the school, getting into the principal’s Ford truck and driving down a narrow farm road. Davis’ leg was shaking so badly he could barely keep his foot on the accelerator.
In the woods behind the Beans’ house, they stopped. Michael waited in the truck, listening to the radio, while Floyd ordered the principal to get out.
“He was so calculating,” Davis says. “This was not a spur-of-the-moment thing at all.”
Floyd wrapped duct tape around the principal’s mouth and neck, and ordered him to sit down. Davis squatted, with his back against a 25-foot post oak tree. His long arms barely reached around the fat trunk as Floyd handcuffed him.
The principal didn’t see him, but Floyd left a handcuff key within 6 inches of him. “Since you’re cooperating with me,” Floyd told him, “you’ll wind up on national TV.”
The principal was not freed until early afternoon, until his sweat caused the duct tape to loosen and a man mowing a pasture heard his yells. The town, as well as TV crime shows, appealed for Michael’s return.
Floyd was arrested several weeks later while selling cars in Kentucky. He admits spending months planning how to take Michael but says his motive was love. A father’s love.
He says Michael had complained of being touched improperly and choked by his foster father. He says he was compelled to save Michael from a childhood similar to his own in the Georgia orphanage.
“I set it up, I mean everything I did. Let me tell you something: I made one mistake. I f----- with the principal,” Floyd says.
In the next breath, he points out he let the principal live. “Think about it: The only adult witness against me,” Floyd says. “If I wanted him to die, he’d be dead.”
It was easy to miss, the package taped under the principal’s pickup truck. The truck had been wiped clean of fingerprints before it was abandoned in Dallas, but the package was hidden near the gas tank.
Inside was a series of Polaroids.
Some showed Michael’s mother in sexual poses, staring blankly, from a young age to adolescence.
But most intriguing were pictures of a young woman who was clearly brutalized and possibly sexually assaulted, investigators say. She was wearing a bikini and had a tan.
Joe Fitzpatrick, the FBI agent in charge of Michael’s kidnapping, knew Floyd had spent time in Florida. He had the FBI office in Tampa contact local police agencies.
By chance, St. Petersburg police were trying to identify the remains of a woman found buried near Interstate 275. Along with the skull and skeleton, investigators had found one breast implant, jewelry and a unique bikini, very similar to the one shown in the Polaroid of the beaten woman.
Police learned that in April 1989, Cheryl Ann Commesso left her family’s Brandon home to stay with friends. She hadn’t been seen since.
Police also learned that Floyd and his “daughter” had known Cheryl. In the photos of her beaten and brutalized, Cheryl appears to be lying on a pullout couch that looks like the sofa in Floyd’s mobile home in Pinellas Park.
Detectives Robert Schock and Mark Deasaro flew to Oklahoma to interview Floyd in jail. During the conversation, Floyd seemed aware that Cheryl’s Corvette had been found at an airport, a fact police had not disclosed.
“They’re talking about me being the last one to see her. That’s b-------,” Floyd says. “See, they know Cheryl moved around and stayed gone for days at a time. I know what she did them days at a time, where she went and who she went with.”
Floyd says he knows Cheryl was alive after he moved to New Orleans and was okay even after her car had been abandoned. He says he had “contact” with her, as well as the guy who killed her.
The killer probably kept a souvenir, he says. “Whatever’s in his possession is going to prove that he did it, okay?, because I know.”
Police investigators await results to determine whether forensic evidence can link Floyd to the old Polaroids. They are still looking for the video of the day Cheryl went to the beach with Floyd. The fire years ago destroyed the mobile home in Pinellas Park, leaving no way to tell if Cheryl was killed there.
Pinellas prosecutors have not decided whether to file murder charges in the case, which could be presented to a grand jury soon. The case may well turn on circumstantial evidence, such as other allegations against Floyd.
Investigators presume Michael is dead, though Floyd insists the boy is being raised by friends. His sister, who lives in the Tampa Bay area, has said Floyd called her from prison and admitted killing the boy. The alleged confession has not been substantiated, and Floyd denies ever saying such things to his sister.
Recently moved from an Oklahoma jail to a federal prison in Atlanta, Floyd expects to die behind bars and says he doesn’t have to help anyone.
“I’m not obligated to clear up any mysteries, see? I’m not obligated.”
By George Coryell and Stephen Thompson, published in the Tampa Tribune on Nov. 20, 1997
CLEARWATER — A photograph of Cheryl Ann Commesso found beneath a truck helps lead to the indictment of a man suspected of killing the Brandon teen.
More than 8 1/2 years after exotic dancer Cheryl Ann Commesso was killed, a Pinellas County grand jury has accused a man in federal prison of slaying her.
The jurors on Nov. 12 indicted Franklin Delano Floyd, 54, in the death of the 18-year-old Brandon woman, said Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe. Commesso’s skeletal remains were found in 1995, buried in a marsh alongside Interstate 275.
Police linked Floyd to Commesso’s death through evidence including photographs found beneath a pickup truck used by Floyd.
St. Petersburg police Detective Bob Schock and another detective traveled to the federal prison in Atlanta last weekend and told Floyd he was charged with first-degree murder.
Schock said Floyd became upset and repeated the story he’s always held to: He knows who’s involved but won’t tell.
In an interview with The Tampa Tribune in June, Floyd said, “I know what she was doing and who she was with, but I’m not going to snitch on anyone.”
After Commesso disappeared in March or April 1989, it was six years before a worker stumbled onto her skull beside the interstate, north of Gandy Boulevard. A nearly complete skeleton eventually was found.
It took more than a year for authorities to identify the remains. Eventually an FBI agent who had been tracking Floyd’s path suggested checking missing persons reports at the time Floyd was in the Tampa Bay area.
Floyd then was a federal fugitive living with a woman whom authorities believe he had kidnapped when she was 4 years old.
The woman, Sharon Marshall, and Commesso danced together at Mons Venus, an exotic dance club in Tampa.
In 1989, Floyd was 46 and Marshall was 20. During the two years they lived in the Tampa Bay area, Marshall had a baby with another man.
Though Floyd was passing himself off as Marshall’s father, he claimed to be the baby’s, too.
Detectives said Sharon Marshall was the last person seen with Commesso — in March 1989. Then, in mid-April, Commesso’s 1985 Corvette was found abandoned at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.
Floyd, Marshall and her son ended up in Oklahoma City. By 1990, Marshall was going to leave Floyd when she was struck and killed by a car that never was found.
Floyd is the prime suspect in his wife’s death, but has never been charged. The child, Michael Hughes, was put in foster care
Four years after the boy’s mother died, Floyd showed up at the child’s elementary school in Choctaw, Okla., and kidnapped the 6-year-old boy and the school principal at gunpoint. He handcuffed the principal to a tree and drove off with the boy in the principal’s pickup truck.
Authorities believe Michael was killed. Floyd has maintained Michael is living in another country.
Floyd is serving a 52-year federal sentence for the kidnapping.
Schock said when the principal’s pickup was recovered in Dallas, photographs were found beneath it. They showed Commesso being beaten in sexual positions, Schock said.
By Tim Roche, published Jun. 7, 1997 in the St. Petersburg Times
The remains of a young woman are found alongside Interstate 275 in Pinellas County. The bones have sunk into the marsh, her clothes ragged from years of mud and rain.
Identifying her would seem impossible. But in the two years since the discovery, the investigation has gone from complex to bizarre.
It is a story of a high school dropout who made friends, and a living, in nude bars between Tampa and Orlando.
One of those “friends,” it turns out, was a federal fugitive named Franklin Delano Floyd, a man who has been suspected of murder, kidnapping, stalking and numerous other charges.
“Without a doubt, Franklin Floyd is one of the most evil people I’ve ever met in my life,” Oklahoma prosecutor Lisa Hammond said Friday.
In the end, police say, Cheryl Ann Commesso may wind up being a bit player in a tragedy spanning several years, several states and several lives.
She may have died simply because of a friendship.
Franklin Delano Floyd grew up in Georgia with three sisters and a brother. The children were raised in an orphanage in Hapeville when the father died and the mother ran off.
At 19, Floyd kidnapped a 4-year-old girl from a Hapeville bowling alley. He was arrested but escaped a year later. He was arrested again after robbing a bank in Macon, Ga.
He served 10 years in prison, was released on parole and disappeared in 1973, the same year investigators say they think he abducted another 4-year-old girl.
Floyd has said he did not kidnap her. The girl, he said, was abandoned by her mother, a “drunk and drug addict” whose name he had forgotten.
The two moved about several states but by 1984 had settled in Atlanta. Floyd was going by the name Warren Marshall. His “daughter,” Sharon was enrolled at Forest Park High School in Clayton County.
Teachers remember Sharon as a popular teenager who excelled in school. She ran for junior class office and had glamour shots made for her poster.
Jennifer Tanner met Sharon at a camp for student council members in the Atlanta area. She still remembers calling Sharon at home after the camp, and a man who said he was Sharon’s father answered the phone. He was irate that someone had their home number.
“I just thought her Dad was just strict,” Tanner said.
He eventually allowed their friendship to grow, even though he discouraged boyfriends.
Once, Sharon called Tanner into her bedroom and showed her lingerie that she said her father had bought her. He was obsessed with Sharon, often taking photographs and talking about her beauty.
Though Sharon had won a scholarship to Georgia Tech, she became pregnant and ran off to Alabama to be with a boyfriend. The boyfriend woke up one morning to find a note from Sharon, saying her father had taken her away.
By April 1988, the Marshalls had moved to the Tampa area.
Sharon gave birth to a son, Michael. To support the family, she began working in adult clubs such as the Mons Venus in Tampa.
It was there she met Cheryl Ann Commesso. They were instant friends.
Commesso had moved to Brandon with her family when she was 8. At Brandon High School, she sang in the chorus and danced. In 1987, Commesso competed in the Miss Brandon Pageant.
A videotape shows her in a white swimsuit, walking almost hesitantly down the stage and staring blankly into the audience. During her senior year, relatives say, she dropped out and began to run away.
“She was a smart child,” said her aunt, Joyce Haughom of Tampa. “But you know kids get into things. . . . She wanted to grow up fast.”
She worked at the World Famous Doll House in Orlando, and her father helped her get a loan to buy a red Corvette. She made enough money working nude bars between Orlando and Tampa to pay for breast implants. She no longer was the shy teenager.
She wanted to pose for Playboy and other magazines, her mother, Lois Commesso, has said.
Her parents were estranged, but Commesso came back to Tampa to live with her father. One night in April 1989, she left his house, planning to spend the night with a friend. She promised to call in the morning.
Her Corvette was found abandoned, and her family reported her missing. Her mother called the Mons Venus, only to be told that her daughter may have gone to dance in Miami. The family did not believe it. She would never leave her Corvette, they said.
Within weeks of the disappearance, the Marshalls moved first to New Orleans, where they were married, and later to Tulsa.
He became Clarence Marcus Hughes. She was Tonya Dawn Tadlock.
Again, she worked as a dancer in adult clubs. She was always very secretive about her background, saying nothing except all of her relatives were dead.
In April 1990, she was walking to a motel outside Oklahoma City when she was struck by a hit-and-run driver. She never regained consciousness and died five days later. Her new husband was considered a suspect, but he had an alibi:
He had been back at the motel, waiting for her.
Her co-workers were concerned because she had told them she wanted to leave the man named Clarence Hughes. She had met a new boyfriend in the club, but she was afraid.
Investigators, still looking at the new husband as a suspect in the hit-and-run, discovered through fingerprint analysis that he actually was named Floyd, and had been a federal fugitive for 17 years.
Not long after Sharon’s death, Floyd was placed back on parole from 1973 federal charges. He gave Sharon’s young son, Michael, to state welfare officials. Blood tests later showed that Floyd was not the biological father.
Floyd began working as a maintenance man at an apartment complex. A woman who lived there returned home to find Floyd in the bushes. He emerged with a knife, cutting her as she tried to defend herself.
He was arrested. But a week before he was scheduled to appear in court for attacking the woman, Floyd had more important matters on his mind. One Monday afternoon in September 1994, he went to an elementary school in Choctaw, Okla., where young Michael was in first grade.
Wearing a rumpled suit, Floyd walked into the office of principal James Davis and announced he needed help getting his son.
“I think I’d better tell you I’ve got a gun in my pocket, and I’d better show it to you. . . . I’m ready to die, and if you don’t help me, you won’t live.”
Floyd left the school with the boy and the principal. He drove the principal’s pickup to woods, then cuffed the principal to a tree, not far from where Michael lived with his new foster parents.
In the nationwide search for Michael, investigators pieced together details of the strange life between Floyd and the boy’s mother. The FBI traced him to Texas and to Kansas, where the principal’s pickup broke down.
The mechanic repairing the truck later found a package taped to the gas tank. Inside were more than three dozen photos of a scantily clad girls. Several other photos showed a different young woman, who had been beaten, with parts of her body exposed.
In November, Floyd got a job as a used car salesman in Louisville, Ky. For weeks, he lived in a Victorian house. Neighbors noticed he always seemed to wear clothes from thrift stores. He could be heard walking in his apartment all night long.
He never mentioned a son. Instead, he talked incessantly about a daughter, who he said was a prostitute. He showed photos of her. Neighbor Terry Evans said he befriended Floyd until one night when Floyd wanted to stay in Evans’ apartment to watch a movie and refused to leave.
“He wanted to watch The Fugitive on TV,” Evans said. “It turns out he was a fugitive.”
He finally was arrested at the used car lot for kidnapping young Michael and his principal. The boy never has been found.
The next spring, in March 1995, Floyd had been returned to Oklahoma to stand trial.
Several thousands miles away in Florida, a landscaper was taking a break from clearing brush near Interstate 275 when he saw a skull near the fence, close to the Gandy Boulevard exit.
A team of detectives and forensic experts spent four days digging in thick roots and muck before finding 90 percent of a skeleton. They also found clothing, jewelry and a breast implant.
Detectives reviewed five years of missing person reports but found no leads. A forensic sculptor from Oklahoma used the skull to create a likeness of the victim. Nobody recognized her.
Then in 1996, the FBI had determined Floyd had been in the Tampa Bay area. They also realized the significance of the photos of the beaten woman. Investigators in St. Petersburg searched back yet another year and found Commesso had been reported missing. She had been a dancer.
Dental records confirmed the remains were Commesso’s.
Detectives went to Oklahoma to question Floyd, where he was sentenced to 52 yeas in federal prison on kidnapping charges, but still awaits trial on state charges. Floyd has denied being involved in the Commesso slaying.
Detectives aren’t so sure: Her bones were found at the freeway’s exit to Pinellas Park. She had been shot, and Floyd was known to use guns. Floyd likely was the last to see Commesso alive.
Commesso’s remains were returned late last year to her family in New York. Relatives in Tampa had a quiet memorial service.
“The family has put this to rest,” said her uncle, John Haughom. “We have closure.”
Information for this story comes from court files, police interviews and articles published in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution and the Courier-Journal in Kentucky.
WHO WAS SHE? In March 1995, a team of detectives and forensic experts spent four days digging amid thick cypress roots and sifting mucky soil beside Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg before finding 90 percent of a woman’s skeleton. A forensic sculptor later attached erasers and clay to the skull to recreate the likeness at left of the slain woman. A tip more than a year later help police finally identify the dead woman as Cheryl Ann Commesso.
CHERYL ANN COMMESSO had been missing for six years when her skeleton was found. She had lived in Brandon and was 18 when she became friends with Sharon Marshall. They worked together at an adult club in Tampa. She disappeared in April 1989.
SHARON MARSHALL likely was kidnapped as a young girl. She lived with Franklin Delano Floyd in Tampa Bay, working as an exotic dancer when she was a teenager. She later married Floyd, but was killed mysteriously by a hit-and-run driver in Oklahoma.
FRANKLIN DELANO FLOYD is accused of kidnapping a girl in the 1970s and living with her as father and daughter in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. IN 1988-89, he went by the name of Warren Marshall. He is now in prison in Oklahoma.
This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.