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Girl in the Picture review – the extent of the atrocities of real crime will make you ponder | Television

Girl in the Picture, Netflix’s new documentary about true crime, is a challenge to director Skye Borgman’s own crown. In 2017, she created Abducted in Plain Sight, a story about long-term abuse and kidnapping, not once but twice, by Jan Broberg of his parents’ friend and neighbor Robert Berchtold. In a crowded field, the bizarre in the almost incredible story still stood out. If it had been a novel, you would have thrown the book aside as a work of a fool in a fever dream.

But the story behind Girl in the Picture is, if anything, even sadder and stranger, as it tracks the mystery behind a seemingly simple hit-and-run affair. In Oklahoma, a 20-year-old woman is found, groceries scattered around her, next to a road, and dies from her injuries – which, it is noted by staff, are quite different from those you would expect to find in a car accident victim – in hospital shortly after . Her much older husband, Clarence, is under suspicion, and their two-year-old son Michael is placed with a foster family. The deceased is identified as Tonya Hughes and her mother is called. When she answers, she tells them that her daughter died as a child.

The foster family keeps Michael for four years, and starts adoption procedures after two. Clarence – “the bad man”, Michael calls him – fights against them for custody every step of the way. Shortly afterwards, a paternity test confirms that Michael is not his biological child, and the parents’ rights are terminated, Clarence kidnaps Michael from school and the couple disappears.

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We hear how FBI agent Joe Fitzpatrick is brought in to try to track them down, and discover that an attempt to claim Tonya’s life insurance was made by someone named Franklin Floyd. He pulls that thread, and a 20-year network of deceptions begins to unravel. Clarence is Floyd, a convicted felon (including a charge of kidnapping and abusing a four-year-old girl) and a refugee since 1973.

As the story unfolds, we learn that it takes longer to trace Tonya’s true identity. At first glance, it looks like she’s Sharon Marshall. Women who were friends with her in high school recognize her as the charming, “super-smart,” ambitious teenager with a full scholarship to Georgia Tech and plan to become an aerospace engineer they all knew by that name. They also remember Sharon’s weird, strict father. And one of them remembers raping Sharon while she was lying next to her during a rare overnight stay at the Marshall home. Sharon comforted her afterwards. “Dad is just like that. I’m OK, you’re OK, just let it go. “And then her friend told no one but Joe Fitzpatrick, when she recognized her poor, abused friend’s face on the news decades later – as well as” Tonya’s much older husband. More threads drawn, more misery revealed, more murder, more aliases, more abuse, and towards the end you are whirling with the extent of the atrocity that was revealed.

The picture referred to in the title is of six-year-old Sharon sitting on her father’s knee with an expression that is indescribable except to say that it should never be seen on a child’s face. Borgman’s greatest service to history is to keep the victims at the center – something all modern documentaries claim to do, but which very few really, as here (and in Abducted in Plain Sight), succeed in doing. It was felt in the end that every effort had been made to restore Suzanne Sevakis – Tonya / Sharon’s real name – to us, and to the record, and that the person who made it necessary was only there as a distasteful but inevitable part of her story. I have never seen a film that is less thrilling for a perpetrator, never seen a production succumb to the lure of the perpetrator. Maybe it’s a sign that we need more of these documentaries made by women, or maybe just a sign that we need more of them made by Borgman.

The girl in the picture is a nice and valuable addition to a genre that collectively if inadvertently asks the question: what could have been done with all the lives, with all the joy and energy stolen by these men, who think they have the right to take what they want, use it and destroy it? What can we all do in a world free of them, lived from the shadows they cast? And how do we get there?

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