In March 1995, a Kansas mechanic purchased a used truck at an auction. When he started to restore it, he found a manila envelope taped to the gas tank. Inside the envelope were several photos of children being abused and women who were badly beaten. The man immediately called the police.
The man’s finding solved a number of decades-long cold cases and gave the world a look at the monster known as Franklin Delano Floyd. In 2001, Floyd was sentenced to death for the murder of Cheryl Ann Commesso. But as he sat on death row, Floyd’s crimes continued to come to light.
A Rough Start
Franklin Delano Floyd was the youngest child of Thomas and Della Floyd’s five children, born in Barnesville, Georgia. When Floyd was just a year old, his alcoholic father died from kidney and liver failure, leaving his mother to care for the family. Della and the children had to move in with her parents in their small apartment.
Unfortunately, caring for the large family was too difficult for Della’s parents, so they asked her to leave. Della couldn’t care for her children, and they were put into foster care as a result. Floyd claims he was bullied by the other children for being too “feminine.”
He Caused Trouble
Floyd started getting into trouble for fighting and stealing from an early age. The staff at the foster home were tough and punished him harshly. They once dipped his hand in hot water. Floyd hated it at the foster home, and his siblings left one by one as they each turned 18.
Two years after his last sibling left the house, Floyd ran away and broke into a nearby home to steal food. The foster home contacted his sister Dorothy, stating that criminal charges would not be pursued if she took custody of him. Reluctantly, she accepted Floyd into her home.
He Became a Drifter
His sister couldn’t handle him, so she kicked Floyd out of her house. He was alone and underaged, so he searched for his mom, only to learn that she had become a sex worker. Della couldn’t care for him, so she helped him forge legal documents allowing Floyd to enlist in the army.
The army soon realized that his papers were falsified and discharged Floyd. After being unable to find his mom again, Floyd became a drifter, traveling across the country. As he went from state to state, Floyd found ways to get himself into trouble and almost died along the way.
A Monster in the Making
When Floyd was 16, he broke into a Sears in California to steal a gun. The police quickly responded because he triggered the alarm, resulting in a shootout. Floyd was shot in the stomach and miraculously survived following emergency surgery. He was then sent to a youth institute.
Two years later, Floyd’s crimes started to escalate. In May 1962, he abducted a four-year-old from a local bowling alley and sexually assaulted her in the woods. He was convicted of kidnapping and assault, receiving a ten to twenty-year sentence at the Georgia State Prison. The state also sent him for psychiatric testing.
He Escaped Prison
While being taken out for a medical errand, Floyd escaped and fled to a nearby town, where he stole $6,000 from a bank. Floyd was convicted of robbery, and instead of going back to the Georgia prison, he was sent to a federal reformatory in Ohio.
He tried to escape again, so he was transferred to a higher security prison in Pennsylvania. Floyd attempted to take his life several times, so the state transferred him two more times, causing him to end up back at the Georgia State Prison in 1968.
On the Run
After being released in November 1972, Floyd was sent to a halfway house. Shortly after, he landed back in prison for groping and attempting to assault a woman at a gas station. Floyd convinced David Dial, a man he met in prison, to post his bail.
Dial agreed, and Floyd went on the run as a fugitive. However, a warrant was issued for his arrest when he failed to show up for his court date. Floyd assumed an alias and started a new life despite being a wanted man.
He Took the Kids
Under the name “Brandon Williams,” Floyd met Sandi Chipman in 1974 at a North Carolina truck stop. Chipman had four children from two previous relationships: Suzanne, Allison, Amy, and Philip. After only a month of dating, Floyd convinced Chipman to marry him and move to Texas.
The following year, Chipman was sentenced to 30 days in jail for writing bad checks. When she returned home, the house was abandoned, and her children were missing. “Brandon Williams” vanished without a trace and took her children with him.
Two Children Were Found
Chipman eventually found her two younger daughters at a children’s social services agency, but it was assumed that her young son had been adopted. Philip’s whereabouts remained unknown until 2019, when a man came forward believing he was Chipman’s missing son. A DNA test confirmed he was her missing child.
Meanwhile, there was no trace of Chipman’s oldest daughter Suzanne. Unbeknownst to her mom, Suzanne was living with Floyd. Not much is known about how the two lived undetected, but Floyd married Chipman’s eldest daughter in 1989.
She Wanted to Leave
She was only 20 when she married Floyd, and they had a son named Michael. Like Floyd, Suzanne used aliases, going by Tonya Dawn Hughes and Sharon Marshall. She worked as an exotic dancer. One of the other dancers saw how poorly Floyd treated Suzanne and encouraged her to leave.
Suzanne was tempted to flee, but Floyd threatened to kill her and their son if she ever tried to. He had joined the Fraternal Order of Police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, despite not being a cop, and said he would use his connections to track her down.
She Tried to Escape
Although he threatened her, Suzanne worked up the courage to leave Floyd. She had been having a secret relationship with Kevin Brown, and the two planned to take her son and leave. Unfortunately, her plans didn’t go well. The same month she left, Suzanne was in an accident.
About 100 miles outside Oklahoma City, Suzanne was found on the side of the road. It seemed she had been involved in a hit-and-run while walking back from a convenience store to a nearby Motel 6. She was rushed to the nearest hospital with a severe head injury.
Doctors noted that Suzanne was badly bruised from the accident, but she also had many other bruises that were older. The police assumed she was a victim of abuse but didn’t have much to go on. She remained unconscious, and her identity was unknown to authorities.
Clarence Marcus Hughes, aka Floyd, turned up at the hospital the following morning, identifying the still unconscious woman as his wife, Tonya Dawn Hughes. It raised suspicions because the woman was barely in her 20s, and the man was twice her age and greying.
He Made Up a Story
Floyd told authorities that they were staying at a Motel 6 because his wife had a doctor’s appointment in Oklahoma City. He said he must have been asleep when she went out for groceries. It was only hours later that he woke up to find her missing.
He said he heard what happened on the local news and rushed to the hospital to find his wife. The police believed the story and let him stay. A few days later, Suzanne (Tonya) finally began stabilizing. It looked like she might recover, but she passed away after a visit from Floyd.
He Didn’t Care
The doctors called Floyd to tell him his wife was dying, and he should come back. To everyone’s surprise, he didn’t return. They later called him to say his wife had died, and Floyd said he wasn’t going to have a funeral, so they should cremate her.
Alt An image of a female surgeon during a phone call.
It raised red flags, especially after how odd Floyd behaved when he was in the hospital. Some of Suzanne’s colleagues from the strip club came forward, saying that he was abusive towards her, and he most likely killed her. But there was no evidence.
They Couldn’t Connect It to Him
Suzanne’s autopsy didn’t reveal any signs that Floyd had done something to her while in the hospital. Additionally, his car didn’t have indicators that he had been involved in the accident. At the scene of the incident, the police found red paint chips and a radio antenna.
Floyd’s car wasn’t red, and it wasn’t missing an antenna. Unfortunately, the police couldn’t arrest Floyd for Suzanne’s murder without any hard evidence. All investigators had was that he acted strangely at the hospital and didn’t care that she died.
He Put Their Son in Foster Care
Suzanne’s boss and friends offered to pay and arrange a funeral. Floyd agreed as long as it was a closed casket because he didn’t want anyone to discover her true identity. While they planned the funeral, Floyd was busy putting their two-year-old son Michael in foster care.
Floyd told social services that his wife had just died, and he was a mess, unable to care for their son. He said he had no one to help and wanted to put his son in foster care for two weeks while he got back on his feet, but he would come back.
The Police Had Questions
Authorities showed up at Suzanne’s funeral and brought Floyd in for questioning about the birth certificate “Tonya” used to get her driver’s license. The police found that the birth certificate was fake and belonged to a toddler who had died years ago.
Floyd claimed he had no idea the certificate was fake, and, without evidence, the police had to let him go. He realized he needed to get out of town, so hours after Suzanne was buried, he called the insurance company to claim her life insurance policies.
He Messed Up
He had taken out two life insurance policies on Suzanne just two months before her mysterious death. Floyd stood to gain $80,000 and wanted his money. The insurance agent asked for Floyd’s social security money to process the claim, but he gave two fake numbers.
Floyd said he was confused because of his grief, so he tried again. Floyd’s third social security number worked, and he was told he would have his money soon. However, as soon as the call ended, the insurance company contacted the FBI.
His Identity Was Revealed
The third social security number Floyd gave to the agent was his actual number. The computer showed that the number belonged to Franklin Delano Floyd, a wanted man. Floyd knew he messed up and had to leave immediately. He started making plans to skip town.
Floyd called social services to get his son back, but the foster family had flagged several concerning issues. Michael had limited muscle control, was non-verbal, and was prone to severe outbursts. Social services said Floyd couldn’t take his son until they conducted an investigation.
He Got Caught
Floyd didn’t get far when he left town. Perhaps in a panic and unable to think clearly, he went back to where he was born in Georgia. The police tracked him down and arrested him after looking for Floyd for 18 years.
Instead of trying to escape, Floyd worked to get his son back. He got himself a lawyer to fight the custody battle, promising the judge and social services that if he got out, he would get a job, turn his life around, and be a better father.
Not the Father
Sympathetic to his situation, the judge agreed, granting Floyd supervised visits with Michael under the condition that he take a paternity test. Floyd refused, but he was given little choice. The court conducted the test, which showed that Floyd wasn’t Michael’s biological father.
The supervised visits stopped immediately, and Michael’s foster parents decided to adopt him. Floyd didn’t want to accept this and planned to fight the decision when he got out of prison. Despite being on the run for 18 years, Floyd got out of jail 33 months later.
He Fought for His Son
As soon as he got out of jail, Floyd started fighting to regain custody of Michael. Although he wasn’t his biological father, his parental rights were reinstated. Michael’s adoptive parents tried to fight the ruling, but Floyd wasn’t going anywhere.
Floyd got an apartment and a job but couldn’t keep up with his rehabilitation. In July 1994, he was found going through a woman’s underwear drawer, holding a knife. She walked in on him, and Floyd attacked her. Luckily, her boyfriend returned, and Floyd was arrested.
His Last Resort
After his arrest, Floyd lost his job, home, and parental rights. Unbelievably, Floyd was granted bail again. Not being one to behave himself on bail, Floyd showed up at Michael’s school on September 12, 1994. He had lost hope of getting his son back legally, so this was his last resort.
Floyd told Principal James Davis that he was there to pick up his son. Davis knew Michael’s adoptive parents, so he was confused by Floyd. Davis invited Floyd into his office, and whatever he had planned didn’t work.
As soon as he was in Davis’s office, Floyd pulled out a gun and ordered him to get Michael from class. Not wanting to risk the lives of other children, Davis complied. However, Floyd wasn’t done with the principal. He forced Michael and Davis outside and into his car.
Floyd ordered Davis to drive them to a secluded area where he tied the principal to a tree and duct-taped his mouth. Floyd drove off in Davis’s truck with Michael. Meanwhile, Davis managed to get the tape off and screamed for help. He was found and called the police.
A New Mystery Uncovered
Michael’s adoptive parents knew Floyd wanted his son more than anything, so they thought the little boy would be safe. In the meantime, the authorities tracked down anyone who knew Floyd. One of the people they contacted showed the police a picture of Floyd, whom he knew as Trenton Davis.
In the picture, Floyd had a little girl on his lap. The man told the police that the girl was Floyd’s daughter, Suzanne. The police noticed the girl’s resemblance to Michael, and realized the girl was the woman they knew as Tonya, Floyd’s wife, who died from a hit-and-run.
It Raised More Questions
The police were dumbfounded because the girl in the photo couldn’t have been older than six. It made them question the identity of the woman. Was she Floyd’s wife or his daughter? Based on the photo, she would have been conceived when he was in jail.
There was no record that Floyd had children. The police wondered how Suzanne ended up with Floyd, but there wasn’t a missing child report matching her description. All they knew was that she died at the age of 20 in the hospital under the name Tonya Hughes.
A Breakthrough in the Case
Despite the new finding about Suzanne, the police remained focused on finding Michael. After six weeks, the police made a breakthrough because Floyd made a mistake. He didn’t know authorities had discovered all his aliases and he tried to renew an old ID number for Warren Marshall.
He used the ID number to acquire a Florida driver’s license. He gave the DMV his new address in Louisville, Kentucky, and the DMV alerted the FBI. Floyd was swiftly arrested, but Michael wasn’t with him. There was no sign that he had been with a child.
No Sign of Michael
The police had to work fast to find Michael. They discovered that a week after Floyd kidnapped Michael, Floyd was in Atlanta, Georgia, where he checked himself into a mental hospital. He told the doctors that his wife and son had died, and he was broken.
Floyd checked himself out after eight days in the hospital and bought a one-way ticket to Kentucky. He only purchased one ticket, so the police didn’t know what had happened to Michael. There were eight days unaccounted for when he had done something with his son.
He Denied Everything
When questioned, Floyd initially said he hadn’t taken Michael. He told the FBI that the Mafia had taken him because they were after Floyd and kidnapped his son. The story didn’t hold up because Floyd soon admitted that he took Michael to protect him.
Floyd said he gave Michael to a friend in another country and was finishing getting his passport so he could join his son. He refused to say where his son was, insisting he was safe. The police refused to believe this, but there was nowhere for Floyd to leave Michael.
Where Was Michael?
The authorities’ worst fears came true after Floyd called his sister Dorothy, admitting he drowned Michael when he refused to say, “I love you.” In January 1995, the police found a car Floyd had stolen the week before he checked himself into the mental hospital.
They used cadaver dogs to search the car, and the dogs picked up a scent in the trunk. Unfortunately, there was no forensic evidence. It wasn’t enough to prove that Michael was dead, but they had enough to charge him for kidnapping.
Floyd Was Found Guilty
Floyd defended himself, stating Michael was his son, and he had parental rights to take him. However, the argument didn’t hold up in court. He was found guilty of kidnapping and received a 55-year sentence. The judge couldn’t sentence him to life because there was no proof Floyd murdered Michael.
However, Floyd’s story wasn’t over. The police still needed to figure out Tonya, aka Suzanne’s identity. They had some luck after Principal Davis’s car was found in Dallas in October 1994. There was no evidence inside, so the car was sold at an auction.
A Mechanic’s Discovery
While it might have seemed like a dead end, the police were about to have a breakthrough. A mechanic from Kansas purchased the car and planned to fix it up. However, as he started to work, he found an envelope taped to the gas tank with 97 horrifying pictures.
Most of the photos were of children being abused and a few of a young woman being bound and beaten. The mechanic called the police to turn over the photos. Miraculously, the photos included images of Suzanne as a child and teenager in suggestive positions.
He Said He Was Framed
Floyd claimed he was framed and refused to reveal “Tonya’s” true identity when confronted with the images. He always claimed he never touched Suzanne or sexually abused her. However, the photos proved that he was with her during her adolescence and probably abused her.
Since Floyd wouldn’t give the police any information about the woman they called Tonya, authorities started focusing on the identity of the other young woman in the photos. Given the severity of the beating in the photos, police concluded that she must have died during the photoshoot or shortly after.
The Mystery Woman
Although Floyd wasn’t explicitly in the pictures, the police got a few clear shots of a thumb and matched it to Floyd. Now that they knew Floyd was with this mystery woman whom they presumed was dead, the police needed to figure out who she was.
As there were so many missing women, the police decided to distribute photos of the unknown woman to authorities in the towns where Floyd had lived. The FBI started by speaking to authorities in Florida, but they didn’t find anything until skeletal remains turned up in March 1995.
It Matched the Photo
When the Florida authorities found the remains, they immediately recognized the jewelry and bikini from Floyd’s photos. In addition to the bikini and jewelry, the wound on the woman’s face in the picture matched the facial injuries of the skeleton they found.
Based on her dental records, the police then identified the woman as Cheryl Ann Commesso. Commesso had gone missing in 1989 in the same area where Floyd lived. But what was the connection between the two? All the information soon came spilling out when they learned more about Commesso.
The Story Unravels
In 1989, 18-year-old Commesso had been working at a strip club in Tampa. The same year, “Sharon Marshall” (Suzanne) also started to work there. According to the other employees, Sharon had just moved to the area with her dad, Warren Marshall, one of Floyd’s aliases.
Everyone remembered Sharon being a hard worker, but she started coming to work covered in bruises. She confided in her co-workers that her father was abusive, and he made her work there. The girls told her to run away or tell the police, but she was too afraid.
They Started Dating
Sharon’s co-workers were uncomfortable because her father would show up at the club to watch his “daughter” dance. The owner banned him from the club. Despite the weirdness, Commesso got involved with Warren and started dating him.
One night, Warren hit Commesso when they were taking a boat ride. She was so scared that she jumped into the water to get away from him. Commesso turned Warren in for benefit fraud, because Sharon was earning money and not disclosing it so they could get welfare.
She Went Missing
In March 1989, Warren and Sharon’s (Floyd and Suzanne) benefits had been cut due to a pending investigation. Warren knew Commesso turned him in, and the two got into a fight in the strip club’s parking lot. Two weeks later, Commesso went missing.
Commesso’s friends and family assumed she went on a trip because that was something she had done before. In May 1989, Commesso’s family realized she was missing because her car was found abandoned. Meanwhile, Floyd and Suzanne ditched their identities and skipped town.
Connecting the Dots
The police already knew Floyd’s various aliases, so once they heard the story about Commesso, they were able to trace Floyd’s connection to her. In November 1997, Floyd was further indicted for the first-degree murder of Commesso, but he was declared incompetent.
Surprisingly, Floyd fought this because he was furious at the idea of being declared “crazy.” Therefore, in September 2002, he went to trial for the murder of Commesso. Floyd refused to let his defense attorneys use the argument of mental incapacity even though it would have saved him from the death penalty.
It Was All a “Setup”
Floyd argued that everything was a setup. He said the FBI edited the photos and that he was being framed. But after just four hours of deliberation, the jury found Floyd guilty, and he was sentenced to death.
Floyd is currently on death row at a prison in Florida. He will likely die before he is executed. While most people might think his story ends there, it doesn’t − because the identity of Tonya/Sharon/Suzanne was still unknown to authorities. The police were certain Floyd kidnapped her as a child.
He Led Them to Chipman
Many families with missing people were DNA tested to find a match for Suzanne, but none of them matched. However, in 2014, Floyd said he wanted to talk about “Tonya.” He told the FBI to find Sandi Chipman, with whom he had been in a relationship.
When the FBI found Chipman, she said the little girl in the photos was her daughter Suzanne, not Tonya. She also said the man in the picture (Floyd) was her ex-husband, whom she knew as Brandon Williams. Chipman said Floyd kidnapped her daughter in 1975.
She Told Them Her Story
Chipman told the authorities that Floyd had disappeared while she was in prison, and she only found two of her children. The police thought it was a bizarre story, but DNA testing confirmed that Chipman was telling the truth. They finally figured out who Suzanne was.
The police realized that Floyd had fled with Suzanne to Oklahoma and enrolled her in school as Suzanne Davies. He said she was his daughter. A few years later, her babysitter reported Floyd after suspecting he was abusing Suzanne, causing him to disappear and change their names.
Suzanne Was a Bright Girl
Floyd and Suzanne moved to Arizona and then Kentucky. Despite how hard her life had been with the sexual abuse, constant moving, and being kidnapped by Floyd, Suzanne excelled in school. She was incredibly smart, earning a full scholarship to Georgia Tech to study aerospace engineering.
Unfortunately, during her last year of high school, Suzanne got pregnant, and Floyd made her turn down her place at Georgia Tech. He wanted her to give the baby up for adoption, but she tried to run away with the baby’s father. Floyd found her and brought Suzanne back.
She Had a Daughter
Suzanne gave birth to a baby girl, and Floyd arranged an informal adoption for $10,000. He then took Suzanne to Arizona, where she got pregnant again. This time it was with Michael, and she kept it, but Floyd didn’t want the baby’s father, Gregory Higgs, near them.
Floyd once again made Suzanne move. They went to Florida (where he killed Commesso) and then to Oklahoma. Suzanne had enough of Floyd and dreamt of a normal life. After meeting Kevin Brown, she became pregnant again. He knew she was terrified of Floyd, so he tried to help her escape.
She Died Too Soon
Before Suzanne and Brown could run away, she gave birth to their daughter. Again, Floyd forced her to give the baby up for adoption. Shortly after, Suzanne was killed by the mystery car. After all these years, police still suspect that Floyd killed Suzanne, even without evidence.
The police believe Suzanne had finally left Floyd, so he hunted her down, stole a car, hit her, dumped the car, and pretended he was with her for a doctor’s appointment. The authorities have never solved this part of the mystery because there isn’t any physical evidence.
He Finally Told the Truth
Although Floyd never told the truth about Suzanne, he finally shared what happened to Michael. In 2013, the FBI took over the cold case of Michael’s disappearance and reopened the investigation. A year later, Floyd finally confessed to murdering Michael.
He said he shot Michael because his son no longer loved him. Floyd told the FBI that he buried his son on Interstate 35. On the day Floyd said he killed Michael, someone called the police describing a suspicious man with a young boy at an Oklahoma interstate truck stop.
He Was Never Found
Unfortunately, Michael’s remains were never found. Police believe wild hogs ate his body shortly after Floyd buried him. Michael has been missing for 28 years, and the authorities never found evidence to put the case to rest. They only had Floyd’s confession.
Today, Floyd remains on death row, and he is 78 years old. While we may never know what truly happened to Suzanne, at least there was partial closure to her case. Luckily, Floyd is behind bars and will never see the light of day again.