The Netflix documentary “Girl in the Picture” traces the twisting tale of a young woman whose body was found with a severe head injury on the side of an Oklahoma City road in April 1990. Not long afterward, she died in a hospital, leaving behind her two-year-old son.
But the end of her life is just the beginning of director Skye Borgman’s lurid and labyrinthine film. Working with editors Fernanda Tornaghi and Edward Wardrip, Borgman juggles a multitude of convoluted and often contradictory elements: decades-old documents; interviews with investigators, family and friends; yearbook memories and, yes, pictures. “Girl in the Picture” jumps around in time as it introduces new clues and players to provide perspective, but it’s consistently coherent and well-paced.
Given the shocking and sensationalistic nature of the subject matter, though, this probably should have been an episode of “Dateline NBC” or some other true-crime series. Aerial footage, reenactments, and some overlong and repetitive interviews fill the story out to feature length. And yet, it’s hard to shake the sensation of sadness that lingers afterward, as well as the unsettling reminder of the evil that exists in this world.
After Tonya Hughes died from her injuries at age 20, some of her fellow dancers at Passions strip club in Tulsa tried to contact her mother. What they learned from that call was that their deceased friend’s name was not actually Tonya Hughes. So, who was she? Getting to the bottom of that mystery has perplexed old pals and veteran investigators alike for decades.