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Man of mystery knew them all

Three lives. Three mysteries.

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.

Especially the cops.

"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."

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."