HOUSTON — Holly Marie Clouse has her mother’s smile.
Until recently, the 42-year-old, now known by another name, had no way of knowing about that resemblance, or about the family from which she came. As an infant in Florida in 1980, Holly was barely a year old when her parents, newlyweds Harold Dean Clouse Jr. and Tina Gail Linn, uprooted their small family and headed to Texas for a job opportunity.
The couple settled in Lewisville, a Dallas suburb, but just a few months later, their families stopped hearing from them. The Clouse and Linn families never saw them again.
The trio’s whereabouts remained a mystery until late last year, when genealogists from Identifinders International used DNA and genetic genealogy to identify a pair of bodies found in Harris County woods in January 1981 as the missing couple.
Dean Clouse, called “Junior” by his mother, and Linn had been murdered.
Baby Holly was nowhere to be found.
Last year’s discovery, which was announced by authorities in January, launched extensive efforts to learn what had happened to Holly.
On Wednesday, the Texas Attorney General’s Office announced that Holly has been found alive and well in Oklahoma. Mindy Montford, senior counsel for the AG’s office, and Detective Craig Holloman, with the Lewisville Police Department, located her Tuesday at her place of employment.
Holly, now a mother of five and grandmother of two, was found on what would have been Clouse’s 63rd birthday, according to KHOU.
In a photo, Holly smiles broadly while holding a photo of herself, as an infant, with her slain parents. Hours after detectives located her, she had made contact with relatives on both sides of her birth family via a virtual meeting.
“Finding Holly is a birthday present from heaven since we found her on Junior’s birthday,” Holly’s grandmother, Donna Casasanta, said in a statement. “I prayed for more than 40 years for answers, and the Lord has revealed some of it. We have found Holly.”
No information about Holly’s childhood or the people who raised her has been released. The criminal investigation into the murders of Clouse and Linn, as well as the abduction of their daughter, is ongoing.
Authorities had a news conference scheduled for Thursday afternoon to offer more information.
Her grateful loved ones thanked the Texas Attorney General’s Office’s Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit, as well as other law enforcement agencies in Texas, Florida and Arizona for the work they put in to find Holly.
They also thanked Misty Gillis, senior forensic genealogist for Identifinders International, and Gillis’ former colleague, genealogist Allison Peacock. Peacock is the founder of Family History Detectives, or FHD Forensics.
“Allison is forever our angel in helping us through this whole heartbreaking experience,” Casasanta told KHOU.
Gillis and Peacock told the Houston Chronicle they were amazed to see how much Holly looks like her mother.
“It was extremely surreal, to see her,” Peacock said. “To see what she looks like. To see her mother reflected in her face.”
“I cried during the whole thing,” Gillis admitted.
Peacock credited Casasanta and the rest of Holly’s family with keeping faith that they would someday find the missing woman.
“They’ve spent the past six months with me digging through records, gathering photos for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s age progression portrait, and documenting memories of Holly and her parents in an effort to help law enforcement,” Peacock said. “What matters is that Holly was found happy and alive and now knows she has a huge extended family that has loved her for decades.”
Hope for Holly finally realized
Clouse and Linn, who married in June 1979, left their New Smyrna Beach home for Texas so Clouse could pursue carpentry work. At the time, Clouse was 21 and Linn was 17.
“Soon after, the couple’s car was returned to the family by a stranger, who led them to believe the couple had joined a religious group and no longer wanted contact with the family,” a January news release stated.
On Jan. 12, 1981, a dog in north Harris County returned home with a gruesome trophy: a human arm. The dog led authorities to a wooded, undeveloped area off Wallisville Road, where they found the decomposing body of a woman who had been strangled.
Nearby was the body of a man. He had been beaten to death and was still bound and gagged when he was found.
The Houston Chronicle previously reported that the couple’s faces were recognizable, and a Harris County forensic artist drew composite images of the pair. They remained unidentified, however, and no arrests were made in their deaths.
Meanwhile, in Florida, Casasanta reported her son missing. Police shrugged off the couple’s disappearance, “excus(ing) the disappearance with them leaving with the cult,” she told USA Today.
Linn’s family also reported her missing.
“We always hoped for the best,” Linn’s brother, Les Linn, told the Chronicle. “We pretty much thought they had joined this religious group and didn’t want to have contact with us.”
Both families spent agonizing days, then months, then years, awaiting some word on Clouse, Linn or Holly.
“I spent years waiting to get a call from my son or calling police stations each time a new male body was found,” Casasanta said. “I spent years with my chest on fire, just waiting.”
In 2011, the case made some headway when authorities exhumed the bodies and obtained DNA from the skeletal remains. At that time, forensic anthropologist Dr. Jennifer Love, known as “Dr. Bones” for her work in the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office, was able to give the Chronicle some tidbits of information about the pair.
Both had “beautiful teeth,” Love told the paper. The teen girl wore her light brown hair in a ponytail and had a habit of biting her fingernails.
They were estimated to have died around New Year’s Day 1981.
Meanwhile, two families in Florida continued to await word on the couple and their daughter, who by 2011 was 31 years old.
The next time Clouse’s sister, Debbie Brooks, received word about her brother, it was from Gillis and Peacock. The women called Brooks with an odd question back in October 2020, according to the Chronicle.
Did Brooks have a missing relative?
Yes, Brooks responded. Her eldest brother had been missing for four decades.
“We believe we found him,” Gillis said, according to the newspaper.
Gillis did the bulk of the genealogy work, which was funded last year by the media company behind the true-crime podcast Crime Junkie, in under two weeks, Identifinders International said in January. Gillis worked closely with Peacock to identify the couple.
Clouse was identified within 10 days of Gillis taking on the case. She and Peacock were able to identify Linn after learning Clouse’s wife was also missing.
It was unclear Thursday morning exactly how authorities tracked down Holly.
The Chronicle reported that cold case investigators are trying to determine who gave her up for adoption as an infant.
“The very first thing that ran through my head when we heard Holly was found was the call that I got eight months ago from Allison about my sister’s death,” Les Linn said in a statement. “The juxtaposition of that call with Holly’s sudden discovery just popped into my head.
“To go from hoping to find her to suddenly meeting her less than eight months later — how miraculous is that?”
Clouse’s sister, Cheryl Clouse, said she was thrilled to meet her niece for the first time.
“It is such a blessing to be reassured that she is all right and has had a good life,” Clouse said. “The whole family slept well last night. The Hope for Holly (DNA) Project was a success thanks to Mindy and her team.”
Peacock and FHD Forensics established the Hope for Holly DNA Project to not only locate her, but to also assist other women who believed they might be Holly find out who they really are.
Sherry Linn Green, Holly’s maternal aunt, said she is relieved her niece is alive and well, but torn by the fact that her sister missed out on watching her grow into a woman. Green said she dreamed of her sister Tuesday night after meeting Holly online.
“In my dream, Tina was laying on the floor, rolling around and laughing and playing with Holly like I saw them do many times before when they lived with me prior to moving to Texas,” Green said. “I believe Tina’s finally resting in peace knowing Holly is reuniting with her family.”
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children also issued a statement upon Wednesday’s announcement.
“At the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, we know that with advancements in technology and the hard work and dedication of law enforcement, we can get answers even after four decades,” John Bischoff, vice president of the center’s Missing Children Division, said. “We are thrilled that Holly will now have the chance to connect with her biological family who has been searching for her for so long.
“We hope that this is source of encouragement for other families who have missing loved ones and reminds us all to never give up.”
Anyone with information about the murder of Dean “Junior” Clouse and his wife, Tina Linn Clouse is asked to contact Sgt. Rachel Kading at the Attorney General’s Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit. Kading can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 512-936-0742.
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