HOUSTON — Texas authorities on Thursday shed a little more light on how an infant whose parents were murdered in 1980 made it safely into the arms of an adoptive family.
Holly Marie Clouse vanished sometime before Jan. 12, 1981, when the decomposing bodies of her parents, Harold Dean Clouse Jr., 21, and Tina Gail Linn, 17, were found in a wooded area near Houston. Dean Clouse, who was still bound and gagged, had been beaten to death.
Linn had been strangled. The couple were estimated to have been killed in late December or early January.
It would take authorities more than 40 years to identify the newlyweds, who had moved from New Smyrna Beach, Florida, to the Houston area for work months before they were slain. When family members last received a letter in October 1980, they lived in Lewisville, a suburb of Dallas.
It was only after their bodies were identified this past December that authorities learned the couple had a daughter — and that she was missing.
That changed on Tuesday when Holly Clouse was found alive in Oklahoma, where she has been married for over two decades. She and her husband have children and grandchildren.
Clouse, now 42, has been reunited with her parents’ families via Zoom. Texas First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster said Thursday that the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has offered to fund an in-person meeting between Clouse and her birth family as soon as she is ready.
“When NCMEC spoke to her just before the announcement, she said she hopes to meet her biological family in person soon,” an NCMEC statement reads. “Although she realizes that so many people are interested in hearing more about her and her story, she is asking for privacy at this time.”
Authorities now turn their attention to how Clouse survived her family’s massacre, and who was responsible for her parents’ brutal murders.
“We’re asking for help from the public because we have yet to solve this particular crime,” Webster said at a news conference. “While we rejoice today that Holly has been found, and families that were looking for her for decades rejoice, we still are looking for suspects in this case.”
A religious cult?
On Thursday, Webster told reporters that before cold case investigators walked into her place of employment on Tuesday, Clouse knew nothing about her birth parents. Her adoptive parents, who are not suspected of wrongdoing, brought her into their family after two women abandoned the girl at a church in Arizona.
Webster said that the women told people at the church that they were part of a “nomadic religious group.”
“They were wearing white robes, and they were barefoot,” Webster said. “They indicated the beliefs of their religion included the separation of male and female members, practicing vegetarian habits and not using or wearing leather goods.”
The women also claimed to have once given up a child at a laundromat.
Webster said it is unclear how the women came to have Holly Clouse in their possession.
Watch Thursday’s news conference below, courtesy of U.S. News & World Report.
The description of the women who abandoned the baby mirrors the description of people Dean Clouse’s family encountered in December 1980 or January 1981, months after all communication from the young couple had ceased.
Dean Clouse’s mother, Donna Casasanta, told the Houston Chronicle earlier this year that the encounter began with a call from Los Angeles. According to Webster, the caller identified herself only as “Sister Susan.”
Sister Susan told Casasanta that her son and daughter-in-law had joined her religious group, renounced their possessions and wanted no further contact with their families. She offered to drive Casasanta’s burgundy 1978 AMC Concord, which Dean Clouse had planned to buy, back to Florida for $1,000.
Casasanta agreed and met a group of three women in robes, and possibly one man, one night at the Daytona Motor Speedway. The worried mother had contacted police, however, and the women were taken into custody.
Webster said no case file on the arrests could be found and it was unclear what happened to the women.
“Given the age of this case, that is common,” he said. “We’re still on the hunt for that police report.”
Casasanta had her car back, but her son and his family were gone.
The assistant attorney general said Thursday that members of the religious group in question had been seen in Arizona, California and possibly Texas.
“There were sightings of this religious group around the Yuma, Arizona area in the early 80s,” he said. “The women members would be seen around town at various points, asking for food.”
Webster urged members of the public with information about the group, or Dean Clouse and Tina Linn, to contact authorities.
“If you have any information regarding these murders, we ask that you come forward,” the prosecutor said. “Even if it’s a piece of information that may not be concrete evidence, we need to find pieces of the puzzle to solve this crime.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Texas Attorney General’s Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit at firstname.lastname@example.org or 512-936-0742.
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