HOUSTON — Texas authorities shed some more light Thursday on how a child whose parents were murdered in 1980 came to safety in the arms of an adoptive family.
Holly Marie Clouse disappeared sometime before Jan. 12, 1981, when the decomposing bodies of her parents, 21-year-old Harold Dean Clouse Jr. and 17-year-old Tina Gail Linn, 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. It is estimated that the couple were 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, Fla., to the Houston area for work months before they were killed. When the family members last received a letter in October 1980, they were living in Lewisville, a suburb of Dallas.
It was only after their bodies were identified last December that authorities learned the couple had a daughter – and she was missing.
That changed on Tuesday when Holly Clouse was found alive in Oklahoma, where she has been married for more than two decades. She and her husband have children and grandchildren.
>> Baby Holly Clouse missing in Texas found alive more than 40 years after the murder of her parents
Clouse, now 42, tracked down 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 biological family as soon as she is ready.
“When NCMEC spoke to her just before the announcement, she said she hoped to meet her birth family in person soon,” read a statement from NCMEC. “Although she realizes that so many people want to know more about her and her story, she is requesting confidentiality at this time.”
Authorities are now turning their attention to how Clouse survived the massacre of his family and who is responsible for the brutal murders of his parents.
“We are asking for the public’s help as we have yet to solve this particular crime,” Webster told a news conference. “As we rejoice today that Holly has been found, and the families who have been looking for her for decades rejoice, we are still looking for suspects in this case.”
A religious cult?
On Thursday, Webster told reporters that before cold case investigators entered his workplace on Tuesday, Clouse knew nothing about his birth parents. Her adoptive parents, who are not suspected of wrongdoing, brought her into their family after two women abandoned her at a church in Arizona.
Webster said the women told people at the church that they were part of a “nomadic religious group”.
>> Read more trending news
“They were wearing white robes and they were barefoot,” Webster said. “They indicated that the beliefs of their religion included the separation of male and female members, the practice of vegetarian habits and the prohibition of using or wearing leather goods.”
The women also claimed to have once abandoned a child in a laundromat.
Webster said it’s unclear how the women came to have Holly Clouse in their possession.
Watch Thursday’s press conference below, courtesy of US News & World Report.
The description of the women who gave up the baby mirrors the description of the people Dean Clouse’s family met in December 1980 or January 1981, months after all communication from the young couple had ended.
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 himself 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 back to Florida, which Dean Clouse had planned to buy, for $1,000.
Casasanta agreed and met a group of three women in dresses, and possibly a man, one night at Daytona Motor Speedway. The concerned mother had however contacted the police and the women were taken into custody.
Webster said no records of the arrests could be found and it was unclear what happened to the women.
“Given the age of this case, that’s common,” he said. “We are still looking for that police report.”
Casasanta got 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 in the Yuma, Arizona area in the early 1980s,” he said. “Female members would be seen around the city at various locations asking for food.”
>> Read more true crime stories
Webster urged members of the public with information about the band, 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 though this is 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 [email protected] or 512-936-0742.
©2022 Cox Media Group