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‘Baby Holly’ found safe over 40 years after parents’ murder

Family are delighted Holly has been found safe and well, after she disappeared in the 1980s following her parents' brutal death

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Baby Holly, and Holly as she looks today. CREDIT: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

Baby Holly, and Holly as she looks today. CREDIT: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

Forensic artists created an age progression before Holly was found, showing what she may have looked like today, at the age of 42. CREDIT: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

Forensic artists created an age progression before Holly was found, showing what she may have looked like today, at the age of 42. CREDIT: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

Holly Clouse holds a picture of her murdered parents

Holly Clouse holds a picture of her murdered parents

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Baby Holly, and Holly as she looks today. CREDIT: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

Months after family members stopped hearing from Tina Gail Linn Clouse and Harold Dean Clouse Jr in late 1980, a German shepherd discovered a decomposed arm in eastern Harris County, Texas, and brought it home.

A subsequent search of the Houston-area property where the arm was found turned up the bodies of a young couple, the Houston Chronicle reported. It appeared that the man had been beaten to death and that the woman had been strangled.

For decades, the bodies went unidentified, until last year when DNA analysis identified the remains as those of the young Clouse couple. What puzzled their family members after the discovery, however, were the whereabouts of the couple’s infant, Holly, who had gone missing with Tina and Harold in 1980.

On Thursday, the Texas Attorney General’s Office announced that Holly, now 42 and a married mother of five, has been found living in Oklahoma, the Chronicle reported. She was adopted after being left at a church by two members of a nomadic religious group, officials said. Her adoptive parents are not suspected of any wrongdoing, according to investigators.

Officials with the Texas Attorney General’s Office notified Holly of her familial connection to the Clouses on Tuesday, the Chronicle reported.

“Finding Holly is a birthday present from heaven since we found her on Junior’s birthday,” Harold’s mother, Donna Casasanta, said in a statement, using a nickname for her son. “I prayed for more than 40 years for answers and the Lord has revealed some of it... we have found Holly.”

An investigation into Holly’s parents’ deaths is ongoing, officials said at a news conference Thursday.

The case highlights the high number of unsolved killings in the United States, First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster told reporters on Thursday. He said 270,000 murder cases have gone unsolved nationwide, including 20,000 cases in Texas. The Washington Post reported in 2018 that out of nearly 55,000 homicides committed across the country in a decade, only half resulted in an arrest.

In recent years, however, some cold cases have been cracked using a technique called genetic genealogy, which uses DNA and complex family trees to identify suspects and victims. Last week, Florida detectives said they used the technique to identify the skeletal remains of a woman they believe was killed decades ago by a notoriously brutal serial killer. And it was genetic genealogy that helped Texas investigators identify the bodies of the Clouses more than 40 years after their remains were found.

Tina and Harold met in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, fell in love and had Holly before borrowing Harold’s mother’s sedan and moving to Lewisville, outside Dallas, in 1980, the Chronicle reported. They kept up communication for a time, but that October, Casasanta stopped hearing from the couple, she told the paper.

A few months after this, members of Tina and Harold’s family received a call from a woman in Los Angeles identifying herself as ‘Sister Susan’, Webster said on Thursday. Sister Susan claimed Tina and Harold had joined a religious group, were giving up their possessions and wanted to cut off contact with their families. Sister Susan added that she had the couple’s car and would return it to Florida in exchange for money, Webster said.

The Chronicle reported that it was Casasanta whom Sister Susan contacted, and that she agreed to meet the mysterious woman at the racetrack in Daytona Beach, Florida, late at night. According to Webster, police were notified before the meeting.

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At the racetrack, Casasanta met three women dressed in robes who had her burgundy 1978 AMC Concord, the car she had loaned to her son. Officers took Sister Susan into custody that night, Webster said, though investigators said they could not locate a police report regarding the arrest.

Casasanta never heard from her son again. Harold and Tina were likely killed between December 1980 and January 1981, Webster said, not long before their bodies were discovered in the Houston area.

Like the women at the speedway, Webster said the women who left Holly at the church in Arizona also wore robes. They were barefoot and identified themselves as members of a ‘nomadic religious group’ that believed in ‘the separation of male and female members’, as well as a vegetarian lifestyle.

Webster added that investigators believe the group roamed around southwestern states, including Arizona, California and possibly Texas. The group was spotted in Yuma, Arizona, in the early 1980s, Webster said, noting the female members would sometimes be seen around town asking for food.

Holly’s path from the Arizona church to her adoptive family is unclear, and officials did not identify the family who raised her. After learning the identities of her birth parents, Holly is in contact with members of her biological family, officials said.

“It was so exciting to see Holly. I was so happy to meet her for the first time,” Holly’s aunt, Cheryl Clouse, said in a statement. “It is such a blessing to be reassured that she is alright and has had a good life.”

(c) 2022, The Washington Post

© Washington Post


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