The Mysterious Cult At The Center Of The 'Baby Holly' Case

Early in 1981, two barefoot women in white robes stood at the door of an Arizona church, holding an infant. They were there to hand the child over. After a brief conversation, in which the women implied they were members of a traveling religious sect, they left as mysteriously as they'd come. According to the BBC, the two women had apparently left another child at a laundromat nearby.

It was a bizarre story, but as NPR and other outlets have relayed, the sinister truth had yet to emerge. This child was Baby Holly, one of the most famous missing persons in recent American history. In January of 1981, a married couple, Harold and Tina Clouse, were found murdered in Houston, Texas. Harold had been beaten to death, Tina strangled (per NBC/WESH). Their infant daughter, Holly, was nowhere to be found.

In June of 2022, some 41 years later, the Texas attorney general announced that Holly had been found. She was living in Oklahoma, with five children. She had no idea who she really was.

A strange tale

The religious sect that brought Holly to the church in Arizona might have been involved in her parents' murder, in some obscure way. Sometime in late 1980 or early 1981, around the time the of the couple's disappearance, Tina Clouse's parents received a bizarre phone call. Per NPR, this woman called herself "Sister Susan." She had the Clouse's family car, she said, in Los Angeles, and wanted to return it. Asked how she could possibly have their car, Sister Susan said that the couple had joined her "religious group," and were giving up all their material possessions.

It was a creepy statement, but not beyond all possibility: the Clouses' respective families had apparently had no contact with them for two or three months. The family called the police, then made arrangements to meet Sister Susan. 

In the parking lot of the Daytona race track, in Florida, Tina Clouse's parents met "two or three women" and "possibly a man." The women wore white robes. Police took the women into custody, but no records can be found about the incident.

A sinister cult

The mystery of Baby Holly's whereabouts has finally been solved, but more riddles remain. Who were this strange cult? Did they kill Holly's parents? How did they know them before they died?

No name of this sect has appeared in either the Texas attorney general's press release or in the media, so we have to go on the accounts of witnesses, namely staff at the Arizona church where Holly turned up as a baby, and Tina Clouse's mother. As NPR and the BBC describe, the individuals in question seem to have been a small, nomadic operation, given that they brought Holly from Texas to Arizona and the family car (apparently) from California to Florida. They seem to be a mendicant order, if there's any truth in Sister Susan's claim that members must renounce their material possessions. The tenets of their religion were not clear, but seem to have included segregation of men and women, vegetarianism, and a taboo on leather. Their women, and perhaps their men, wore white robes and no shoes.

Was this a New Age sect inspired by Buddhism, with its rejection of possessions and compassion for animals (no meat, no leather)? Were their rules a bizarre misinterpretation of Old Testament law? Did they kill, and if so, why? And if the BBC story about the second baby at the laundromat is true, how many more victims remain undiscovered?