How Investigators Found 'Baby Holly' 40 Years After She Disappeared

It's not very often that a 40-year-old missing child case concludes with a happy ending, but the story of Baby Holly is one of the exceptions. In 1981, a pair of bodies were found in the woods around Houston, Texas, and for just shy of four decades they remained unidentified. As years went on, forensic science advanced to the point that investigators could use genetic genealogy to finally identify the couple. According to ABC News, they were eventually determined to be Tina Gail Linn Clouse and Harold Dean Clouse Jr., a Florida couple who had not been seen since the fall of 1980.

With their identities finally uncovered, a new detail emerged. It was that the Clouses had an infant daughter, Holly, who was not found at the crime scene and was presumed missing. In 2022, the Texas Attorney General's office made a shocking announcement: that Baby Holly was alive.

The Clouses move west

According to the Houston Chronicle, Harold Dean Clouse was a good-hearted guy who made the occasional bad decision. Dabbling with drugs and joining a cult are just two examples. Another decision — not necessarily a bad one, but perhaps an impulsive one — was when he arrived home one day and announced to his family that he and his girlfriend, Tina Gail Linn, had just gotten married at the local courthouse. Not too long after the couple welcomed their daughter, Holly.

Harold decided to move his family from New Smyrna, Florida to Houston, Texas, where his bosses promised to hook him up with a job that paid well and where he could put his carpentry skills to use. They bought a car from Harold's mom and were off to Texas. Once there they wrote letters back home until they stopped in 1980, and the Clouses were never heard from again.

A few months after the letters stopped, Donna Casasanta — Harold's mother — got a call from a woman who called herself Sister Susan, per ABC News. She said that said she had the Clouses' car and would drive it to Florida from California for $1,000. Despite finding it to be highly unusual, Casasanta agreed and then contracted the police, who staked out the restaurant where she had agreed to meet the caller. That day, three women in religious-style robes emerged from her son's car. They said they couldn't answer questions about his whereabouts, but that he and his family had joined a religious group and that she wouldn't be hearing from them.

Two bodies are found in Houston and a baby in Arizona

Casasanta started her search for an answer, but was unaware — and remained unaware for decades — that two bodies had been discovered in a wooded area near Houston. The bodies belonged to a man who had been beaten to death and a woman who had been strangled. Police could tell upon finding the bodies in January 1981 that they had been there for some time, and determined that they had been dead for a few months (via the Houston Chronicle). Investigators still had no way to identify the bodies, and thus had no way of knowing that the couple also had a daughter.

Meanwhile, in Arizona two women dressed in white robes and walking around barefoot left a baby at a church. They claimed to be members of a nomadic religious group. They revealed that part of their belief system involved keeping male and female members separate from each other and not eating meat or wearing anything made from leather. The woman claimed that they had left another baby at a laundromat, per ABC News.

According to NPR, members of this group — which hasn't yet been identified by name — were spotted all over the southwest and were seen in Yuma, Arizona asking people for food earlier in 1980. It's also believed that the women who met Casasanta to return the car were taken into police custody upon their arrival, although there isn't any record of this. However, officials have said that the lack of records isn't unusual, considering the time gap.

Years without answers

Family members of the Clouses were left without answers for decades. "We always hoped for the best," Tina's brother Les Linn told the Houston Chronicle. "We pretty much thought they had joined this religious group and didn't want to have contact with us." Meanwhile, Casasanta said that she spent years staying vigilant, hoping that she just might catch a glimpse of her son, daughter-in-law, or granddaughter. Nothing ever.

Investigators did what they could to try to identify the couple, but were limited by the technological constraints of the era. One of the things they tried was having pastel drawings done of the bodies in hopes that someone would recognize them. One of the medical examiners working the case described the effort as "probably our last shot," but unfortunately, it didn't lead to identifying the Clouses, In the meantime, their families had them added to missing persons lists in hopes of spreading awareness.

The development of genetic genealogy has proven crucial to those investigating cold cases. It wasn't until 2021 that there were finally answers regarding the Clouses.

The bodies are finally identified

In 2021, a group out of California asked if they could test the bodies in hopes of finally identifying them. According to the Houston Chronicle, that group was Identifiers International, an organization that performs genetic genealogy on behalf of investigators. Despite the age of the remains, they were able to get a viable sample and uploaded it to a website that indicated similarities to people in Kentucky who just happened to be Harold Clouse's cousins.

Soon they were able to confirm that the bodies truly did belong to the Clouses, and notified the couple's family members to bring them some degree of closure. However, identifying the Clouses led to another major question: Where was Holly? The women in white robes who returned the car to Casasanta, and the women who dropped the baby off at the church in Arizona, helped the pieces fall into place. This led to the revelation that Holly was alive and well.

Baby Holly is found

In June 2022, the Texas Attorney General's office revealed in a statement that Baby Holly had been identified and that she is now 42 years old. According to the Houston Chronicle, Holly is now a mother of five with two grandchildren who lives in Oklahoma and has been married to her husband for over 20 years. While she was notified about the murders of her biological parents and her birth name, her current identity has not been revealed. The people who raised Holly are not considered suspects in the Clouses' murders (via ABC News).

After being notified, Holly was able to speak with her biological family members via Zoom, allowing for an emotional virtual reunion. "When I first seen her, I wanted just to grab her up and hug her," Donna Casasanta told The Independent. "Because I remember holding her when she was a little baby."