In a strange twist involving a barefoot nomadic religious group, the child of a slain Texas couple has been located more than 40 years after her parents’ violent deaths, state authorities said Thursday.
The new Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit with the Texas Attorney General’s Office made the announcement Thursday morning.
Holly Marie Clouse had last been seen by her family in late 1980. Her parents, Dean and Tina LinnClouse, were found slain in rural Houston on Jan. 12, 1981. Dean was beaten to death and his wife was strangled. Their child was not found with their remains, state officials said.
Law enforcement in three states joined the search, and Texas investigators ultimately found the child, now a 42-year-old woman.
“Finding Holly is a birthday present from heaven,” her grandmother Donna Casasanta said in a statement obtained by USA TODAY. “I prayed for more than 40 years for answers and the Lord has revealed some of it… we have found Holly.
“Thank you to all of the investigators for working so hard to find Holly. I prayed for them day after day and that they would find Holly and she would be alright.”
During a news conference in Austin Thursday afternoon, first Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster said the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children will pay for Holly to be united with her family.
“They hope to meet in person soon,” he told reporters.
A dog and a human arm
After a whirlwind romance and a pregnancy, the Clouses, ages 22 and 18 when they disappeared, were married in June 1979. Investigators believe they were killed in 1980 and said they had been living in Lewisville, Texas prior to their death.
In January 1981, a dog wandered into the woods and returned with a human arm in its mouth.
Years went by without the bodies being identified and without progress in the missing persons case.
Their bodies were exhumed in 2011 and Identifinders International, a California organization that performs genetic genealogy for law enforcement, decided to take on the case.
The agency tested the pair’s DNA and linked it to the bodies of the couple.
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Family learned the couple’s daughter was still alive and well and living in Oklahoma, where a family adopted her as a baby, the Houston Chronicle reported this week. Investigators walked into Holly’s workplace Tuesday and told her who she was.
The family that raised Holly are not suspects in this case, Webster said Thursday.
He said the investigation into the slaying of Holly’s biological parents as well as the circumstances that led to the girl’s disappearance remained open.
“After finally being able to reunite with Holly… I believe Tina’s finally resting in peace knowing Holly is reuniting with her family,” Sherry Linn Green, Holly’s aunt, said in a statement released by the family. “I personally am so relieved to know Holly is alive and well and was well cared for, but also torn up by it all. That baby was her life.”
Barefoot women dressed in white
According to new information released Thursday, Webster said, Holly was left at a church in Arizona and taken into their care.
Investigators said two female members of a “nomadic religious group” dropped baby Holly off at the church. The women wore white robes, were barefoot and indicated the beliefs of their religion included the separation of male and female members, practicing vegetarian habits and not using or wearing leather goods, Webster said.
“The women indicated they had given up a baby before at a laundromat,” Webster said.
Investigators believe the women and their group traveled around the southwest United States including Arizona, California and possibly Texas. Webster said there were sightings of the group in Yuma, Arizona in the early 80s where they were seen around town for asking for food.
Then around Jan 1981, Webster said, the victims’ families received a phone call from an unidentified woman who said she was calling from Las Vegas and wanted to return the Clouses’ car to their family. She said the couple had joined their religious group and no longer wanted to have contact with their families.
The woman asked for money in exchange for the car – a red 1978 2-door AMC Concord – and the family agreed to meet in Daytona, Florida where police took the women into custody, Webster said.
But because of the age of the case, Webster said, no police report has been located.
“We still are looking for suspects in this case.” Webster said Thursday. “This is an ongoing, pending criminal investigation.”
Anyone with information about their deaths or Holly’s disappearance is asked to contact the Texas Attorney General’s Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit at email@example.com.
Natalie Neysa Alund covers trending news for USA TODAY. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.