In 1980, young couple Dean Clouse, 21, and Tina Linn, 17, moved from Florida to Texas with their new baby, Holly Marie, hoping Dean could find work as a carpenter in the Lone Star state.
The couple wrote home regularly, but in October, soon after they moved to Texas, those letters stopped. A few months later, People reported, the Clouse family “received a call from a stranger who said she was in Los Angeles and had information about Tina and Dean as well as a car — a 1978 two-door, red burgundy AMC Concord — she wanted to return in exchange for $1,000.”
Some family members traveled to Daytona Beach, Florida, where the car was located, and made contact with some purported members of a religious group, including a woman who referred to herself as “Sister Susan.”
“She stated that Tina and Dean had joined their religious group and no longer wanted to have contact with their families,” First Assistant Attorney General of Texas Brent Webster told People last week. “They were also giving up all of their possessions.”
Later, in January 1981, the remains of a man and woman were found in a heavily wooded area in Harris County, Texas. The man was bound, gagged, and beaten, while the woman was strangled. At the time, authorities couldn’t identify the remains, so they referred to them as “the Harris County Does.”
Three decades went by, without the Linn and Clouse families knowing what happened to their loved ones or Harris County knowing the identities of the remains. In 2011, the Harris County Medical Examiner’s office exhumed the bodies to retrieve DNA samples. The DNA showed that the remains were not related.
Misty Gillis, a senior forensic genealogist with Identifinders International, told People that she had been searching the Doe Network website for a case that was “a good fit for forensic genetic genealogy” when she found the Harris County Does.
“I was absolutely enamored with it because I thought it was like a love story,” she told the outlet. “This man and woman are found together, they’re similar age, you kind of start to think if they’re not related to each other, then what is the capacity they know each other? I wanted to know what the story was.”
Gillis and Allison Peacock, another forensic genetic genealogist and founder of FHD Forensics, teamed up to identify the remains with the help of a grant from audiochuck, true crime podcast producers. It took Gillis and Peacock just days to identify relatives of the remains.
“We were able to call [Dean’s] sister and find out, yes, he had been missing for 40 years, and he was married,” Peacock told People.
Clouse’s sister then asked Peacock if anyone had discovered what became of baby Holly.
“That was the biggest shock I’d ever had in my life,” Peacock told the outlet. “We were focused on finding them. It didn’t occur to us they would have had a child.”
It would be years before investigators discovered what happened to Holly Marie. In January, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the formation of a cold case task force to try to solve some of the state’s 20,000 unsolved murders. This task force began to look into Holly Marie’s disappearance, and just a few months later, found her alive and well, now 42 years old.
“Baby Holly has been located alive and well and is now 42 years of age. Holly has been notified of the identities of her biological parents and has been in contact with her extended biological family and they hope to meet in person soon,” Paxton’s office said in a statement on June 9.
People reported that investigators discovered that Holly had been left at an Arizona church in November 1980 by two women who were part of a nomadic religious group.
“They indicated the beliefs of their religion included the separation of male and female members,” Webster told the outlet, adding that the members were “practicing vegetarian habits and not using or wearing leather goods.”
Webster added that the family who ended up raising Holly were not suspects in her disappearance or parents’ murders. Authorities are still investigating those murders.
Meanwhile, Holly was able to meet her biological family in a video conference.