Everything about this story continues to fascinate me.
How did investigators find Holly Marie Clouse?
It all came down to a question about spelling — and a birth certificate.
In January, genealogists identified the bodies of Harold Dean Clouse and Tina Gail Linn, a young couple murdered and whose bodies were dumped in the woods east of Houston back in early 1981.
It was a significant break in a decades-old cold case. But that discovery led to a question — what had happened to the couple’s infant daughter?
The answer would come much more quickly. Last week, six months after the identities of the couple were made public, officials from the Texas Attorney General’s Office announced they’d found Holly, safe and well, living in Oklahoma.
During a brief news conference on June 9, First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster provided some of the information officials had about what had happened to Holly, saying that two women who identified themselves as “members of a nomadic religious group” left Holly at a church in Arizona.
That meant the child hadn’t been killed alongside her parents and was probably still alive.
Making the connection between the meeting at the church and Holly’s present-day whereabouts in Oklahoma came down to a question about spelling, people familiar with the case said.
After two genealogists identified the remains found in east Harris County as belonging to Dean and Tina, authorities in Lewisville opened up a missing person’s case related to Holly. It would eventually include investigators in Houston, Florida and Arizona.
As investigators and genealogists continued digging back into the case, they weren’t sure of how to spell Holly’s name: relatives had spelled it both as “Hollie” and “Holly.”
That confusion prompted genealogist Allison Peacock and one of Holly’s aunts to request the (now-grown) woman’s birth certificate from the Florida Department of Vital Records.
Holly — whose last name has changed — has not yet spoken publicly about her experiences. Her adoptive parents are not suspects in her birth parents’ killings, authorities have said.
Peacock, one of the two genealogists who investigated the mystery of Dean and Tina’s identity, said the saga showed the importance of seeking out documents and reviewing the record.
“In our wildest dreams we couldn’t have had any idea Holly’s birth certificate was attached to a legal adoption,” she said. “And certainly that a quest for the proper spelling of Holly’s name — and being a stickler for details — would end up leading to her being found alive and well.”
While two mysteries related to the murders of Tina and Dean have been solved, significant questions remain unanswered: who killed them and what did the killers have to do with the baby being left at a church in Arizona? Or did other people rescue the child and take her to safety?
One significant avenue of investigation that cold case detectives are examining is the group whose members gave Holly up at the church and other contacts the slain couple might have had with a cult or religious group.
See here, here, and here for the background. It took awhile and some political muscle to wrest the birth certificate from Florida because it had an adoption record attached to it. That’s a subject that will deserve a longer examination in the future prestige podcast or HBOMax series that I seriously hope comes out of this. As to tracking down the murder suspects and the weird religious people that dropped Holly off at the church, I have no idea what the prospects are for that. But we’ve come this far, so who knows. I’ll be ready to read about it when the next chapter drops.