Baby Holly case: Genetic genealogist who helped ID murdered Texas couple explains how she cracked the case

In 1980, a young couple moved from Florida to Texas with their infant daughter, Holly Marie, before they vanished.

The last time family and friends of Harold "Dean" Clouse Jr., 21, and Tina Gail Linn Clouse, 17, had heard from the couple was October 1980, when Tina sent a letter to Dean's mother, Donna Casasanta, with photos of Holly standing upright and pushing her walker.

On Jan. 12, 1981, a man walking in the woods with his German Shepherd came across the badly decomposed remains of two people along Wallisville Road, on the outskirts of Houston, some 265 miles from the Clouses' last known address in Lewisville. Investigators were unable to identify the two victims — a man who had been beaten to death and a woman who had been strangled.

Nearly 40 years later, in October 2021, a team of genetic genealogists with Identifinders International, LLC, was able to identify the deceased as Dean and Tina Clouse.

"I was exhilarated in the sense that, you know, I could return his identity to him and that … he has a name now. He has a story, a family," senior forensic genealogist Misty Gillis told Fox News Digital of the moment she was able to identify Dean Clouse's remains.

She continued: "It's really hard when you identify somebody, because although you're returning identity to them, and you're giving them back the sense of being a person … you start to think about your own life and your own family and things like that. I mean, he was a son. He was a father. He was a brother. And there's a ripple effect."

Gillis began her career in genetic genealogy about three-and-a-half years ago, after she helped her grandfather discover the identity of his own father. She then decided to direct her passion and self-made expertise in genealogy research into a full-time career helping to identify human remains and cracking cold-case homicides and sexual assaults.

Gillis initiated her research into the Clouse cold case in 2021 after she came across the then-unidentified couple's photo illustrations on The Doe Network — a nonprofit dedicated to shedding light on cold cases. She noticed that their deaths were connected, which she thought was unusual, because "you might find same-sex remains if it's a dumping ground for a serial killer or something like that, but the fact that it was a man and a woman involved … I was very intrigued by it."

"Were they brother and sister? Were they lovers? Were they friends? What's the story?" Gillis recalled thinking at the time. "What could have happened to them that they were both so young when they were found together?"

Indentifinders International reached out to Harris County, which sent the remains to a lab that works with Indentifinders. The lab work creating a DNA profile for the couple's remains took about four months, and the genealogy research took about seven days before Gillis and fellow genetic genealogist Allison Peacock, founder of FHD Forensics, identified the couple as Dean Clouse and Tina Linn.

"Peacock and myself got on a three-way call and called [Dean's] sister and said, 'Is there any chance there's somebody missing in your family?' And she said, ‘Yes, my brother Dean.’ And we said, ‘Well, we regret to inform you, but we believe we’ve identified his remains, found in 1981 in Harris County, Texas.’ And that's when she dropped the ball and said, ‘What about his wife and kid?’"

Gills had no idea Baby Holly was part of the Clouse family picture until that moment. 

At that point, Peacock contacted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which opened an investigation into the apparently missing child.

In June, Texas authorities announced that they had found "Baby Holly" — an infant who vanished after her mother and father were mysteriously killed in 1980 — alive and well as a 42-year-old woman. 

The story captured the nation's attention as it not only brought some answers to a nearly 40-year-old cold case but also shed light on the possibilities of independent genetic genealogy research.

Donna Casasanta said at the time that her family had learned of Holly’s well-being on Dean’s birthday, calling the news "a birthday present from heaven."

"I prayed for more than 40 years for answers, and the Lord has revealed some of it ... we have found Holly," she said. "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."

Texas First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster revealed that baby Holly "was left in a church in Arizona and was taken into their care." None of the people who cared for Holly were considered suspects, he added.

Webster described how a pair of women "who identified themselves as members of a nomadic religious group" brought Holly to the church.

"They indicated the beliefs of their religion included the separation of male and female members, practicing vegetarian habits and not using or wearing leather goods," he said. "The women indicated they had given up a baby before at a laundromat."

The group is said to have traveled around the southwest region of the country, such as California, Arizona and possible Texas. 

Investigators believe they were murdered between December 1980 and early January 1981.

The Attorney General’s Office Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit is asking anyone with information related to the case to call 512-936-0742 or email the unit here.

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