JMonths after Donna Casasanta, 80, discovered that her son, Harold Dean Clouse – whom she calls Junior and who was last heard from in 1980 – had been identified as a murder victim in a cold case, her daughter came and asked her to sit on what would have been her 63rd birthday.
“I say, ‘No, Debbie, don’t do this to me,” says Casasanta The Independent. “Because when they came to tell me about Junior being found, I kind of broke down…” So I said, “Please Debbie, I can’t. No bad news, honey. I just can’t. No more. No more.'”
His daughter Debbie, who lives eight blocks away, had the opposite of “bad news” to share. Instead, she revealed that Clouse’s baby, Holly Marie – who had disappeared at the same time he and his wife, Tina Linn, disappeared more than four decades earlier – had been found.
And she was alive and well, married with children and grandchildren in Oklahoma.
“I was impressed,” says Casasanta. “I was crying with joy because we were all praying to find her and for her to be okay – and she had a family that took care of her and raised her properly….”
It wasn’t long before she had a chance to see and hear her long-lost granddaughter; that investigators tracked down her workplace this week and reported on her biological family. Along with the genealogists who identified the dead couple and investigating authorities, Casasanta and her family attended a virtual meeting the same day, finally setting eyes on Holly.
“When I saw her for the first time, I just wanted to grab her and hug her,” says the grandmother. The Independent. “Because I remember hugging her when she was a baby.”
She adds: “She looks a lot like her mother. She also has a lot of Clouse in her; she looks a lot like some of my kids and… like her great-aunt.
Mrs. Casasanta, who sporadically breaks into tears of joy and sadness as she tells her story, says that Holly – who still goes by that name – “has her mother’s soft voice… she has her mother’s voice in her mouth.
“I started to cry, because I loved to say that… my son got a sweet wife. He did. I’m thinking all the time, looking at her, thinking about Tina.”
Receiving the miraculous news on his late son’s birthday, Casasanta says, was particularly meaningful and moving.
“I took it as a gift from heaven,” she says. The Independent. “And I believe that when you stay with the Lord and go through the storms of life – and we all have our storms of life – there is a blessing at the end of that tunnel.”
After learning that his son had been identified and discovering that Holly – who still goes by that name – was alive, well and would soon meet her in person, Casasanta says he felt a peace he hadn’t had in over four decades.
“For the first time in 42 years, I was able to come home and go to bed that night and really slept through the night,” she says. “I haven’t slept through the night in 42 years, and that’s the truth.”
There are still many questions, however. The Clouses had moved with their daughter from Florida to Texas shortly before they disappeared; when relatives last heard from them in October 1980, they lived near Dallas — but their bodies were found a four-hour drive away in January 1981, in a wooded area near Houston.
They weren’t identified until last year, after two genealogists chose the cold case of 40-year-old John and Jane Doe to investigate as a “pet” project. They ended up discovering that the murdered couple were the Clouses; they had no idea when they notified the family that there was a baby involved in the case, said genealogist Allison Peacock. The Independent.
While Mrs. Casasanta tried to understand the fact that her son had been murdered, she also asked: “Where is the baby? Where was the baby? I was so hoping she wasn’t with them when it all happened,” she says, referring to the murders of her son and wife.
Mrs. Peacock and fellow genealogist Misty Gillis were stunned by Baby Holly’s revelation – and launched into answering the same questions asked by Ms. Casasanta.
Luckily, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had recently created a Closed Cases and Missing Persons Unit; started receiving cases in December 2021, weeks after the Clouses were identified.
And the hunt for missing baby Holly took off in earnest.
Ms Peacock helped with records and DNA tests, she says; about two months ago, investigators were suddenly very quiet, and she suspected they had made a breakthrough.
That news was revealed this week when Texas authorities announced that Baby Holly had been found and virtually presented to her ecstatic relatives.
But the rest of the details on how Holly ended up escaping her parents’ fate and living in Oklahoma are scarce. Officials shared some of the information on Thursday in the hope that members of the public can shed some light on the rest of the story.
Baby Holly was delivered to a church in Arizona and “taken into their care,” First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster told a news conference in Austin.
“The family that raised Holly is not suspect in this case. Two women who identified themselves as members of a nomadic religious group brought Holly to the church. They were wearing white robes and they were barefoot.”
They said they were members of a religious group that believed in “the separation of male and female members, practiced vegetarian habits, and did not wear or use leather goods.”
The women “indicated that they had given up on a baby before, in a laundromat.”
“This particular group is believed to have traveled throughout the southwestern United States, including Arizona, California and possibly Texas. There were sightings of this religious group around Yuma, Arizona in the early 1980s. Female members would be seen around town at various points, begging for food.”
“In late December 1980 or early January 1981, relatives of the Clouses received a call from someone identifying themselves as ‘Sister Susan’ – who explained that she was calling from Los Angeles, California and wanted to return Tina and Dean’s car. for your family. ” said Webster. “She further stated that Tina and Dean had joined the religious group and no longer wanted to have contact with their families. They were also giving up all their possessions.”
Mr. Webster said the woman asked for money in exchange for returning the car; the family agreed but contacted local authorities. The missing couple’s relatives arranged a meeting with “Sister Susan” at the Daytona Speedway in Florida.
They found two or three women and “possibly a man,” Webster said; the individuals also appeared to be members of the religious group.
Authorities “allegedly took the women into custody, but there is no record of a police report on file that has been found so far,” Webster said — not an unusual situation for such an old case.
The returned car belonged to the missing man’s mother; it was described as a 1978 AMC Concord two-door, burgundy red, Webster said.
He added that authorities believed the couple “probably were murdered in December 1980 or early January 1981.”
“If you have any information about these murders, we ask that you come forward,” Webster said. “Even if it is information that may not be concrete evidence, we need to find pieces of the puzzle to solve this crime.”
After the press conference, Baby Holly’s grandmother made a similar appeal for public information.
“Maybe they remember something about him that might help a detective, or maybe they can give some kind of information that might really help,” she says.
She refuses to talk about the white-clad individuals who returned the car her son and wife were using.
“There’s some information I can’t give you until this investigation is complete,” she says, as she urges people to rack their brains for any details they might remember about her son, wife and child.
Reality is still sinking in that Holly is alive and will soon be able to hug her, though Casasanta says he never stopped wishing and praying that she would be found safe.
“I kept hope because you never lose hope,” says Florida grandma The Independent. “God tells us to never give up hope, and I kept hoping for this miracle in hopes that we would find her… I pray three or four times a day. I said, ‘Father, there is always a blessing at the end of the storm; something good results from a bad thing, always. God will do it for us…
“The blessing is Holly.”