Houston couple found slain 40 years ago identified, but baby daughter still missing

HOUSTON — Hollie Marie Clouse would now be 41 years old.

The Florida infant was barely a year old in 1980 when her parents, newlyweds Harold Dean Clouse Jr. and Tina Gail Linn, uprooted their small family and headed to Houston for a job opportunity.

A few months later, the couple’s families stopped hearing from them. They never saw them again.

Now, with the help of genetic genealogists, authorities have identified a murdered couple found in a wooded area of Harris County the following January as Clouse and Linn.

There remains one problem, however.

“The closure of these cases has led to another mystery: the whereabouts of their baby, Hollie Marie,” read a statement from Identifinders International. “No baby was found with the couple’s bodies and so far, no Baby Doe cases have been found that match her description.”

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Identifinders International, a California-based forensic service that aids in cold cases across the country, is working with the long-lost infant’s family to file a missing persons report. They are also working with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to list the girl as a missing child.

According to the forensic service, the couple, who married in June 1979, left their New Smyrna Beach home for Texas so Harold Clouse, known to his loved ones as “Junior,” could pursue carpentry work. At the time, Clouse was 21 and Linn was 17.

“Soon after, the couple’s car was returned to the family by a stranger, who led them to believe the couple had joined a religious group and no longer wanted contact with the family,” a news release stated.

The next time Clouse’s sister, Debbie Brooks, received word about her brother, it was from Misty Gillis, senior forensic genealogist for Identifinders International, and Gillis’ former colleague, genealogist Allison Peacock. The women called Brooks with an odd question back in October, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Did Brooks have a missing relative?

Yes, Brooks responded. Her eldest brother had been missing for four decades.

“We believe we found him,” Gillis said, according to the newspaper. “He was murdered. His body was found in 1981.”

USA Today reported that it was Jan. 12, 1981, when a dog in north Harris County returned home with a gruesome trophy: a human arm. The dog led authorities to a wooded, undeveloped area off Wallisville Road, where they found the decomposing body of a woman who had been strangled.

Nearby was the body of a man. He had been beaten to death and was still bound and gagged when he was found.

The Chronicle previously reported that the couple’s faces were recognizable, and a Harris County forensic artist drew composite images of the pair. They remained unidentified, however, and no arrests were made in their deaths.

Meanwhile, in Florida, Donna Casasanta reported her son missing. Police shrugged off the couple’s disappearance, “excus(ing) the disappearance with them leaving with the cult,” she told USA Today.

Linn’s family also reported her missing, Peacock said.

“We always hoped for the best,” Linn’s brother, Les Linn, told the Chronicle. “We pretty much thought they had joined this religious group and didn’t want to have contact with us.”

Both families spent agonizing days, then months, then years, awaiting some word on Clouse, Linn or Hollie.

“I spent years waiting to get a call from my son or calling police stations each time a new male body was found,” Casasanta said. “I spent years with my chest on fire, just waiting.”

In 2011, the case made some headway when authorities exhumed the bodies and obtained DNA from the skeletal remains. At that time, forensic anthropologist Dr. Jennifer Love, known as “Dr. Bones” for her work in the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office, was able to give the Chronicle some tidbits of information about the pair.

Both had “beautiful teeth,” Love told the paper. The teen girl wore her light brown hair in a ponytail and had a habit of biting her fingernails.

They were estimated to have died around New Year’s Day 1981.

Gillis did the bulk of the genealogy work, which was funded last year by the media company behind the true-crime podcast Crime Junkie, in under two weeks, Identifinders International said. Gillis worked closely with Peacock to identify the couple.

“Gillis identified Harold Dean Clouse within 10 days of taking the case,” a statement from Identifinders stated. “When his family mentioned his wife was also missing, Peacock was able to identify the other murder victim as his wife, Tina Gail Linn.”

Peacock, the founder of Family History Detectives, wrote in a blog post last week that Gillis called her, excited that she had identified Clouse but seeking a second pair of eyes on her work.

“We call this a sanity check,” Peacock wrote. “Starting with nothing and coming up with an identity for unknown subjects can be daunting for the most experienced researchers.

“It can sometimes be hard to believe you’ve actually done it. It was a great joy for me that Misty always asked me, ‘Am I crazy or did I just solve this?’ when her work was complete.”

Peacock also recalled the phone call to the Clouse family.

“‘What about their daughter?’ These were certainly not the first words I expected to come out of the mouth of the surviving family member of a murder victim we had just identified,” Peacock wrote.

The genealogist said that learning the couple had a baby who was also missing “left (her) breathless.” She wondered whether snatching the infant could have been the motive for Clouse and Linn’s murders, or if something else took place and the girl was “collateral damage.”

“If Hollie Marie is still alive, she will turn 42 years old next month, although she probably doesn’t even know her real birthday,” Peacock wrote. “And she’d have no way of knowing that she was raised by someone who, at the very least, was a third or fourth party to the murder of her parents.”

In the worst case scenario, Peacock mused, the girl was raised by her parents’ killer or killers.

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Casasanta told the Chronicle that the news of her son’s murder has answered some questions but has brought up more, equally painful ones.

“I kept praying for God to show me what happened and where he died, but I don’t know why anyone would want to hurt my son and his wife,” the 80-year-old said.

Les Linn also could not fathom who would have wanted to hurt his sister, whom he said was excited about the future with her husband and daughter.

Both Casasanta and Brooks said their focus now is on finding out who killed Clouse and Linn — and on finding the couple’s missing daughter.

“Finding Hollie is the last puzzle piece, the last piece of my brother and Tina,” Brooks told USA Today. “It means everything to us to find her.”

Anyone who knew Harold Dean Clouse and Tina Gail Linn, or who may have information related to Hollie Marie Clouse’s whereabouts, is asked to call the Harris County Sheriff’s Office at 346-286-1600 or the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (843-5678).

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