AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A decade-long search by a Florida woman and her extended family in connection with an unsolved murder case has led to the woman finally finding her missing granddaughter, who has now grown up unaware of her tragic history, officials said Thursday.
Meanwhile, the mystery of who brutally killed the girl’s parents more than 40 years ago remains unsolved, prompting Texas authorities to seek public help.
Harold Dean Clouse Jr., Tina Linn Clouse and their infant daughter went missing in October 1980, shortly after the young family moved from New Smyrna Beach, Fla. to the Dallas suburb of Lewisville, Texas, according to Texas prosecutors.
In January 1981, in a rural area east of Houston, a dog returning home with a decomposed human arm in its mouth prompted a police search that found the remains of an unidentified couple, the Houston Chronicle reported. The Harris County Coroner’s Office said the man was beaten to death while the woman was strangled.
The couple remained unknown until last October, when a group of genetic genealogists working with law enforcement tested the remains and identified them as the Clouse couple, First Deputy Attorney General Brent Webster said at a news conference Thursday afternoon in Austin, Texas. But no sign of her baby granddaughter, known to them as Holly Marie Clouse, was found among her parents’ remains.
Webster did not answer questions during Thursday’s news conference, instead asking for public help in solving the murders. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is running for re-election, was not present.
As for the missing child, the 42-year-old woman only found out about her birth family and tragic background on Tuesday, when modern technology led investigators to her workplace. Previously, all she knew was that she had been adopted and raised by an Oklahoma family who had adopted her.
The child’s adoptive family are not suspects in her disappearance or in the deaths of her parents, Webster said. He declined to reveal their identities or how the child identifies today.
Hours after the stunning revelation, the Oklahoma woman was introduced to her grandmother, aunts and uncles during a Zoom call. She told them she has been married for more than 20 years and has five children and two young grandchildren, the Chronicle reported.
However, many questions remain, including who killed the Clouses.
At one point, two women left the child at an Arizona church and took care of him, Webster said.
“Two women, identifying as members of a nomadic religious group, brought (the child) to the church. They wore white robes and were barefoot. They stated that the beliefs of their religion included segregation of male and female members, practicing vegetarian habits, and not using or wearing leather goods,” Webster said.
How the women came into possession of the infant was not known. Investigators believe the group traveled throughout the American Southwest, including Texas, and was known to ask for food in the Yuma, Arizona area, Webster said.
In late December 1980 or early January 1981, the family of the missing couple received a phone call from a woman who identified herself only as “Sister Susan.” The woman said she was calling from Los Angeles to explain that the missing couple had joined their religious group, renounced all their worldly possessions and did not want any further contact with their families. The woman asked if the family wanted the missing couple’s car returned.
A rendezvous was set up at Daytona Motor Speedway in Florida and authorities were notified, Webster said. They met a man and three clothed women. The women were taken into custody and the car was turned over to Donna Casasanta, Harold Dean Clouse’s mother, but Florida authorities could not find a record of the women’s arrest, Webster said.
Webster appealed to the public Thursday for information about the unsolved murder case, noting that many questions remain unanswered. Casasanta herself said in a statement from the attorney general’s office that she “has prayed for answers for more than 40 years and the Lord has revealed some of them.”
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