A woman who vanished as an infant when her parents were murdered in Texas in 1980 has been found alive more than 40 years later.
The youngster, who was known as “Baby Holly”, vanished after Tina Gail Linn Clouse and Harold Dean Clouse Jr were found slain in a wooded area of Houston.
Now the 42-year-old woman, who is still called Holly, has been identified using DNA technology and was recently reunited with her family, according to officials.
Investigators found Holly, who was adopted by a couple, at her workplace earlier this week and told her of her identity, and hours later she was on a Zoom call with her biological grandmother and aunts and uncles.
Holly Marie Clouse and her parents Tina, 17, and Harold, 21, disappeared in Texas in 1980 after moving to the state from Florida.
Investigators found remains of the murdered couple in 1981, but their identities remained a mystery until 2021, when their bodies were exhumed and identified using genetic genealogy done by Identifinders International.
Dean, who was a carpenter, was beaten to death, while Tina had been strangled.
Holly’s biological paternal grandmother, Donna Casasanta, said that she had been located on the birthday of her murdered son, and called it “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,” Ms Casasanta said.
And she told The Independent she was “overwhelmed” to learn that her granddaughter was alive and well and living in Oklahoma.
“I was crying for joy, because we’ve all been praying that we would find her and she would be okay – and she’d had a family that took care of her and raised her proper ... we were very glad for that.”
And she explained the emotions that coursed through her as she came face to face with her granddaughter later that day on a video call.
“When I first seen her, I wanted just to grab her up and hug her. Because I remember holding her when she was a little baby,” she said.
“She looks a lot like her mother. She also has a lot of Clouse in her; she looks a lot like some of my sons and ... her great-aunt.”
“I started crying, because I loved saying that ... my son got a sweet woman. He did. I’m thinking the whole time, looking at her, thinking of Tina.”
Getting the miraculous news on her late son’s birthday, Ms Casasanta says, was particularly meaningful and poignant.
“I took it as a gift from heaven,” she tells The Independent. “And I do believe that, when you stay with the Lord and you go through the storms of life – and we all have our storms of life – there’s a blessing at the end of that tunnel.”Her aunt, Sherry Linn Green, welcomed being reunited with Holly.
“After finally being able to reunite with Holly, I dreamed about her and my sister, Tina last night,” she said in a statement.
“In my dream, Tina was laying on the floor rolling around and laughing and playing with Holly like I saw them do many times before when they lived with me prior to moving to Texas.
“I believe Tina’s finally resting in peace knowing Holly is reuniting with her family. I personally am so relieved to know Holly is alive and well and was well cared for, but also torn up by it all. That baby was her life.”
Officials have not released details on how they found Holly, how she survived the murder or how she came to be adopted.
The discovery of Holly was announced on Thursday by the Texas attorney general’s office.
“I am extremely proud of the exceptional work done by my office’s newly formed Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit,” attorney general Ken Paxton said in a statement.
“My office diligently worked across state lines to uncover the mystery surrounding Holly’s disappearance. We were successful in our efforts to locate her and reunite her with her biological family.”
The two genetic genealogists who first worked the case and helped make the breakthrough say they cannot believe how much Holly looks like her mother.
“I cried during the whole thing,” Misty Gillis, the Identifinders contractor who worked on the case last year, told The Houston Chronicle.
“It was extremely surreal,” added Allison Peacock, who worked with Ms Gillis before starting her own genetic genealogy investigations company.
“I found out like 10 minutes after they talked to her,” Ms Peacock tells The Independent, adding that investigators sat down at the woman’s place of employment and “texted me a picture of her and said, ‘Look who we found.’”
She says the long-lost Baby Holly “reacted in such a way that, six hours after being met by these detectives in her place of employment, we were on a video conference hosted by the attorney general’s office with about 25 of her family members and detectives and both genealogists – and she was just open to it.”
Her genetic research company, based in Austin, was subcontracted last year to a California-based company called Identifinders International. There, another genealogist, Misty Gillis, became interested in a decades-old John and Jane Doe case.
“We would sometimes let the genealogists go out and find a case they saw on the internet that they liked, like a John Doe or a case that was unsolved,” Ms Peacock tells The Independent. “Most of the time, we take cases that walk in the door, but we get our pet cases.
“Somebody said, ‘Let’s do this man and wife; it might be a couple.’ So we reached out to [Texas authorities] and asked if they had DNA on hand for this couple, and they did, and then we were lucky enough to get a grant.”
The National Centre for Missing & Exploited Children thanked law enforcement for its work in solving the mystery of Holly’s identity.
“We know that with advancements in technology and the hard work and dedication of law enforcement, we can get answers, even after four decades,” said John Bischoff, vice president of the Missing Children Division at NCMEC.
“We are thrilled that Holly will now have the chance to connect with her biological family who has been searching for her for so long. We hope that this is a source of encouragement for other families who have missing loved ones and reminds us all to never give up.
“NCMEC applauds the collaborative effort of the Texas Attorney General’s Office Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit, the Lewisville Police Department and all the assisting agencies who came together to make today’s news possible.”