(HOUSTON) — The family of a couple murdered more than four decades ago finally has some answers about what happened to their baby daughter, who was not found among the remains of her parents.
Authorities were previously unable to determine the identities of two people found dead in a wooded area in Houston in 1981, according to a statement from the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. They were likely murdered between December 1980 and January 1981, Brent Webster, Texas first assistant attorney general, said during a press conference Thursday afternoon.
That changed last year, when investigators used genetic genealogy to positively identify the bodies as Florida couple Tina Gail Linn Clouse and Harold Dean Clouse Jr., according to Paxton.
The couple’s family members had not heard from them since October 1980, according to the statement, while Baby Holly was left at a church in Arizona, Webster said.
Two women who identified themselves as members of a nomadic religious group brought Holly to that church, Webster said. They were wearing white robes and were barefoot and said their religious beliefs included separating male and female members and practicing vegetarian habits and not using or wearing leather goods.
The women also indicated they had given up a baby before at a laundromat, Webster said. Investigators believe the group traveled around the Southwest U.S., including in Arizona, California and Texas, and had been seen in the region asking for food, Webster said.
Around the time of their murders, the families of Baby Holly received a call from someone identifying herself as Sister Susan, who said she wanted to return their car to them in exchange for money, Webster said. The woman said that the couple had joined their religious group and no longer wanted contact with their families and were giving up all of their possessions.
The family agreed and contacted local authorities, Webster said. When they met at a racetrack in Daytona, several people — two to three women and possibly a man — showed up, Webster said. Police officers purportedly took the women into custody, but there is no record of a police report on file that has been found yet, something Webster described as “common” for the time.
The family that raised Baby Holly are not suspects in the murder of her biological parents, Webster said.
Once the bodies were identified, the family began searching for Baby Holly, who was recently reunited with the family after many years, Paxton said. On Tuesday, Baby Holly met some members of her parents’ family virtually, Webster said.
Holly is 42 years old and “alive and well,” living in Houston, Paxton said. She has already been reunited with some of her biological family, who provided statements describing the reunion.
Baby Holly’s grandmother, Donna Casasanta, said in a statement that finding her granddaughter was “a birthday present from heaven,” since she was found on her father’s birthday.
“I prayed for more than 40 years for answers and the Lord has revealed some of it,” Casasanta said.
Cheryl Clouse, Holly’s aunt, said it was “so exciting” to meet her for the first time.
“It is such a blessing to be reassured that she is alright and has had a good life,” Cheryl Clouse said. “The whole family slept well last night.”
Sherry Linn Green, another one of Holly’s aunts, said she dreamed about her sister, Tina, after reuniting with her niece.
“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,” Sherry Linn Green said. “I believe Tina’s finally resting in peace knowing Holly is reuniting with her family.”
Les Linn, Holly’s uncle, said he met Holly about eight months after learning she was alive.
“To go from hoping to find her to suddenly meeting her less than 8 months later — how miraculous is that?” Linn said. “All of the detectives involved…They all expressed such fortitude to get to the bottom of this case.”
Authorities did not reveal the new identity of Baby Holly but stated that she has been notified of the identities of her biological parents and has been in contact with her extended biological families.
“They hope to meet in person soon,” the statement read.
Paxton commended his office’s newly formed cold case and missing persons unit on the work done to bring answers to the Linn and Clouse families.
“My office diligently worked across state lines to uncover the mystery surrounding Holly’s disappearance,” Paxton said. “We were successful in our efforts to locate her and reunite her with her biological family.”
The Texas Office of the Attorney General collaborated with the Lewisville Police Department, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to close the case.
“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,” said John Bischoff, vice president of the missing children division at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “We hope that this is source of encouragement for other families who have missing loved ones and reminds us all to never give up.”
The investigation into the murders of Tina Gail Linn Clouse and Harold Dean Clouse Jr. is ongoing, Paxton said.
Officials are expected to hold a news conference Thursday afternoon to provide details on the case.
ABC News’ Gina Sunseri contributed to this report.
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