When Harold Dean Clouse left his childhood home in New Smyrna, Florida to build houses in Houston, Texas, with his wife and infant daughter, it seemed that only good things were in store for him. According to his mother, Donna Casasanta, her son — who she calls “Junior” — was a good student who loved to take care of people.
His older sister, Debbie Brooks, told The Houston Chronicle that he had his issues along the way. She noted that he’d run away to join a cult in the mid-seventies and that he’d also gotten involved in drugs at one point in his life.
All of that seemed to change after he met Tina Gail Linn. He was completely smitten with her right away, but his mother said that no one realized how serious they’d become until they turned up one day out of the blue to announce they’d gotten married at the courthouse. Soon, the couple had a baby girl who they named Hollie Marie.
Now that Dean had a wife and daughter to care for, he decided to take a job in Houston working full-time as a carpenter. According to his mother, he was thrilled about the move, knowing the stability of consistent work would be good for his new family. In order to help him out, his mother let him borrow her car, which they agreed he would eventually buy from her. Dean and Tina packed up their belongings and their baby girl and headed to Texas.
After their relocation, the couple continued to keep in touch with their family by writing letters, Dean’s mother says. Though they weren’t consistent with how often they wrote, it was always a nice surprise when a new letter was received by their families.
In 1980, those letters stopped.
Several months later, Dean’s mother received a call from someone telling her that she was in possession of the car loaned to Dean and would drive it back from California to Florida for a cost of $1,000.
Casasanta recalls thinking it all seemed strange but agreed to the fee. Three women showed up with the car. Casasanta described them as wearing religious-looking garments. She said that one looked like she was in her thirties and the others seemed younger than that. She insisted that they let her speak to Dean or give her some information about him, but they told her they couldn’t answer any questions about him or Lynn other than to say the couple had joined a religious group and were cutting ties with the family.
Casasanta was frightened by what might be happening to Dean and his family and began searching for him. For years, she continued to look for her son and his family. She reported them as missing and jumped every time the phone rang, wondering if it was news that they’d been found.
After a while, Casasanta says, it was hard to remember exactly what Dean looked like or imagine how he might have changed over the years. His sister, Debbie, watched people when she was out and about, in hopes she might see him. She often had to look twice at men who were similar to what she imagined he would look like over the years.
Even after five years passed since they’d last heard from Dean, the family continued to look for him, keeping him on the annual missing persons lists and checking for any activity from him with the Social Security Administration and the Salvation Army.
Tina’s brother, Les Linn, said both families “always hoped for the best.” Still, decades passed without answers. The families began to believe that perhaps Dean and Tina truly had joined the religious group that returned the car and wanted nothing to do with them.
On January 12, 1981, a dog emerged from the North Harris County woods near Wallisville Road. Clenched in his teeth was a human arm.
Police were called to the scene by the dog’s owner. A search of the woods led them to find two bodies. One was a young man who had been bound, gagged, and beaten to death. The other was a young woman who had died of strangulation. It was determined that the bodies had been there for at least two months. A pair of green gym shorts and a towel saturated with blood were found near their remains.
Cecil Wingo, a now-deceased forensic investigator, speaking to The Chronicle in 2011 noted that they were both five feet four inches to five feet eight inches tall. He also noted that they had “beautiful teeth,”
Though sketches were created and distributed in the Houston area, no one recognized the couple. After exhausting all efforts to identify the couple, the police came up empty-handed.
In July 2011, Harris County exhumed the bodies of their unidentified couple to extract DNA for testing. It was part of an effort to make progress on cold cases still open on their books. They were able to establish that the couple was not related, but their efforts to identify them beyond that were fruitless.
Once again, the case grew stagnant and remained that way until late 2021 when a group called Identifinders International, contacted the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences and asked to test the remains.
According to prnewswire.com, the investigators said all remains were in good condition. Misty Gillis, one of the investigators in the case, said there was plenty of material to work with.
The DNA information was uploaded to Gedmatch.com. Unlike 23andme and ancestry.com, Gedmatch allows users to voluntarily share their genetic information with national law enforcement. Using the federal database they share with the authorities, they were able to match Dean’s DNA to close cousins in Kentucky.
Only ten days after receiving the information from law enforcement, Gillis had a match. She began seeking information on the cousins or other relatives in hopes of making an identification. Her search led her to Debbie Brooks.
According to Debbie, she was busy at work when she got a call from her husband in October 2021. He told her that a genealogist was trying to reach her and that she said it was urgent. When Debbie returned Gillis’ call, she was asked if she had a relative who had gone missing some time ago. Debbie informed her that her brother had disappeared forty years ago.
Gillis told Debbie that they’d recovered the body of a man in 1981 that they now believed could be her brother. She also told her that a woman had been recovered at the same time, but had yet to be identified. As Debbie still tried to grasp what she was being told, it was now her turn to tell them something — the woman was likely her brother’s wife, Tina.
Gillis’s associate Allison Peacock used the information to locate Tina and Dean’s marriage records. This led them to Tina’s family who contributed DNA to confirm that the woman found with Dean was definitely his wife Tina.
But where was Hollie?
Debbie said that when she asked about the toddler that should have been with the couple when they disappeared, the investigators had no information about her. Was she still alive? Had her parent’s killer or killers taken her?
If Hollie Clouse is still alive, she will be forty-two years old on January 24, 2022, and might not know anything about her real identity. She would have been so small when her parents were murdered that she likely doesn’t remember anything about them or her life in their care.
Any chance of finding Hollie by public sightings is slim, as the only pictures of her are from when she was very small. She was still a baby when her parents left Florida with her. The best hope of ever locating her is if her DNA somehow ends up in a federal database shared with police either voluntarily or because she commits a crime.
The second best method of finding her is old-fashioned detective work. Unless the people who may have taken her are reclusive, there is likely someone out there who wonders where their family member, friend, coworker, or neighbor suddenly gained a toddler in their home. Anyone who might remember something of that nature could be the key to locating Hollie one day.
As for the families of Dean and Tina, they have at least found some comfort in finally knowing what happened to their loved ones. Their only remaining questions now revolve around what happened to Hollie and who murdered her parents. That is something the authorities may have more luck in finding out now that they know who their victims are and where to begin looking for their killer and Hollie.