Finding Holly Marie:
Dancing on the edge of new realities in crime solving

Founder’s Musings   •   June 16, 2022

Copyright, 2022, Allison Peacock

Investigative genealogist Allison Peacock

AKA: What happens when several determined women (and a few men, too) won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

Dancing on the bleeding edge of the adoption of new realities in any field is not for the faint of heart. As it was in the case of a husband and wife identified in Houston in October, the use of DNA and genetic genealogy in law enforcement are the reality now. Yet this new way of using these tools opens up as many questions as it does answers. And – there are as many variations and flavors in cases and their resulting effects on families as there are colors in the rainbow.

Dean and Tina Linn Clouse

1981 Texas murder victims Dean and Tina Clouse at home in Florida before their ill-fated move to Texas for work. (Clouse family photo via Family History Detectives®)

It’s not really a new idea that law enforcement agencies are turning to companies like FHD Forensics and other genetic genealogists to return identities to unknown accident and crime victims, as well as to identify perpetrators in violent crimes. You can’t turn on the TV or go online without learning about the latest arrest or Doe identification. What may be new to most people is the idea that funding for the expensive DNA testing required for this is rarely waiting in government coffers. Nor that once the identification is made there aren’t always resources for the families involved when the answers bring more questions.

This was the case in the pursuit of truth in the case of the 1981 Harris County Does found together in the woods near Wallisville Road in Houston. The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences did not have the funding until the podcast producers at audiochuck bestowed a grant that was used for the case by Identifinders, where I was acting as the operations and genealogy team manager. More importantly, when I made the fateful call that blew up the lives of two families, they essentially had nowhere to turn for what they needed next. On October 23, when I told Dean Clouse’s sister he had been murdered 40 years earlier, she had one question:

“What about the baby?”

What followed was an almost eight month odyssey and a case study in determination, resilience, laughs, adventure, hope, and even, love – a lot of love.

My first portrait with my dad. (No, I won’t tell you the year.) It was a love affair from the day I was born.

One of these days I’ll write about all of the seemingly miraculous ‘coincidences’ surrounding this case. Not the least of which is the gift of connecting with a family who had needs that required something I could give them at a time I most needed to give. My beloved father died of Covid-related pneumonia after a years long battle with Alzheimers just a few days after my call with Dean’s sister, Debbie. I also left my home state after more than 5 decades to relocate to the other side of the country. So I had a lot of time while on a sabbatical of sorts. And as they say, when your own pain is great, serve someone else’s.

This is what I did.

I was blessed by these families to have been gifted with a front row seat to what came next. (Ask me about the time I snuck Tina’s brother into my Houston hotel’s breakfast buffet for what we decided was a better selection than his. We honestly have the same coloring so I was prepared to claim his as my brother!)

And yes, as evidenced by the photo at the top of the page, they didn’t mind that I kicked off my shoes in the plush grass of the cemetery. I needed to feel the earth under my feet after trudging through the woods in an emotional visit to the site where Tina and Dean’s bodies were found in 1981. We all accept each other as we are.

I’ve tried to refer them to other advocates months later, now that they several organizations on their side; but they don’t seem to want to quit me. “You aren’t going anywhere,” they say. “You’re stuck with us!” What a lucky woman I am.

You see, what happened when I identified this beautiful young mother struck down just as she was beginning her life is that we created a gap. There were simply not agency resources for all of the moving parts we soon encountered. We’re all still sorting this process out – that is, police and sheriff’s departments, medical examiners, genealogists, and victims advocates alike.

The case for identifying the young John and Jane Doe languished for want of technology for decades until a determined anthropologist decided to try DNA. After no CODIS match was found using the rudimentary DNA testing available to law enforcement in 2011, they were back at square one.

Once the technology did exist – the first arrest using genetic genealogy technology was in 2018 – these particular identifications waited a while longer as the idea caught on. Then they sat due to lack of funds. In addition to the funding issue, there was no detective to assign to the case, even after it was accepted for a genetic genealogy investigation. Harris County Sheriff’s Department lost its Cold Case unit to budget cuts and a new administration; but this won’t stop people with the tools to bring answers. We forge ahead anyway – and thank goodness forward thinking governmental agencies let us.

What matters is the victims and the families. Exactly who gets the answers doesn’t. We’re all a team.

Most genetic genealogy investigators in this field will tell you, “never talk to the families of victims.” The idea is that this is law enforcement’s job. Many times it is.

How about the case of the small southern town when your client is both the medical examiner and the town’s funeral director? It’s not unusual for there to be no official investigator if the case is 65 years old and you’re the third M.E. to own the case. You take answers wherever you can get them and you have the people who know how to make sensitive phone calls to affect genealogical research decisions make the phone calls.

Believe me, we gladly make them. And when the victim’s surviving elderly brother weeps in gratitude to know what happened to his baby brother, you witness his grief quietly. Or you cry with him.

Les Linn

Les Linn, brother of Tina Gail Linn Clouse and uncle of Holly Mary Clouse at Tina’s gravesite. Family History Detectives® photo.

Knowing this, what do you think happens when the detective in charge of the case says, “I don’t have anyone to assign this to. I have hundreds of open homicide investigations. Please call them and let me know what you find out.”

What happens is you pick up the phone, that’s what. Some genetic genealogists are not daunted calling a family to determine if the person your analysis determines is your victim really is your victim. And others are completely intimidated by the prospect. It really helps if you or someone on your team has communications training or experience (35 years, here) especially trauma-informed communications or coaching. A few out of the box thinking genealogy agencies, like ours, are ensuring these are skills someone in the organization has.

The responsibility to be the person delivering an answer to a family praying to learn about their missing loved one for 4 decades is a sacred duty. It is an honor and a blessing I will never take for granted.

Once this is done, to realize that there is no official law enforcement investigation ready to step in and look for the one year old infant that disappeared when her parents were murdered, another sacred duty becomes clear: become their advocate. When law enforcement must be officially involved for a missing children’s organization to take the case, you have a conundrum.

Solving conundrums is what genealogists do.

Another one of the new situations that the era of genetic genealogy is bringing to light is crowdsourcing – for everything from investigative leads to the critical missing funding. Let it be known that the true crime-obsessed public has its positive uses! That said, what this missing child investigation needed was visibility. So once again, that communications experience came in handy.

What do you get with a documentary project managed by a stickler for details (guilty!), plus a family’s determination, and add in a brand new investigative unit full of superstars? You have a missing person found!

Forensic genetic genealogist Allison Peacock, far right, with the family of Dean Clouse in a Houston AirBnB during a visit to the couple’s discovery and burial sites. Family History Detectives® photo.

In documenting the story of the missing daughter of Dean and Tina Clouse for her family and the media, the spelling of Holly Marie Clouse’s name became another puzzle to solve. Some family members wrote it ‘Hollie’ and others used ‘Holly.’ I even saw it spelled two different ways in two different hands on the back of one photo. We were driving the journalists crazy since so much article research is done online. Quoting other articles and recycling them has become a fine art.

Getting documentation is just what genealogists do, so having a former Marine amongst Holly’s aunts and uncles was quite the handy research tool. Asking Tess to get a copy of Holly’s birth certificate as a close relative was a no brainer; and it meant the effort was made within hours. “Let’s just be sure and then we’ll have it for our records.”

Darn it, they wouldn’t give her the birth certificate. Indignant, (this was a law enforcement investigation, after all) I immediately called our friendly Lewisville Police missing persons case detective. Surely he could get it, right? He’d not had the case long, but thought it would be handy for him to have in his records. When he attempted just that –

No dice.

Thankfully, by the end of February, the Texas Attorney General’s brand new Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit officially took on the murder investigation and related search for Holly at the request of the local agencies. They enlisted the help of Florida investigators and when all struck out getting the elusive document, the effort grew and crossed state lines. The investigator in Florida told me that when he read about the family desperate to be reunited with their lost granddaughter and niece in Texas OAG Senior Counsel Mindy Montford’s email asking for help, he knew he had to be involved.

“It’s a once in a lifetime thing to play even a small part in reuniting a family after 40 years,” Detective Steve Wheeler of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office told me.

The child born Holly Marie Clouse was finally located by a joint effort between investigative agencies, Attorneys General, and judges in Florida, Texas, and Arizona that took two months to coordinate. Lewisville detective Craig Holleman and OAG’s Montford visited her midday on June 7 to share her parents’ story with her. By early evening she was on a video conference with her extended family.

All because a genealogist, an aunt and an AG’s investigative team – led by two women, thank you – wouldn’t take no for an answer. Nor would a single person they turned to for help.

Oh, and remember that ‘lavishing of love’ that I talked about from Tess’s poem in my last post? Holly will be ready for that soon. The family is getting to know her and looking forward to spending time with her in person.

Let the lavishing begin!

Part 1 of this story is found here. Part 2 is here.

Primary Post Photo: From left, two of Dean Clouse’s sisters, Debbie Brooks and Tess Welch (hidden); Dean’s mother and Holly’s grandmother, Donna Casasanta; investigative genetic genealogist Allison Peacock, founder of FHD Forensics and host of the Family History Detectives® podcast; and Les Linn, brother of Tina Linn Clouse, whom Peacock identified in October 2021. The group visited the graves of Dean and Tina Clouse for a private memorial service at the desolate Harris County ‘paupers cemetery’ in March, 2022.