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Two bodies found in Texas in 1981 have now been identified — due to DNA sequencing technology — as a Houston couple who vanished with their 1-year-old daughter in 1980 .
The two bodies were found in a wooded area north of Houston in Jan. 1981, and investigators estimated they had been at the location for approximately two months. The two sets of remains were found roughly 100 feet apart from one another; both people had been been brutalized, bound and gagged.
For decades, the case mystified Harris County investigators, who were unable to verify the identities. No arrests were ever made in the double homicide.
The two bodies have now been positively identified by forensic genealogists as Harold Dean Clouse, 21, and Tina Gail Clouse, 17.
In 2011, the then-unidentified remains were exhumed for the purposes of collecting DNA to determine if the two were blood relatives. Last year, forensic anthropologists at the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, in conjunction with forensic genealogists at California-based Indentifinders International, were able to use DNA from the remains as well as genetic genealogy to make the positive identification.
“It’s a very humbling and honorable experience to be able to do that, to be able to provide closure to the family and answer questions that they’ve had for for 40-some odd years,” Misty Gillis, a cold case liaison and senior forensic genealogist for Identifinders International, told Oxygen.com on Friday. “It’s extremely rewarding.”
After whole genome sequencing was performed to extract DNA from the remains, the results were uploaded to genealogical databases GEDMatch and FamilyTree DNA, forensic investigators said.
“Once the data is sequenced and uploaded into the databases, we build out family trees from the sample’s DNA matches to be able to connect them to other DNA matches and identify the sample essentially — identify the perpetrator or identify the unidentified body,” Gilllis explained.
Gillis, who has helped solve more than a dozen cold cases since 2019, tracked down the missing Texas man’s distant cousins on GEDMatch, which pinpointed a Kentucky family that was closely related.
Allison Peacock was able to identify Tina Clouse following the discovery involving her husband.
“Every time I make that discovery it is the most exciting, rewarding, uplifting thing, and it makes my entire week,” Gillis said. "I do feel a connection to these cases and being able to speak to a family member or let a family know what happened to their loved one is extremely rewarding.”
Relatives of the couple were astonished when contacted by the forensic genealogists last year.
“Of course, when you get news like that you’re crying on the phone,” Debbie Brooks — who last saw her brother Harold in 1978 — told Oxygen.com. “Yes, we have closure but we also have more questions."
"It was very, very hard, very difficult, especially the first few weeks," she added. "You can’t help but think about what was the last few moments of his life like before they killed him? That kind of runs through your mind. I pray he didn’t suffer but it sounds like he may have. What did he go through? And of course, they strangled her — and you have to wonder, was he watching?”
The Houston couple was married in 1979, family said. Brooks, 63, described her younger brother as a “vivacious,” “active” and “outgoing” young man who adored mini-bikes and spending time with friends.
Harold and Tina Clouses had moved to Texas from Volusia County, Florida sometime in 1980 with their one-year-old daughter, Holly Marie Clouse, according to the Houston Chronicle. Letters from the couple to their families stopped in late 1980, but Harold Clouse's mother, Donna Casasanta, told the paper that three women who appeared to be in a cult drove his car back to Cassanta for $1,000 in 1981 and told her that the couple were cutting ties with family for a religious group.
Brooks is now praying that her niece, Holly Marie, may still be out there and possibly alive.
“My next question was, where’s the baby?’” Brooks added. “Number one, I’d just like to know she’s OK and that she didn’t have a bad life. My fear is she was abused."
"I’m hoping and praying that they gave her to a rich and affluent family that took care of her," she said. "That’s just mainly what I want to find out. I just want to know she wasn’t hurt. And I’d love to be able to connect with her also.”
No remains that could have belonged to Holly Marie were found in 1981. She’s still considered missing and the case is still open; if alive today, Holly Marie Clouse would be 41.
“The case of Tina and Harold Clouse is a prime example of why we should never give up hope," Angeline Hartmann, the Media Director for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, told Oxygen.com. "Their families finally have some answers after 40 long years. ... It’s possible that [Holly Marie Clouse] has no idea of her real identity. It will be up to all of us to help bring her home.”
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on the unsolved case when contacted by Oxygen.com on Friday.
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