Holly's parents Tina and Dean Clouse's skeletal remains were found in the woods near Texas in January 1980 after they were murdered.
It was a busy morning at Naifeh’s Deli and Grill in Cushing, Okla., on June 7, 2022. Waitress Holly Marie, a 42-year-old mother of 5, was putting the last batch of cookies in the oven for a large takeout order when a detective and an official from the Texas attorney general’s Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit stopped by unannounced and asked to speak with her.
As they sat together in a booth, the officials said they were investigating the 1980s double murder of a young couple near Houston, Dean and Tina Clouse. As Holly – who was adopted as an infant and raised by a pastor - listened in stunned silence, the investigators said they had reason to believe that she was the murdered couple’s daughter. And her birth family had been desperately looking for her.
The Texas detective pulled out a grainy snapshot of a smiling couple holding a baby and placed it on the table in front of her.
"I was in shock-I couldn't move," says Holly in this week’s issue of PEOPLE. "All I could do was cry and look at my parents. I finally had faces."
For Holly, it was the conclusion of a quest to know about her birth parents. At the same time, the meeting with authorities marked a new beginning with joyful relatives who knew her as an infant and finally saw her again in an emotional Zoom call later that day. “I had this family that had prayed and been searching for me and wanted to know me, wanted to find me,” she says.
Despite all she’s learned about her life, Holly, whose new book Finding Baby Holly: Lost to a Cult, Surviving My Parents’ Murder, and Saved by Prayer comes out Nov. 7, wants more answers about her birth parents and what happened to them in the 1980s.
Tina, 17, and her husband 21-year-old Dean Clouse were looking for a fresh start when they moved with their infant daughter Holly Marie to Lewisville, Texas, in Aug. 1980.
Their stay was short-lived.
"Tina wrote and said they had gotten their own place and that she was happy," says Tina's older sister Sherry Green, 65, who wrote a letter back that was returned with no forwarding address. "They barely were in their new place two, maybe three weeks and then they were gone."
That letter was the last time Dean and Tina's families heard from them.
On Nov. 8, 1980, Philip McGoldrick, the pastor of a Seventh-day Adventist Church in Yuma, Ariz., was late for a meeting when he heard a knock on the back door of the church. When he peered through the window, he saw three women dressed in white robes, members of a religious group known as the Christ Family. “I open the door to say, ‘Well, can I help you?’’ McGoldrick tells PEOPLE. “I’m expecting them to say, ‘We need some gas money or food.’”
Instead, the women offered him a baby girl. “I asked, ‘You need someone to babysit?’” he says. “They said, ‘No. No. We want to give this baby away.’”
Shocked, McGoldrick talked more with the women, who told him they were not able to raise the child because of their nomadic lifestyle, which included separating couples and no killing of animals for their meat and skin.
“They convinced me that they were going to give this baby away to somebody,” he says. “I was glad they had found a place where it was safe to leave her.”
Before the women vanished, one of them, who police believe was Tina, handed McGoldrick a birth certificate as well as a note from Dean relinquishing his parental rights to Holly.
Then, in late Dec. 1980 or early Jan. 1981 members of the Christ Family, including a follower named Sister Susan, dropped off Dean’s 1978 two-door, red burgundy AMC Concord to his mother Donna in Daytona, Fla., informing her that her son and his wife had joined their group, were giving up all their possessions, and no longer wanted to have contact with their families.
“We pictured her living on some sort of group commune, having a very good quiet life, them and Holly, and maybe more children even,” says Green. “That's at least what I had hoped for.”
Unbeknownst to the family, on Jan. 6, 1981, the Harris County Sheriff’s Department in Texas received a call from a man who told them he found a decomposed arm in the mouth of his German Shepherd. Five days later, the remains of Dean and Tina were found. Tina had been strangled and Dean died from a fractured skull.
Despite local media attention, police were unable to identify them. In 2011, the Harris County Medical Examiner's office exhumed their bodies to extract DNA. A decade later, Misty Gillis, a forensic genealogist, who was looking for a case on the Doe Network website of unidentified missing and murdered people, came across the Harris County Does. Gillis then teamed up with another forensic genetic genealogist Allison Peacock and began building the family trees of the unidentified couple.
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Within days, relatives of Dean and Tina were identified. But the biggest surprise came when Dean's sister asked what happened to the couple's baby, Holly.
When the Texas Attorney General’s Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit began looking at the missing Holly case and the cold case murders of Dean and Tina in Jan. 2022 they knew “to start solving the homicide part, we needed to find out, ‘Okay, where is this baby?,’" says Mindy Montford, whose unit assisted the Lewisville Police Department, Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, the Arizona Attorney General’s office and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children on the case.
But investigators immediately hit a snag when they tried to get Holly’s birth certificate from Florida. The records were sealed, which indicated a juvenile record or adoption, and the only way to get them was through a court order.
Once the judge unsealed the records, “Lo and behold, it was an adoption certificate,” says Montford.
The certificate was exactly what investigators needed. It gave them the names of the adopted parents, Philip McGoldrick and his wife Constance, and the state where the adoption occurred, Arizona.
It was soon after that that investigators tracked down the whereabouts of Holly and McGoldrick in Oklahoma and Constance in Arizona.
However, what they didn’t know was the circumstance behind the adoption.
“Did Philip kill her biological parents?,” says Montford. “And then he kidnapped her? We had no idea what had happened.”
Montford and Lewisville Police Department detective Craig Holleman interviewed Holly at the deli in 2022, asking her about what she knew about her adoption and birth parents.
Holly, who grew up in a loving home, was told at an early age that her birth parents loved her but had given her up because of their religious beliefs. "My dad always told me what a miracle I was,” says Holly.
But she didn’t know they had been murdered.
“It was hard to learn about their murders and about the tragedy,” she says.
Meanwhile, investigators met with McGoldrick, who says he was halfway through the story of how he met Holly when one of the investigators “started asking tougher questions.”
“After a bit, I'm thinking, ‘oh, he's thinking I could be the one that killed them.’”
Montford says McGoldrick was quickly ruled out as a suspect.
Investigators believe Dean and Tina joined the Christ Family after they moved to Texas and followed them to Arizona where the group — which was led by Charles McHugh, also known as Jesus Christ Lightning Amen — had a winter camp near Blythe, Calif., about 40 miles from Yuma.
Investigators don’t know how long the couple stayed in Arizona or how they ended up back in Texas.
“The fact that they're together, I think they were leaving,” says Sgt. Rachel Kading, an investigator with the Texas Attorney General’s Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit, tells PEOPLE. “Either they came together as they were traveling with their individual groups, or they came together at some point and left the group and were not traveling with Christ Family at all.”
Kading says investigators are trying to track down anyone who may have had contact with a Christ Family follower who went by Rosemary Garcia, who was with Tina on the day she gave up Holly and is now believed to be deceased.
“We believe she was there and she orchestrated everything,” says Kading. “She had three teenaged daughters and they called her Rosemary and the Three Js.”
Rosemary stayed in the Blythe camp and traveled with the group around the Yuma area, she says.
The teenagers, who went by Jill, Joy and Jan, may have met Tina, Kading says.
Kading, who has interviewed close to 50 former and current members of Christ Family, says there is no evidence that the group was involved in the killings. “I think it's everybody's first thought based on our history with these types of groups, that surely they're responsible, but there's just no evidence that they are,” she says. “I do think, though, if it was somebody associated to Christ Family, it was probably an outlier, a temporary member, somebody who maybe had just started traveling with the group. I do not believe that anybody that we've spoken to hasn't given us everything that they know or remember.”
Kading also says Dean and Tina could have been hitchhiking and “some sicko picked them up.”
The unit is holding out hope that the case will be solved.
“I think it’s solvable,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tells PEOPLE. “As long as there are people still alive that know, we've got a chance of solving it. There's a decent chance that people connected with them might have important information that would help us get one step closer to solving it. Just like finding Baby Holly, it took decades, but eventually we ended up with the right information to get that part of it figured out.”
Today Holly feels doubly blessed. After reuniting with her birth family last year, she developed a bond with her paternal grandmother, Donna, who died in October. She and her biological family have become supporters of Genealogy for Justice, a non-profit with a goal to solve cold cases through genetic genealogy, and the Dean and Tina Linn Clouse Memorial Fund, with proceeds going towards identifying other John and Jane Does. She encourages people to get a DNA test and enter it into public databases.
“Not knowing what happened to your loved one, that's tormenting,” says Holly. “We can all be a part of a miracle for a family to know what happened to their lost loved one. And all we got to do is go swab our mouth.”
She’s praying, she says, that “my parents tragedy will pave the way for more miracles to come.”
If you have information about Dean and Tina Clouse, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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