EXCLUSIVE: ‘I’d give a nine out of 10 guess it’s them.’ Cult expert says sect that handed over Baby Holly after her parents were killed is likely nomadic group called Christ’s Family whose ex-con leader convinced followers to give up their kids
- Missing baby Holly Marie Clouse, now 42, reconnected with her family decades after her parents were found dead in January 1981
- The bodies of Dean Clouse, 21, and his wife Tina, 17, were finally identified last year, prompting a search for Holly
- Officials revealed Thursday that baby Holly was dropped off at a church in Arizona by two women who claimed to be members of a religious cult
- DailyMail.com can reveal the cult is almost certainly California-based Christ’s Family
- Joseph Szimhart, a cult expert who met the group several times in the early 1980, said he would give a ‘nine out of 10 guess’ that this group fits the description of Christ’s Family
- The group was led by a convicted drug trafficker called Lightning Amen who in 2003 was convicted of child abuse and claimed to be Jesus reincarnated
- Members wore white robes, went barefoot, ate a vegetarian diet, separated men and women and shunned animal products
- According to Szimhart, if Holly’s parents were associated with Christ’s Family at all, they could have been told to get rid of their baby
The cult that mysteriously handed over baby Holly Clouse after her parents had been brutally murdered is almost certainly a nomadic group that was led by a recluse who claimed to be Jesus reincarnated and was convicted of child abuse, DailyMail.com can reveal.
Cult expert Joseph Szimhart said he would ‘give a nine out of 10 guess’ that the details revealed last week after the baby’s identity was discovered, fits the group known as Christ’s Family that wandered the south west United States for years.
First Assistant Attorney General of Texas, Brent Webster, said the group handed Holly to an Arizona church after her parents had been killed 1,000 miles away in Harris County, Texas.
Webster said the group wore white robes, went barefoot, ate a vegetarian diet, separated men and women and shunned animal products.
That description matches Christ’s Family, Szimhart, who met the group several times in the early 1980s, told DailyMail.com in an exclusive interview.
Christ’s Family was led by a convicted drug trafficker called Lightning Amen who in 2003 was convicted of annoying or molesting a child under 18.
The group, which numbered around 2,000 at its peak, believed that marijuana is a God-given herb and smoked it openly and dubbed it ‘God’s tranquilizer’ – while the men wore diapers on their heads like a turban.
Dean Clouse, 21, and Tina Clouse, 17, (pictured together with their one-year-old daughter Holly Marie) were found in dead in a wooded area in Houston, Texas, in January 1981 – until last year their identities were unknown
The Texas Attorney General released a picture of Holly, who was adopted after being handed over by a religious cult, although it did not reveal her identity.
The nomadic cult Christ’s Family was led by a convicted drug trafficker called Lightning Amen who in 2003 was convicted of child abuse and claimed to be Jesus
Dean Clouse and Tina Linn met as teenagers. They got married when Tina was 15 and pregnant with Holly, then moved to Texas before their baby was a year-old so Dean could get a better-paying carpenter job
Webster said a group member called ‘Sister Susan’ contacted the relatives of Holly’s murdered parents in either December 1980 or January 1981 after their deaths and offered to return their car – for a $1,000 donation.
The exact involvement of the group in the deaths of Harold Dean Clouse Jr, 21, who was beaten and bound, and Tina Clouse, 17, who was strangled, is unclear.
Authorities have not revealed how long Holly was in their care but it appears that she was at least with them for the journey from Texas to Arizona.
Timeline of the 40-year search for Baby Holly Marie Clouse
1980: Harold Dean Clouse, known as Dean or Junior to his family, his wife Tina and their baby Holly Marie move from Florida to Texas
October 1980: Dean stops writing letters to his mother Donna Casasanta, causing her alarm
Around New Year 1981: A person contacts Dean’s family to tell them that he has joined a cult and doesn’t want anything to do with her
Around this time: The family are contacted by a man claiming to be law enforcement who puts them in touch with a ‘Sister Susan’ from a religious group that wears white robes who offered them Dean and Tina’s car back, for a $1,000 donation
January 1981: The bodies of young man and woman are found in Houston, Texas. There is no sign of a baby and they are unidentified
2011: The bodies are exhumed to obtain their DNA samples by Identifinders International, a California-based organization that performs genetic research for law enforcement
2021: The bodies are finallyidentified after breakthroughs in DNA forensic technology and their relatives were told.
2022: Holly discovered to be alive and identified
Relatives of the Clouses were told that Dean – as his family knew him – and Tina had joined the cult and given up their earthly possessions and did not want to be contacted.
But in 2021 two bodies that had been discovered in Houston 40 years earlier were identified as them through DNA technology.
Given that Holly’s body was not with those of her parents, her family were left hoping that she was alive, prayers that were answered last week when Holly was found to be a 42-year-old mother-of-five living in Cushing, Oklahoma who had been adopted after being handed in.
She was only informed of the identity of her biological family last week and a reunion is planned in the coming days
Christ’s Family were one of a number of fanatical groups that appeared in the 1970s, said Szimhart, who himself survived a cult and once ran deprogramming lessons for former members.
The group spent their winters in places like Yuma, Arizona, a county mentioned by the authorities when they announced that Holly had been found.
Christ’s Family believed in the separation of the sexes and moved around from coast to coast ‘like the wind’, according to a 1980 report in the Washington Post about the group.
The report said that they did not wear leather goods, eat meat, eggs, dairy products or even honey as they say they are the product of captive animals.
Nearly all of them took the last name ‘Christ.’
Their most well-known feature was their white robes and bare feet, inspired by the idea that it could bring them closer to Jesus.
They had no money, lived off food stamps and charity from the public and carried Army-style blankets over their shoulders as makeshift beds.
Szimhart said that he encountered groups of around a dozen members of Christ’s Family in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the late 1970s and early 1980s where he was working as a portrait artist.
He said: ‘There were other Jesus type groups but these people were very distinctive, they said that you should smoke marijuana and they wore the white robes.
‘Right away you were curious because they were so distinctive. One of the women squatted down to talk to me. She didn’t have any underwear on. She was very comfortable with that.
‘They were not trying to recruit me and attracted people passively through their look and peaceful demeanor.
‘A few young people would get curious and find meaning in their words and they’d sign up and a month later they’d be wearing the costume.’
While police did not report that the group were violent, they had a criminal element, especially their leader.
In 1986 Lightning Amen – real name Charles Franklin McHugh – was convicted of possessing and transporting methamphetamine for sales, and possession of a hypodermic needle and a concealed weapon.
According to an Associated Press article at the time, he faced up to seven years in jail but further charges were pending due to the seizure of drugs, $4,200 in cash and several weapons.
The report noted that in December 1985, 10 cult members were sentenced to jail for growing $900,000 worth of marijuana at the sect’s ranch.
Amen had reportedly left his family to find God after a business and two marriages failed.
Court records in Riverside County, California, show that in 2001 Amen, who died in 2010, was accused of three counts of annoying or molesting a child under 18 years of age.
He was found guilty on one of them the following year and ordered to do 160 hours of community service.
He was also ordered to have no contact with three females who were all identified with the surname ‘Y’.
Today at the ranch an old yellow school bus with the personalized license plate reading 4 Christ sits on blocks in the front yard
Many of the cult members take on the last name ‘Christ’, including Gary Christ (left) and John Christ
Amen spent five years in prison in Chino, California, on gun charges, his follower Gary Christ told DailyMail.com ‘He took the rap for some motorcycle gang that stored their guns here’
The group, which numbered around 2,000 at its peak, believed that marijuana is a God-given herb and smoked it openly and dubbed it ‘God’s tranquilizer’ – while the men wore diapers on their heads like a turban
Members wore white robes, went barefoot, ate a vegetarian diet, separated men and women and shunned animal products. But now members such as John Christ wear contemporary clothing
Szimhart said: ‘The leader micromanaged the whole thing – he was narcissistic in his way of interpreting the Bible, combining back to the Earth movement with the Bible.
‘He developed this look, the white robes which seems like something from the movies about Jesus with white headbands they tied around their heads.
‘I’m not saying they didn’t believe in the Bible but it was a very twisted version of it for the leader wanting power.
Gary Christ, 69, told DailyMail.com that just three people now live in the compound. ‘I’ve been around since the 1970s,’ he said
‘Amen used the Bible to gain power over people and promote his grandiose vision of who he thought he was. Drug dealing was huge among the hippies and since God blessed marijuana why not?
‘Meth was around then and it was easy to make more money. Somehow he was able to bless that and incorporate it into the teaching.’
According to Szimhart, if Holly’s parents were associated with Christ’s Family at all, they could have been told to get rid of their baby.
He said: ‘The simple answer is that the group convinced them to give up the kid. They espoused celibacy as a rule like monks and nuns.
‘Attachments to the world and to your family and things outside the group were considered sinful.
‘You have to give it up for the lord. If you don’t love Jesus more than your mother and father you’re not worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven.
‘They’d use words like ”your work is for the Lord” then you’d give up the child.’
Lightning was living at a ranch in Hemet, California, at the time of his death close to where Scientology has its headquarters, a sprawling compound known as ‘Gold Base’ where Tom Cruise is said to have studied intensively.
A nonprofit organization called Christ Family Pure Righteousness is registered at the home, which has a ranch-style wooden beam at the front which says: ‘The House of the Lord’ above it.
Among those registered as living at the address is a woman called Kris Miller, 67, who calls herself a ‘wealth strategist’.
She was the president of the nonprofit, according to its tax filings from the 2000s which state that its aim is to ‘promote the gospel of Jesus Christ through music.’
A 2009 tax filing states: ‘The men and women in this group touch thousands of lives by sharing the love and truth of Jesus Christ everywhere we go.’
Above the entrance hangs a wooden sign with faded writing that reads, ‘The House of the Lord’
The windows of the school bus at the compound are covered and it has been used for makeshift housing
Today at the ranch an old yellow school bus with the personalized license plate reading 4 Christ sits on blocks in the front yard. Gary Christ, 69, told DailyMail.com that just three people, Miller, himself and a man he called John Christ now live there.
He said he had never heard of the names Dean and Tina Clouse. ‘I’ve been around since the 1970s and I never heard of that name.’
He said Amen had spent five years in prison in Chino, California, on gun charges. He took the rap for some motorcycle gang that stored their guns here,’ he said.
Joseph Szimhart, a cult expert who met the group several times in the early 1980, said he would give a ‘nine out of 10 guess that this group fits the description of Christ’s Family’
There may have been a connection between Christ’s Family and the siege at Waco, Texas, where 86 people died in 1993 at the compound run by the religious sect the Branch Davidians, run by its leader David Koresh.
A man named Jesse Amen walked out of the camp and claimed his father was ‘Lord Lightning Amen’ and his mother was Sherry Amen, with three brothers named David, Jacob and Abraham.
He was described in reports at the time as a drifter and occasional fruit picker and police said that he made ‘no sense’ when he was interviewed.
In online forums, former cult members have told of disturbing time with Christ’s Family.
In one called Cult Education, one user described how their family were in the cult for 15 years.
They wrote: ‘I was moved to the desert, bathed in the river and begged for food when I was 3. I have very vivid memories of those days. Living with rattlesnakes and wearing ”white robes”. I was eventually sent to live with my uncle and was separated from my parents while they were ”on the road” to enlightenment. My father never recovered; he threw his whole life away on a lie. It ruined our life…they did nothing but take and use our family.’
In another online forum, a user called Barefeet wrote in 2020: ‘Lightning Amen was a douchebag who abused the brothers and sisters who blindly followed him. He abused them by his hypocrisy. He abused many women and children.’
In response a user called Paolo wrote a comment posted last year which read: ‘Where was the love? He preached no sex yet he fornicate (sic) with lots of the so called sisters.
‘There were so called brothers and sisters having sex and babies too? What happens to all those babies that were born? The fraud of the man who called himself Lightning Amen, was a white trash racist women abusing b******’
During a press conference Thursday, First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster revealed baby Holly had been left at a church in Arizona by two women who identified as being members of a ‘nomadic religious group.’ The family that raised Holly are not suspects in her parents deaths, officials said
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children released an ‘age progression’ photo earlier this year projecting what Holly might look like as an adult. The breakthrough came after forensic scientists Misty Gillis and Allison Peacock were brought in to help
At a press conference last week at the Texas Attorney General’s office, Webster laid out all the publicly available details about the story.
He said that Holly was left at a church in Arizona and ‘taken into their care’. He insisted: ‘The family that raised Holly are not suspects in this case.
‘Two women who identified themselves as members of a nomadic religious group brought Holly to the church.
‘They were wearing white robes and were barefoot and the beliefs of their religion included the separation of male and female members, practicing vegetarianism and not using or wearing leather goods.
‘The women indicated they had previously given up a baby at a laundromat. This group traveled around the Southwestern United States including Arizona, California and Texas. There were sightings of this group around the Yuma, Arizona, area in the early 80s. Women members would be seen around town asking for food’.
In late 1980 or early 1981 the families of Tina and Harold – known as Dean to his family – got a phone call from a woman calling herself ‘Sister Susan’, said Webster.
She said she was calling from Los Angeles and wanted to return Tina and Dean’s car to them.
The woman claimed they had both ‘joined their religious group and no longer wanted to have contact with their families’.
The woman asked for $1,000 in exchange for returning the car to Florida and so the families agreed to meet her at the Daytona Race Track, Webster said.
They encountered two or three women and one man wearing robes that appeared to be members of the religious group.
The families had notified the authorities and the group was arrested but there is no report on file as it was so long ago, Webster said.
He urged the public to come forward with information to help solve the killing of Tina and Dean and said they were ‘still looking for suspects in this case’.
The extraordinary turn of events that led to Holly’s identification began last year when the Clouse family discovered their relatives had been killed.
At the time of their deaths the couple had just moved to Texas from Volusia County, Florida, so Dean could pursue carpentry work.
Their bodies were exhumed in 2011 but it took another decade for the technology to develop to identify them.
No arrests have ever been made in connection with their deaths.
Investigators made contact with Holly at her place of work last Tuesday, her father’s birthday, and informed her of her true identity. Hours later, she met her family on a Zoom call.
Donna Casasanta, Holly’s grandmother, said it was a’birthday present from heaven’ and that they had ‘prayed for more than 40 years for answers’.
Cheryl Clouse, Holly’s aunt, said: ‘It was so exciting to see Holly. I was so happy 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. The whole family slept well last night’.
The Texas Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit began looking for Holly (pictured as a baby) after officials confirmed the identities of Dean and Tina earlier this year
Investigators reached out to Harold’s sister, Debbie Brooks, and ultimately identified the bodies as Dean and Tina. Brooks asked the team if they had found the baby, but the scientists had been unaware that Holly even existed, so they began a new search which led to identifying her
The breakthrough came when forensic scientists Misty Gillis and Allison Peacock, of Texas-based FHD Forensics, were contacted by investigators to help.
The team inserted new information in GEDmatch.com, a DNA matching website, and were able to match Dean Clouse’s DNA with his cousins in Kentucky.
Investigators reached out to his sister, Debbie Brooks, and ultimately identified the bodies as Dean and Tina.
Brooks asked the team if they had found the baby, but the scientists had been unaware that Holly even existed, so they began a new search which led to identifying her.
Peacock told DailyMail.com that Dean had been in a cult when he was 15.
Peacock said she was not sure which religious group handed in Holly but agreed that there were strong similarities between Christ’s Family and the description read out at the press conference by the Texas Attorney General.
However she said that the account given by the authorities was wrong in one respect: Sister Susan did not call the family, it was actually a man.
Peacock said: ‘The man presented himself as law enforcement who had found the car. He was very cagey and presented himself as some kind of authority. He said I’ll see if I can find somebody to bring it to you and then he supposedly found these women.
‘Holly’s grandmother Donna Casasanta kept this guy’s number and spoke to him on the phone.
‘She was grilling him and at one point he told her: ‘Look lady there’s a lot of desert between California and Florida, you’re never going to find him’.
When the religious group told the family not to look for Tina and Dean it ‘gutted’ them, Peacock said.
‘It made it seem like they were rejecting them daily’, she said.