“It gives people hope…”
– ABC’s T.J. Holmes, upon hearing how genetic genealogy led to the discovery of Holly Marie Clouse
I was kind of doomed to walk this path. You see, it came at me from both sides of the family!
Not a cold case in the traditional sense, but a cold case nonetheless – it was 63 years before my father was reunited with the biological family he never knew, but always hoped was out there. It was this search and ‘investigation’ along with my mom’s identification of a Jane Doe in Texas that first sparked the idea that would later become Genealogy for Justice (G4J). But let me start at the beginning…
“You and your brother are the only family I have in the world.”
I will never forget hearing this from my father as I was growing up. As a child, I was somewhat ignorant of exactly what those words meant. I had grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins on my mothers side and I eventually understood that my father didn’t always get that experience. He didn’t have others to look at and see parts of himself reflected back.
He was adopted as a baby from Tijuana and grew up in a middle class family in Southern California, working at Disneyland, and even spending time in Mexico as a young adult when his father worked at the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara. His adoptive father, Hector, was an investigator for what was then called the Border Patrol. He eventually worked on the nationwide manhunt for Sirhan Sirhan, the man who assassinated Bobby Kennedy. Perhaps it was some of this drive and curiosity that rubbed off on my father, and was eventually passed along to me.
Both of my dad’s adoptive parents had passed away by the time I came along. Like many adoptees, he never learned much from his adoptive family about his birth parents. In fact, in his case, subterfuge seemed to be the rule. It was when he met my mother and they started their own family that they decided to start the search to learn more about where he came from. My mom wanted my brother and me to have both sides of our family history. In the 1990’s when they first started, only so much information could be gathered by playing phone tag with civil registry runners in small towns in Mexico. Genealogical use of DNA wasn’t even a spark in anyone’s eye at the time!
Helping my dad with his journey, along with solving some of her own family mysteries with DNA, sparked my mother’s life long love of genealogy research into a fully blazing fire.
Around 2014, Ancestry.com and DNA testing blew up. This was HUGE for families like ours who were searching for relatives, and we we’re thrilled for my father and the possibilities that could come from this test. The following Christmas we gifted my father a DNA test. My mother, the forensic genetic genealogist Allison Peacock, eventually found my father’s biological family. He has three brothers and a sister! Not to mention a whole tree of cousins, nieces, and nephews.
So, thanks to genetic genealogy, our little de la Luz family of three (mom says she’s forever a Peacock!) grew to be bigger than we ever imagined. My father can now see parts of himself in so many of them. Like the way my Tio Saul is balding just like my dad and they both keep their glasses on their foreheads when not in use! The way all of the siblings smile and laugh with a slight nose crinkle – just like their mother, Olivia.
Funny thing is that my mother closed her first ‘cold case’ finding my father’s biological family and her own grandfather’s grandfather – a man born in 1856, no less – over a two week period. Little did I know that the fire that all this sparked in her would soon be spreading to me.
A few years after the explosion of popular consumer DNA testing, the Spring of 2018 brought big milestones in the positive exploitation of this popularity: the potential for investigative genetic genealogy to close cold cases. On March 5, 2018 the DNA Doe Project identified Robert Ivan Nichols, the John Doe previously known as Joseph Newton Chandler III. A few weeks later, on April 11, they announced the identity of the young woman known as ‘Buckskin Girl’ as Marcia L. King. Just days later, on April 24, Joseph James DeAngelo was identified as the monster popularly known as The Golden State Killer. His capture might never have happened without genetic genealogy.
In the years since 2018, genetic genealogy has become an incredible tool in helping close cold cases. The skills that my mother used in finding my father’s family are essentially the same ones that are used to identify violent crime suspects and John and Jane Does. While helping a black market foreign adoption survivor in 2019, she was led into the field of forensics.
Last year, in 2021, my mother was the manager of a team of genealogists that worked to identify violent criminals and John and Jane Does for a company that uses genetic genealogy exclusively for law enforcement clients. In October 2021, they identified a couple who were found murdered in Houston in 1981. When she contacted the family inquiring about whether they had a missing loved one, they confirmed that they had a brother that had been missing since the 1980s. It was then that my mother empathetically delivered the upsetting news that their loved one had been murdered decades earlier.
This couple was Dean and Tina Linn Clouse. The next words out of his sister’s mouth would blow up news outlets across the country.
“What about their baby?”
It soon became clear that there was another compelling and urgent mystery. Dean and Tina’s infant daughter was not found with them. Where was Holly Marie?
The following months were a whirlwind. My mother went back to her own forensic genetic genealogy company. She simultaneously became a spokesperson and advocate for the families of Dean and Tina who became overwhelmed with the influx of media attention and the responsibilities for ensuring justice and finding Holly. And I had a front row seat to all of this.
About this time, I was graduating with my Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and deciding what I wanted to do as a career. I felt the pull to join my mother in this important work. In this arena, I saw the potential for bringing my skills and compassion from the mental health field to forensics and advocating for the victims and their families. I joined FHD Forensics and started helping manage the laboratory pipeline and the media feeding frenzy.
That frenzy was about to have a bucket of gasoline poured on it.
On June 7, 2022, on what would have been her father’s 63rd birthday, Holly was found.
Thus was born her parents’ memorial fund, from the repurposed Hope for Holly project, and the Justice for Dean and Tina movement. These activities deserve their own focus and dedicated efforts. So, I’ve chosen to embark on this journey because FHD Forensics has its hands full with case work.
And now my own hands are plenty full.
Families deserve closure. Frazzled detectives and medical examiners deserve the resources if we can help fill the gaps.
There are 1.1 million unmatched CODIS profiles in this country. This includes violent offenders, missing persons, and unidentified remains. And now we have the tools to change this.
There is much work to be done.
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