The unidentified cult connected to the slain parents of Texas’ long-missing “Baby Holly” bore all the hallmarks of a nomadic group called “Christ Family” — which demanded such loyalty that children were expected to be discarded by members, cult experts said.
Holly made news last week when she was discovered to be alive and well and living in Oklahoma, some 40 years after she vanished in the wake of her parents’ 1981 murder in Texas.
Investigators said Tina and Harold Dean Clouse had connections to a cult, members of which apparently handed over “Baby Holly” to a church after the couple’s deaths. Officials did not name the group, but two cult experts said it likely was “Christ Family,” based on the descriptions of the women who gave away the baby.
“There aren’t any other groups that wore white robes and went around barefoot other than Christ Family, and the locality would match as well. The time frame also matches,” said Rick Ross, who has worked with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.
Ross said Christ Family was led by Charles McHugh — who went by the name Lightning Amen and told followers he was God’s representative.
The group, which is now defunct, roamed between California, Arizona and possibly Texas in the late 1970s and early 80s.
“The Christ Family, per its name, was supposedly based on the Bible, but the real truth about the group is that it was based on the interpretation as delivered by its leader,” Ross said.
The Clouses disappeared from their Lewisville, Texas home sometime in late 1980. Their bodies were found in 1981 in Houston, however their infant daughter Holly was not with them, authorities said.
Last week, Texas law enforcement officials said that genetic matching had finally been able to lead to Holly’s discovery — and they also released more details of what happened to her after her parents’ double homicide.
“Baby Holly was left at a church in Arizona and was taken into their care,” Texas First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster said last week.
“Two women who identified themselves as members of a nomadic religious group brought Holly to the church,” he added. “They were wearing white robes and they were barefoot. They indicated that the beliefs of their religion included the separation of male and female members, practicing vegetarian habits and not using or wearing leather goods. The women indicated they had given up a baby before at a laundromat.”
Cult expert Dr. Steven Hassan also said that no cult other than “Christ Family” would match the description.
“I would assume the (the Clouses) gave the child up when they got recruited,” he told The Post.
Ross said McHugh was known for using passages from the Bible to serve his needs.
“(Amen) was known for twisting the meaning of individual scripture, individual versus in order to manipulate and control his followers. McHugh…very bad man, psychopath, hurt many people, dangerous,” Ross said. “The group just really shredded families.”
Amen went on the run with some of his followers in 1987, just before a jury convicted him of possessing and transporting methamphetamine for sales, possessing a hypodermic needle and possession of a concealed weapon, according to the Associated Press. Other cult members also were convicted on drug charges.
The family of Harold Dean received a call from a woman who identified herself as “Sister Susan,” claiming to be part of a religious group in either December 1980 or early 1981, said the Texas Attorney General’s Office. “Sister Susan” said the Clouses had joined their religious group and tried to sell the couple’s car back to their family.
The family agreed to meet Sister Susan at the Daytona Racetrack and contacted local police about the meeting. What happened from that point was not made clear by officials.
If the Clouses joined the cult, which has not been confirmed by authorities, it’s possible they were ordered to give up their baby, Ross said.
“The way Lightning Amen functions is children were excess baggage,” said Ross. “If you’re running a group that is nomadic, you want them to be mobile, you want them to be devoted. You don’t want them to be distracted, and so children are a distraction.
“Children need to be cared for, they need to be fed, they need to be possibly schooled. How do you deal with that? Lightning Amen was concerned about that. He was concerned about loyalty only to him and to the group’s perpetuation, and so children were an encumbrance, and my opinion would be that if there was a child, that they would get the child to a church, rather than take care of that child,” Ross added.
‘Baby Holly,’ whose current identity was not revealed, went on to live with a family in Oklahoma. For four decades, her biological family didn’t know whether she was dead or alive until DNA was used to find and identify her last week.
“There are many destructive cults, but they’re not all equally destructive, but the Christ Family was one of the most destructive cults in modern history,” said Ross. “Cult members were completely cut off from family. McHugh was an abusive and controlling leader. He psychologically and emotionally tortured the people who were under his control. He was an omnipresent, absolute ruler who was a megalomaniac. They were involved in a great deal of drugs. McHugh would encourage them to use drugs.”
The cult broke up after McHugh went to prison, said Ross, typical of cults whose existence depends on a central leader. He died in 2010, but his followers can be easily found on cult chat sites, like Ross’s Cult Education Institute.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office did not respond to The Post’s request for comment on this case.
The investigation into Holly’s biological parents’ murders is ongoing, and the Texas Attorney General’s Office is asking anyone with information to contact its Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit at [email protected] or at 512-936-0742.