Genealogy DNA Helps Crack 1987 Cold Case Murder Of Young Couple In Washington

May 22, 2018
By: Catherine Townsend

Tanya Van Cuylenborg and Jay Cook

Photo by: Snohomish County Sheriff's Office

Snohomish County Sheriff's Office

Tanya Van Cuylenborg and Jay Cook

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, WA — A suspect has been arrested in connection with the cold-case killing of a young couple in Washington state in November 1987.

William Talbott, 55, was arrested for the murders of 20-year-old Jay Cook (above, right) and 18-year-old Tanya Van Cuylenborg (above, left), the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office said.

Investigators used a public genealogy website — the same technology used to capture the Golden State Killer suspect — to match crime scene DNA. The analysis was performed by Parabon, a Virginia company. A digital file containing DNA data derived from evidence at the crime scene was uploaded to the public genealogy website GEDMatch, according to Fox News.

Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg with the van they drove to Seattle the day of their 1987 disappearance

Photo by: Snohomish County Sheriff's Office

Snohomish County Sheriff's Office

Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg with the van they drove to Seattle the day of their 1987 disappearance

Police were able to obtain DNA from the 1977 brown Ford van the couple was driving, and in April, police released composite sketches of the killer that Parabon created based on the DNA. Using the new technology, investigators were able to find matches to two of the suspect's relatives, according to the sheriff's office. Once Talbott was identified as a potential suspect, his DNA was collected from a discarded cup.

"He was never on any list law enforcement had, there was never a tip providing his name," Snohomish County Sheriff's Detective Jim Scharf said of Talbott. "If it hadn’t been for genetic genealogy, we wouldn't be standing here today."

Van Cuylenborg and Cook left their homes in Saanich, British Columbia, on November 18, 1987. They planned to spent the night in Seattle — but never came home. They were soon reported missing.

On November 24, 1987, a man found Van Cuylenborg's body on an isolated road south of Bellingham, Washington. Police said she had been sexually assaulted, bound with plastic ties and shot in the head. Cook's body was later found, covered in a blue blanket, near Monroe, Washington — about 75 miles away. He had been strangled with a dog collar and had a pack of cigarettes stuffed in his mouth.

"We never gave up hope that we would find Jay and Tanya’s killer," Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary said, adding that the arrest "shows how powerful it can be to combine new DNA technology with the relentless determination of detectives."

At a news conference, Laura Baanstra, Cook's sister, said, "Yesterday, the killer had his last sleep in his own bed, his last coffee break, his last day of freedom. It's hard to put into words the relief, joy and great sorrow this arrest brings."

Talbott was ordered held on $2 million bond after a court appearance Friday, according to Q13 Fox News. Detectives are asking anyone who knew Talbott or his activities in 1987 or 1988 to come forward. Anyone with information related to the case should call the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office tip line at (425) 388-3845.

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