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Sheriff’s Office detectives arrest suspect in 1987 double homicide and seek information from public

Tanya Van Cuylenborg and Jay Cook with the van they drove to the United States, a bronze 1977 Ford Club wagon. Photo courtesy of Snohomish County Sheriff's Office.
Tanya Van Cuylenborg and Jay Cook with the van they drove to the United States, a bronze 1977 Ford Club wagon. Photo courtesy of Snohomish County Sheriff's Office.

From Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office news releases.

May 18,2018, update.

Detectives from the Snohomish County and Skagit County Sheriff’s Offices arrested a 55 year-old Seatac (Washington) man for the November 1987 murder of 20 year-old Jay Cook and 18 year-old Tanya Van Cuylenborg.

William Earl Talbott II was taken into custody without incident at 6 p.m., Thursday, May 17, 2018, in Seattle.  He has been booked into the Snohomish County jail on one count of 1st degree murder for the killing of Van Cuylenborg on a warrant out of Skagit County.  Detectives continue to gather and process evidence and interview witnesses related to the investigation of Cook’s murder. 

Because of this arrest, detectives are asking for people to come forward with information, specifically anyone who:

  • Knew Talbott or knew of his activities in 1987 or 1988 (he would have been 24 years-old at the time of the murders);
  • Saw Talbott associated with the Cook family van (see van photo) in November 1987.
  • Saw Talbott with a 35mm Minolta camera that Tanya had in her possession when she was murdered. (The camera’s lens was recovered and traced to a pawn shop in Portland, Oregon in 1990, but the camera body is still missing);
  • Has information about Talbott having access to a light blue blanket, or know where this type of blanket might have come from around the time the crimes were committed.

Detectives believe Talbott was living in the Woodinville area in 1987; his parents’ residence was approximately seven miles from where Cook’s body was found. 

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

“After 31 years, we are one step closer to justice,” said Skagit County Sheriff Will Reichardt. “We would not be here without the persistence of detectives in our office, and in Snohomish County, and without the invaluable support from Parabon.”

Talbott was identified as a suspect through the use of genetic genealogy, which is the use of DNA testing in combination with traditional genealogical methods to establish the relationship between an individual and their ancestors. 

Successful identification of Talbott was established with assistance from Parabon NanoLabs (Parabon), a DNA technology company in Virginia that performed genetic genealogy analysis for the case. A digital file containing DNA genotype data derived from evidence at the crime scene was uploaded to GEDmatch, a public genetic genealogy website, and promising matches were found for two of the suspect’s relatives (see family tree).  After Parabon’s genealogists deduced Talbott’s identity, police subsequently acquired an abandoned DNA sample from a cup he had used. Washington State Patrol’s crime lab confirmed that it positively matched the DNA profile from the crime scene evidence.

This is the first arrest of a murder suspect using results from Parabon’s genetic genealogy service, which became generally available less than two weeks ago.

“We are honored to have helped solve this case,” said Dr. Steven Armentrout, CEO of Parabon.  He added, “Given the power of these new methods, we believe it is but the first of many.”

If you or anyone you know has information related to this case or suspect, please call the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office tip line 425-388-3845.

Original April 13, 2018, article.

On Wednesday, April 11, 2018, law enforcement officials released composite images of a possible suspect in a 1987 double homicide cold case.

Detectives from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office are seeking the public’s help in identifying the individual.

Over the past year, detectives worked with Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company in Virginia, to generate a composite image based on trait predictions for an adult Caucasian male believed to be the suspect in this case. Parabon specializes in DNA phenotyping, the process of predicting physical appearance and ancestry from unidentified DNA evidence.

"Jay and Tanya were brutally murdered and, more than three decades later, their killer has yet to be brought to justice,"said Sheriff Ty Trenary. "We hope this new technology will help us positively identify a suspect and finally provide answers for their families."

A map detailing the last known whereabouts of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, as well as where their bodies were found. Image courtesy of Snohomish County Sheriff's Office.

A map detailing the last known whereabouts of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, as well as where their bodies were found. Image courtesy of Snohomish County Sheriff's Office.

On November 18, 1987, 21-year-old Jay Cook and 18-year-old Tanya Van Cuylenborg left Saanich, BC, Canada, traveling in Cook’s family van, a bronze 1977 Ford Club wagon, to GenscoHeating, a company in Seattle.

Cook and Van Cuylenborg planned on picking up a part for Cook’s father and returning the next day to Canada via I-5.

They took the ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles, arriving around 4:00 pm.

Their last known whereabouts were when they purchased a ticket at 10:16 pm in Bremerton for the Seattle ferry. Neither Cook nor Van Cuylenborg were seen or heard from again.

On November 24, 1987, Tanya’s partially clothed body was found in Skagit County in a ditch in a wooded area off Parson’s Creek Road between Old Hwy 99 and Prairie Road.

On November 25, 1987 Cook’s van was located in Whatcom County locked up and abandoned in a Blue Diamond parking lot near State and Holly Streets in Bellingham.

On November 26, 1987 Jay Cook’s body was found in Snohomish County along Crescent Lake Road, near High Bridge Road, on the Snoqualmie River, which is approximately three-quarters mile west of the old Washington State Reformatory’s Honor Farm near Monroe.

Detectives from Snohomish and Skagit Counties have been investigating this case since 1987 and have exhausted all leads to date.

DNA evidence collected during the investigation did not match any profiles in any DNA databases available to law enforcement.

Using DNA evidence from this investigation, Snapshot (Parabon’s forensic DNA analysis service) produced trait predictions for the associated person of interest (POI). Individual predictions were made for the subject’s ancestry, eye color, hair color, skin color, freckling, and face shape.

By combining these attributes of appearance, a Snapshot composite was produced depicting what the POI may have looked like at 25 years-old and with an average body-mass index (BMI) of 22. These default values were used because age and BMI cannot be determined from DNA. Additional composite images were also generated depicting how the POI might look at 45 years-old and 65 years-old.

It is important to note that Snapshot composites are scientific approximations of appearance based on DNA and are not likely to be exact replicas of appearance. Environmental factors such as smoking, drinking, diet, and other non-environmental factors — e.g., facial hair, hairstyle, scars, etc. — cannot be predicted by DNA analysis and may cause further variation between the subject’s predicted and actual appearances.

Detectives hope the public can provide new tips and information that will lead to the identification of the perpetrator.

“We are looking for anyone who knows something related to this case, or can identify a person of interest from the Parabon DNA predictions and images,”said Investigations Captain Jeff Miller. “Maybe you were too afraid to come forward at the time, or thought someone else would. Now is the time to share what you may have seen or heard.”

Detectives are also looking to track down a 35mm Minolta camera that belonged to Tanya. The camera lens was recovered and traced to a pawn shop in Portland, Oregon in 1990. The camera body is still missing.

“We know someone out there knows something that can help us with this case,”said Detective Jim Scharf. “Maybe somebody gave you a 35mm Minolta camera, or you bought this type of camera from someone around that time. The smallest detail could end up being the lead we need to solve this case.”

Family members are offering a reward up to $50,000 to anyone who can provide information by December 31, 2018 that leads to the positive identification of the suspect through a DNA match.

If you or anyone you know has information related to this case or can identify a possible person of interest, please call the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 425-388-3845.

Composites of double homicide suspect at various ages. Images courtesy of Snohomish County Sheriff's Office.

Composites of double homicide suspect at various ages. Images courtesy of Snohomish County Sheriff's Office.

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