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Another DNA-Cold Case Stunner:
Arrest of Washington state man in 1987 double murder case involving young couple from Canada

May 19, 2018

CLICK TO ENLARGE Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary at Friday’s news conference.

CLICK TO ENLARGE: Suspect William Earl Talbott II, 55, was taken into custody at 6 pm Thursday, May 17th in Seattle. Photo: Twitter

CLICK TO ENLARGE: The blue blanket from the case that detectives want to find out more about.

CLICK TO ENLARge: The suspect's DNA "family tree."

CLICK TO ENLARGE: MAP showing movements of victims into and around Washington state.



Chronicle staff

(EVERETT, WA.) – It was just a little over a month ago on April 11th that detectives from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office held a joint news conference .

The purpose was to unveil some amazing sketches of a suspect, based on the man’s DNA profile, in the unsolved violent murders of a young Canadian couple in our state thirty-one years ago, back in November 1987.

Fast forward to Friday May 18, yesterday, and the announcement that detectives from the Snohomish County and Skagit County Sheriff’s Offices had arrested a suspect in that case, a 55 year-old man from Seatac, Washington who authorities now believe murdered 20 year-old Jay Cook and 18 year-old Tanya Van Cuylenborg shortly after they came down to Washington from Canada in a family van on a mission to pick up a part for Jay’s father.

William Earl Talbott II, 55, was taken into custody without incident at 6 pm Thursday, May 17th (as he was leaving his work place in Seattle), according to a statement from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s office and was booked into the Snohomish County jail on one count of 1st degree murder for the killing of Van Cuylenborg on a warrant issued by Skagit County. On Friday Talbott was transferred to Skagit County and there he was charged with first-degree murder.

Van Cuylenborg’s body was found in Skagit County. During Talbott's first court appearance Friday a judge set his bail at $2 million

The news conference

At the news conference Friday to announce the arrest, Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary said detectives continue to gather and process evidence and interview witnesses related to the investigation of Jay Cook’s murder.

Because of this arrest, detectives are asking for people to come forward with any 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 bottom right) in November 1987.

~ Saw Talbott with a 35mm Minolta camera (see camera photo bottom right) 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 (see blanket photo above right), 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, Washington 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 Sheriff Trenary. “Yesterday’s arrest shows how powerful it can be to combine new DNA technology with the relentless determination of detectives.”

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

“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.”

Parabon is a reference to Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company in Virginia that both sheriff’s departments commissioned to generate “a composite image” - not an exact likeness – but an image of the suspect in this case based on “trait predictions for an adult Caucasian male believed to be the suspect,” in turn based on that person’s DNA which authorities did have. The killer left his DNA on Tanya Van Cuylenborg's body and at the crime scene.

The suspect's ancestors helped authorities zero in on him

Trenary says 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.

The sheriff’s office statement said the “successful identification of Talbott was established with assistance from Parabon, “the company that did the 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 graphic, above right). 

After Parabon’s genealogists deduced Talbott’s identity, police subsequently acquired an abandoned DNA sample from a cup he had used.

According to charging documents, detectives had Talbott under close watch on May 8th as he drove around in his work truck.

Eventually he leaned out of his vehicle and evidently didn’t notice that a paper cup fell out onto the road at West Marginal Way at South Spokane Street in Seattle. Police picked up the cup and took it to the State Patrol crime lab.

“Washington State Patrol’s crime lab confirmed that it positively matched the DNA profile from the crime scene evidence,” said the statement from the sheriff’s office which also noted this is the first ever 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 who added that, “Given the power of these new methods, we believe it is but the first of many.”


What still remains unknown to investigators is how, under what circumstances, and when and where the killer of the two young people came into contact with them and why that particular couple was chosen as targets.

Was it a random act, performed on impulse? Had the killer been stalking the couple, saw an opportunity and decided to act?

In terms of their current suspect, authorities say Mr. Talbott has no major criminal record so it is unknown what his motivations might have been in this crime, if it eventually is determined by trial that he is indeed the perpetrator.

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

No witnesses

There were no known witnesses to the killings so it appears that DNA evidence gathered in this case will play a central role in any prosecution of a suspect or suspects.

However, DNA evidence has been challenged successfully in court in the past, most notably in the infamous 1995 O.J. Simpson double murder trial in Los Angles, California.

The former NFL football star had been charged with the brutal knife slayings of his then wife Nicole and a friend Ron Goldman at Nicole Simpson’s home.

In that case defense attorneys successfully planted doubts in the minds of jurors about the way DNA evidence was gathered at the crime scene and when and under what circumstances the blood evidence in the case was stored and later evaluated.

Simpson was found innocent of both murders at trial.

Case background

On November 18, 1987, 20 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 Gensco Heating, a company in Seattle. Cook and Van Cuylenborg planned to pick up a part for Cook’s father and return to Canada the next day via I-5. 

They took the ferry from Victoria, BC, Canada, to Port Angeles, arriving around 4 p.m. Their last-known whereabouts were when they purchased a ticket at 10:16 p.m. 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 locked up and abandoned in a Blue Diamond parking lot near State and Holly Streets in Bellingham, Whatcom County.

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 of mile west of the old Washington State Reformatory’s Honor Farm near Monroe.



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