Tanya Van Cuylenborg
Tanya Van Cuylenborg

Investigators believe new evidence could solve a decades-old double murder.

The Snohomish and Skagit county sheriff’s offices released composite sketches last Wednesday of the suspect believed to have killed Jay Cook, 21, and his girlfriend Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18, in 1987. Agency representatives say the images could turn up more leads, maybe one capable of bringing closure to the case.

“It is something that you just never give up on, you know you’ve got the one piece of evidence that is going to solve your case, so you just keep working until you can find that match,” said detective Jim Scharf, referring to DNA evidence used to generate the three sketches.

The two sheriff’s offices worked with Virginia-based Parabon NanoLabs, which uses the process of DNA phenotyping, to predict the suspect’s physical features and ancestry. The person who is believed to have killed the Canadian couple is a white man of European descent, and has green or hazel eyes.

Cook and Van Cuylenborg were in Washington on a weekend trip when they disappeared. After taking the ferry to Seattle, they planned to sleep in Cook’s family van, a bronze 1977 Ford Club wagon. The next day they would pick up a part from Gensco Heating, and then return home.

They were last seen purchasing a ferry ticket in Bremerton just after 10 p.m. on Nov. 18,. Days later their bodies were found dozens of miles apart in Snohomish and Skagit Counties. The van and Van Cuylenborg ended up in Skagit County. Cook was found less than a mile away from the old Washington State Reformatory’s Honor Farm, south of Monroe.

Cuylenberg had been shot in the head, bound with zip-tie restraints and sexually assaulted. She was found in a ditch north of Bremerton. A man with long blond hair had been seen not far from where Van Cuylenborg was found, but was never identified, Scharf said. 

“The person who did this came prepared to do a brutal crime,” he said.

Cook had also been bound and  was strangled. Detectives investigated whether someone from the honor farm was involved but DNA database comparisons ruled that out. All other leads were exhausted.

The couple’s ferry ticket was found in the van, which had been abandoned not far from a Greyhound Bus depot. A shell casing was found nearby, Scharf said. Van Cuylenborg's wallet, keys to the van, a pair of surgical gloves and a box of ammunition were found under a porch in Bellingham.

Cook’s sister, Laura Baanstra, said the last thing she remembers of her brother is sharing her sandwich with him. The siblings waved goodbye as the young couple drove away. She encourages the public to call in anything they know, no matter how minor it may seem.

“Now is the time to share what you have seen or heard and bring closure to this crime,” she said.

During a press conference held last Wednesday, investigators were asked about the cost and validity of the sketches. Three were created to show what the suspect may have looked like at ages 25, 45 and 65. Scharf said when Snohomish County went to Skagit with the idea, the agency didn’t hesitate.

“I don’t have the exact figure; it was not cheap,” he said.

Weight and age cannot be determined in the phenotyping process, according to a Snohomish County news release. Unknowns, like whether someone smoked, drank heavily, as well as diet, scars and facial hair, could affect the results.

Parabon provides testimonials on its website in cases where a composite image helped in the identification of a suspect. Many of the comments focus on who investigators were able to rule out. One mentioned the price tag was about $4,000, but worth the money.

Snohomish and Skagit county detectives believe someone knows something about the Canadian couple’s murder. They are also still looking for the body of Van Cuylenborg's 35mm Minolta camera. The lens was found and traced to a Portland pawn shop in 1990.

“We know someone out there knows something that can help us with this case,” said Scharf in the news release. “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.”

Sgt. Jennifer Sheahan-Lee was a Skagit County Sheriff’s Office intern when she first started working on the case. She located a shell casing in Bellingham.

“It’s hope. We have to have some type of hope,” she said.

The victims’ family is offering a $50,000 reward to anyone who can provide a tip before Dec. 31, 2018 that leads to identifying the suspect, according to the release. Anyone with information is asked to call the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 425-388-3845.