Tanya Van Cuylenborg and Jay Cook had been visiting Washington from British Columbia. There bodies were found days later in separate locations. Both had been bound. Cuylenborg had been raped and shot in the head, while Cook had been strangled.
Tanya Van Cuylenborg and Jay Cook had been visiting Washington from British Columbia. There bodies were found days later in separate locations. Both had been bound. Cuylenborg had been raped and shot in the head, while Cook had been strangled.

After 31 years and hundreds of tips related to the deaths of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, law enforcement said advancements in DNA technology led to the arrest of William Earl Talbot II for first-degree murder on Thursday.

Sheriffs from Snohomish and Skagit counties spoke during a May 18 press conference about the investigation and arrest of the 55-year-old Seatac man, who is the only suspect in the 1987 killing of Cook and kidnapping, rape and murder of Van Cuylenborg.

The young couple had been visiting Washington from British Columbia. They took a ferry to Seattle, and had planned to sleep in Cook’s family van, a bronze 1977 Ford Club. They were going to retrieve a part from Gensco Heating the next day, and then return home. They were last seen purchasing ferry ticket to Seattle in Bremerton on the night of Nov. 18, 1987.

Van Cuylenborg’s partially clothed body was found in a ditch in a wooded area off Parson’s Creek Road between Old Highway 99 and Prairie Road in Skagit County six days later. She had been shot in the head, bound with zip ties and raped.

Cook’s family van was found the next day, secured and abandoned in a Blue Diamond parking lot near State and Holly streets in Bellingham. Cook’s body was found three-quarters of a mile west of the old Washington State Reformatory’s Honor Farm near Monroe on Nov. 26, 1987, according to a Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office news release. He had been bound and strangled.

Talbot’s arrest comes about a month after the Snohomish and Skagit sheriff’s offices released composite sketches of a suspect that were created by Virginia-based Parabon NonoLabs using DNA phenotyping. The images captured what the suspect may have looked like then and now.

“Since then, we’ve received over 100 tips related to this case, and I really want to thank everyone who called with information,” said Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary.

But it wasn’t those tips that led to Talbot’s arrest, which happened Thursday, May 17, as he was leaving work in Seattle.

Parabon NanoLabs cofounder and CEO Dr. Steven Armentrout explained how the open-source genealogy DNA website, GEDmatch — the same site used to identify the suspected Golden State Killer — was critical in identifying Talbot as the suspect. Talbot is currently only charged with one count of murder for Van Cuylenborg, while the investigation continues into Cook’s murder, according to the news release.

A file was created on GEDmatch using DNA taken from the crime scene, Armentrout said, and compared with genotype files that were also on the site.

“At no time did anyone have access to this file, nor did it appear in any queries,” he said. “At every turn, the content of this file is not visible.”

Parabon NanoLabs genetic genealogist CeCe Moore said they were able to build a family tree using the DNA shared on GEDmatch.

“We’re looking for living people who could fit the profile of the suspect,” Moore said, and eventually two family trees converged into one marriage. “From that marriage there was only one son.”

Law enforcement is seeking anyone who may have known Talbot in the late 1980s. He had been living in Woodinville at that time, and his parents’ residence was seven miles from where Cook’s body was found.

“We’re not actually sure where he was living at the time, because there were several addresses in the Woodinville area,” said Snohomish County Sheriff’s Detective Jim Scharf, adding Talbot’s mother is deceased, but detectives have spoken to his father.

Cook was 20 and Van Cuylenborg was 18. Talbot would have been 24 at the time of the murders, Trenary said.

Investigators are hoping someone may have seen Talbot with the Cook family van.

Scharf said detectives assigned to the case are working with the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab to look at other evidence.

“We don’t have any idea what the motive was here,” he said. Talbot declined to speak to detectives upon his arrest. “We’re not even sure how the individual met up with the victims.”

Talbot had spent the last 20 years driving truck, mostly locally, Scharf said. He had a prior arrest, he said — a case that was drug-related and possibly involved indecent exposure, but that was dismissed.

“We’re not investigating any other crimes that we’re looking at him for at this time,” Scharf said.

Law enforcement had a list of 350 names from when they profiled the murders, and tips came in that helped them remove potential suspects, but Scharf said the new DNA technology was the only reason the case was solved.

“It was the genetic genealogy that was the key tool that got this case resolved,” he said.

Investigators are still searching for the body of Van Cuylenborg’s 35mm Minolta camera. The lens was traced to a Portland pawnshop in 1990.

“It is possible that the camera was in Talbot’s possession,” Trenary said, “or that he gave it to someone that he knew.”

The sheriff said investigators are also still trying to find out more information about the blue blanket found wrapped around Cook. It didn’t belong to him, and family members didn’t recognize it, he said.

“Yesterday the killer had his last sleep in his own bed,” said Cook’s sister Laura Baanstra during the news conference. “His last coffee break. His last day of freedom.”

Cook’s mother, Lee Cook, said she set a place at the table for her son for a year after his death, and would hear his footsteps coming up the stairs, “but he never came in the door.”

Cook would be 51 today.

“He probably would have married and had kids,” his mother said. “My daughters would have nieces and nephews. I would have more grandchildren.”

John Van Cuylenborg thanked law enforcement for pursuing his younger sister’s murder case for the past 31 years, and Scharf for moving the case forward by looking to new DNA techniques.

Now is the time to begin healing, he said.

“We don’t know what that looks like yet,” Van Cuylenborg said. “It’s been a long road to get here — 31 years.”