In 1987 a Canadian couple was brutally murdered in Washington, now 31 years later, the murderer has been nabbed
Nearly 30 years after a young woman and her partner were brutally killed in Washington, investigators have allegedly found the killer using genetic technology
New DNA technology has led to the Thursday arrest of a 55-year-old man in the killing of a young Canadian couple in Washington more than three decades ago.
William Earl Talbott II from SeaTac was arrested for the 1987 killing of 18-year-old Tanya Van Cuylenborg. At a news conference on Friday, detectives said they are also attempting to connect him to the killing of Van Cuylenborg’s boyfriend, 20-year-old Jay Cook.
According to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, DNA found at the crime scene was used to map the suspect’s family tree.
According to news reports, Cook and Van Cuylenborg set out for Seattle on November 18, 1987. They took the 4 pm ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles and bought a ferry ticket from Bremerton to Seattle. The couple reportedly stopped outside Port Angeles to ask directions to Bremerton. It is believed that they may have gotten lost because they drove south on Highway 101 through Mason County instead of going across the Hood Canal Bridge to Kitsap County.
Newspapers reported at the time that the couple bought gas in Allyn, Mason County, nearly 20 miles south of Bremerton. The store owners remembered speaking to them and told investigators neither showed signs of stress. They were running an overnight errand for Cook’s father at the time.
On the morning of November 19, 1987, the couple did not appear at a Seattle furnace-supply store where they were supposed to place an order. The next day, they were reported missing to police in Saanich, BC, a Victoria suburb and the couple’s hometown, after they did not return home. Five days later, Van Cuylenborg’s partially clothed body was found in a ditch in Alger, Skagit County.
According to police reports, the victim’s hands were bound behind her with a plastic cable tie. There was evidence that she had been raped and shot in the head. The police found the couple’s bronze 1977 Ford van in a parking lot in downtown Bellingham the next day. They also found Cook’s ID and plastic ties like the one used to bind Van Cuylenborg’s hands along with the ticket for the Bremerton-to-Seattle ferry.
Van Cuylenborg’s wallet was found under the back porch of a Bellingham tavern along with the keys to the couple's van, a pair of surgical gloves and a box of .380-caliber ammunition.
Cook’s body was found by two hunters under a bridge south of Monroe on November 26, 1987. His body was reportedly covered in a blue blanket that didn’t belong to him or his girlfriend. According to the police, Cook was strangled with a choke-type dog collar around his neck. He also had a pack of cigarettes stuffed in his mouth and suffered blunt-force trauma to his head.
The case eventually went cold until genetic testing threw some new light on the gruesome double murder. The Seattle Times reports that Talbott was identified through genetic genealogy.
However, after the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo in the Golden State Killer case in California last month using the same technique, some scientists raised ethical concerns over the use of DNA technology and genetics to solve crimes.
Investigators from Snohomish and Skagit counties had announced in April that they had sent DNA from Van Cuylenborg’s killer to Parabon NanoLabs which provided scientific approximations of what the killer might look like based on traits embedded in his genetic code.
According to the sheriff’s office, a digital file containing DNA genotype data derived from the crime scene was uploaded to GEDmatch. Promising matches were found for two of Talbott’s relatives.
Steve Armentrout, Parabon’s CEO, said on Friday that his lab began offering genetic genealogy two weeks ago. He dismissed the privacy concerns that have been raised saying they are based on misconceptions and noted Talbott’s DNA profile was never made public on GEDmatch, never appeared in any queries, and complied with the site’s use guidelines.
“The site only makes it possible to compare DNA between two people and assess the degree of their genetic relationship,” he said.
Using the suspect’s DNA, genealogist CeCe Moore identified second cousins in the GEDmatch databank. From there, Moore developed two family trees, one going back to the suspect’s paternal grandmother and the other to his maternal great-grandparents, according to the sheriff’s office.
According to Moore, the two family trees converged in a marriage and Talbott – who was 24 when Cook and Van Cuylenborg were killed – is the only known male carrier for the mix of DNA from the two families.
Talbott was placed under surveillance on May 8 while he drove around in his work truck, charging papers say. At one point, he leaned out of his vehicle and accidentally dropped a paper cup onto the road at West Marginal Way at South Spokane Street in Seattle. According to the charges, the State Patrol crime lab confirmed that Talbott’s DNA found on the cup matched the DNA profile from the crime scene.
Detectives are still working to tie Talbott’s movements to the facts of the case. The police have requested anyone who knew Talbott or has photos of him from the time of the killings to step forward or to contact the sheriff’s tip line on 425-388-3845.
Talbott reportedly lived with his parents in Woodinville at the time of the double homicide. Snohomish County Sheriff’s Detective Jim Scharf, who has spent the last 13 years working on the case, said that the suspect was arrested while leaving his Seattle workplace.
“He was never on any list law enforcement had. There was never a tip providing his name,” Scharf said of Talbott. “If it hadn’t been for genetic genealogy, we wouldn’t be standing here today.”
On Friday, Talbott was transferred to Skagit County and charged with first-degree murder.
“Yesterday, the killer had his last sleep in his own bed, his last coffee break, his last day of freedom,” said Cook’s sister, Laura Baanstra. “It’s hard to put into words the relief, joy, and great sorrow this arrest brings.”