Technique From Golden State Killer Arrest Leads to Suspect in 1987 Killings
Posted May 18, 2018 11:33 p.m. EDT
Updated May 18, 2018 11:36 p.m. EDT
In 1987, Jay Cook, 20, and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18, a couple from Canada, were brutally killed while they were vacationing in Washington state.
On Friday, the Snohomish County sheriff’s office announced that they now have a suspect in custody in the rape of Van Cuylenborg and the murders of her and Cook. William Earl Talbott II, a 55-year-old man from SeaTac, Washington, was arrested Thursday. An important break came once again as a result of DNA sleuthing techniques similar to the ones used last month to crack the Golden State Killer case.
“We never gave up hope that we would find Jay and Tanya’s killer,” Ty Trenary, the Snohomish County sheriff said in a news conference. “Yesterday’s arrest shows how powerful it can be to combine new DNA technology with the relentless determination of detectives.”
A not guilty plea was entered for Talbott and bail was set at $2 million Friday, the television station KOMO reported.
As in the Golden State Killer case, investigators uploaded DNA taken from well-preserved crime scene evidence to the public genealogy site GEDmatch. That DNA profile, which had been extracted from semen, led them to second cousins whose genetic information was available on the site.
From there, CeCe Moore, a genetic genealogist, built a family tree using publicly available family data, obituaries, newspaper archives, census data and social media sites. She then used “reverse genealogy” to fill out the branches.
“This led me to two descendants of the great-grandparents of the original matches who married, thus tying the two families together,” she said.
That couple had just one son: Talbott, who would have been 24 at time of the murders. His parents’ home was approximately 7 miles from where Cook’s body was found.
After surveilling Talbott, who appeared to work as a truck driver, for several days, detectives collected DNA from a cup he discarded. After a lab confirmed that it was a match, he was arrested, said Shari Ireton, director of communications at the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.
The involvement of Moore, the genealogist, came as part of a collaboration between Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company in Virginia, and the sheriff’s offices of Snohomish and Skagit counties in Washington. That followed on Parabon’s announcement this month that it would begin to offer a forensic genealogy service to help detectives use GEDmatch and other public databases to solve criminal cases.
After revelations that it had been used in the Golden State Killer investigation, some GEDmatch users removed their profiles or changed their settings, protesting what they felt was an invasion of privacy. Others defended the approach, arguing that if they had violent criminals in their families, they would be happy to help detectives arrest them.
Until they used the technique that incorporated the ancestry site, detectives did not have a suspect in the Washington state case. Talbott, who appears to have been arrested previously just once for a misdemeanor, was not in any criminal DNA databases.
Investigators had previously worked with Parabon to produce an image of the suspect’s face from his DNA, something that did not produce any meaningful leads.
The case has long perplexed detectives. On Nov. 18, 1987, the couple left Saanich, British Columbia, in Cook’s family van. They purchased a 10:16 p.m. ferry ticket to Seattle. No one ever heard from them again.
On Nov. 24, Van Cuylenborg’s body was found in a ditch in the woods in Skagit County. Later that week, Cook’s van and body were found in two separate locations.
“Jay was our son and at the time he died he was 20 years old and Tanya was 18. He would be 51 now,” his mother, Lee Cook, said during the news conference. “He probably would have married and had kids. I would have more grandchildren. I miss all that could have been.”
The killer struck detectives as eager to taunt the police, leaving behind a pair of used surgical gloves.
“He leaves those behind as a sign to the police that you needn’t look for fingerprints because I wore these gloves,” said Detective Robert Gebo of the Seattle Police Department, according to “Unsolved Mysteries.” “And he has confidence that there’s nothing that’s going to connect him with these crimes.”