Real Names: Jay Roland Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg
Nicknames: No known nicknames
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: November 18, 1987
Details: Twenty-year-old Jay Cook and seventeen-year-old Tanya Van Cuylenborg were high school sweethearts and residents of Victoria, Canada. They traveled to Seattle, Washington on a buying trip for Jay's father Gordon. They took Gordon's van for the trip. This was their first trip together and they planned on a romantic weekend. On November 18, 1987, they left Victoria and took the 4PM car ferry to Port Angeles, Washington. After disembarking from the ferry, they drove the van south down Highway 101 into Hoodsport, arriving there at 8PM. After that, they drove through Allyn, presumably on their way to Bremerton. It is believed that they then boarded another car ferry that went from Bremerton to downtown Seattle; however, they were never seen alive again.
Jay and Tanya were expected home the next day. However, when they did not call or arrive home that evening, their parents became concerned. Tanya's father noted that if she was ever late for anything, she would always call them. When she didn't call, they knew something was wrong. On November 20, they were reported missing. Tragically, on November 24, Tanya was found raped and shot to death in Skagit County, Washington; her partially-clothed body was bound with plastic wire ties. Other ties were found near the road. It was believed that they were used to secure her in the van. At first, police suspected that Jay may have killed her; however, neither family could believe this.
The next day, the van was found ninety miles away in Bellingham; a Bremerton-Seattle ferry ticket was found inside. Two blocks away, underneath the porch of a tavern, more plastic ties were found. The keys to the van, Tanya's driver's license, plastic surgical gloves, and a half box of ammunition were also found there. It is believed that the killer left the gloves behind to show police that they would not find his fingerprints anywhere. On Thanksgiving Day, November 26, Jay was found beaten and strangled to death underneath a bridge near Monroe. His hands were also bound with plastic ties.
After the murders and over the Christmas holidays, Jay and Tanya's families were taunted by disturbing greeting cards believed to be from the killer. They had taunting descriptions of the murders, and the author claimed responsibility for the crimes. Nearly twenty had been mailed over several different holidays. Postmarked from New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle, they shared the same handwriting. Investigators noted several distinct phrases in the cards, such as "Hallelujah Bloody Jesus". It is believed that the letter writer may have been involved in the murders.
Suspects: The police believe Jay and Tanya could have met their killer in the lounge on the ferry from Victoria to Washington or on the 10:20PM Bremerton ferry to Seattle, although it is more likely that they met him on the latter one. Police believe that the killer asked them for a ride, then tried to sexually assault Tanya. It is believed that Jay was killed for being "in the way" and Tanya was killed to cover up the sexual assault.
Based on the way Jay was killed along with evidence found with his body, investigators believe that the killer may have done time in prison; his efforts to conceal his identity are indicative of someone familiar with police procedures.
Investigators believe that he did make one mistake, however. It is suspected that he took Jay's waist-length black ski jacket with red piping on the sleeves. He may have also taken Tanya's olive-drab day pack and her Minolta 35mm camera with serial number 2067048. It is possible that someone noticed him with these incriminating items.
Police also believed that the person who had written the greeting cards may have had something to do with the murders. However, they did note that there was nothing mentioned in the cards that had not been released to the public.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the October 25, 1989 episode.
Some sources state that Tanya was eighteen at the time of her death.
The case was documented on Forensic Files II after it was resolved, and the DNA process used to capture the killer was featured on Genetic Detective in 2020.
Results: Solved. Several possible suspects were questioned in the case over the years, including serial killers Robert Yates and Charles Sinclair. Both were active in the Seattle area in 1987. However, DNA evidence from the crime scene cleared them of any involvement. The DNA profile also did not match anyone in police databases.
In 1990, police located the camera lens that belonged to Tanya's missing camera at a pawn shop in Portland, Oregon. However, police were unable to determine who originally brought the lens into the shop.
DNA testing later determined that the evidence found at the crime scene did not match DNA recovered from the taunting greeting cards. In August of 2010, Victoria cold-case detectives finally identified the person responsible for sending the cards. He is a man now in his seventies with severe mental issues. He readily admitted that he was their author. Police interviewed him for several hours and now believe he had nothing to do with the murders; he presumably read about the story in a newspaper and sent the cards from there.
In April of 2018, Snohomish County investigators announced that a Parabon DNA Snapshot composite of the killer was created based on the DNA evidence at the crime scene. Composites were made of the killer at ages twenty-five, forty-five, and sixty-five. As a result of the Parabon analysis, it was believed that the killer was a white male of European descent, with hazel or green eyes, fair skin, possible freckles, and possible male-pattern baldness.
Finally, on May 18, 2018, a suspect was arrested in the case. Fifty-five-year-old William Earl Talbott II was arrested in Seattle after his DNA was determined to have matched semen found on Tanya's body and on pants found in the van. His DNA was also found on a zip tie in the van. A palm print found on the van was also matched to him. When the murders were committed, he was twenty-four and living with his parents in Woodinville, just seven miles from where Jay's body was found.
Investigators said that the arrest was made thanks to genetic genealogy. They uploaded the DNA profile to GEDMatch and identified second cousins of the killer. Through this, they were able to create a family tree, which led them to Talbott's parents. They then tracked him down and were able to retrieve a sample of his DNA from a discarded cup. A similar technology was used to identify the Original Night Stalker.
Talbott was initially charged only with Tanya's murder. However, in June, he was also charged with Jay's murder. He pleaded not guilty at a preliminary hearing. Investigators asked for anyone who knew Talbott around the time of the murders to come forward. Several of his former friends contacted police; they noted that Talbott had worked as a delivery driver in 1987. They confirmed that the route he took for his deliveries matched that of the couple's travel plans at the time.
Talbott's former roommate told police that he had seen a blue blanket in Talbott's home and car. This blanket was similar to the one found on Jay's body. The roommate also noted that Talbott had a tumultuous relationship with family members, was involved in drugs, and had personality changes when he drank alcohol. He also recalled seeing a bronze van outside of Talbott's home on a misty day in the fall of 1987. Finally, he recalled that Talbott had taken him to the same general area where Jay's body was later found.
In June of 2019, Talbott went on trial for Jay and Tanya's murders. His defense claimed that he and Tanya had consensual sex and that the couple were killed by someone else. However, prosecutors noted that it would not make sense for Tanya to have sex with Talbott since she was with her boyfriend, was in a foreign country, and was on her menstrual period. On June 28, he was convicted of both murders. On July 24, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
- Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg on Unsolved.com
- Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg on Wikipedia
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