Led by defense attorney Rachel Forde, William Earl Talbott II enters Snohomish County Superior Court on Tuesday in Everett to be arraigned for the 1987 murders of Jay Cook, 20, and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Led by defense attorney Rachel Forde, William Earl Talbott II enters Snohomish County Superior Court on Tuesday in Everett to be arraigned for the 1987 murders of Jay Cook, 20, and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Defendant in 1987 slayings of BC couple pleads not guilty

William Talbott of SeaTac was arraigned Tuesday in Snohomish County Superior Court.

EVERETT — A SeaTac man appeared in a Snohomish County courtroom for the first time Tuesday to plead not guilty to the 1987 murders of a young Canadian couple.

The families of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg filled a long row of the courtroom gallery when William Earl Talbott II, 55, entered the courtroom in a white buttondown shirt and a blue tie.

In front of news cameras, Superior Court Judge Millie Judge allowed him to be unshackled, in street clothes.

Talbott, a trucker who grew up in Woodinville, is charged with the aggravated murders of Cook, 20, and Van Cuylenborg, 18. They were killed 30 years ago on a road trip from their hometown of Saanich, British Columbia, on Vancouver Island, to the SoDo district of Seattle. The couple was on an errand to pick up furnace parts for Cook’s father. They never showed up.

Days later, a passerby found Van Cuylenborg’s body off a road 80 miles north, near Alger in Skagit County. She had been sexually assaulted, shot in the head and dumped in the woods.

The body of Cook was discovered that week under a bridge near Monroe. He appeared to have been beaten with rocks and strangled.

Talbott’s parents lived six miles from the bridge, a straight-shot of a drive with only one turn, according to charging papers.

In 1987, the defendant worked as a delivery driver with a route that passed by Gensco, the business that was the couple’s destination, according to a friend’s report recounted in the charges.

The case went unsolved for 30 years. Talbott was not a suspect until a new analysis of DNA evidence led a genetic genealogist and cold case detectives to identify him by way of second cousins who had uploaded their DNA to public genealogy sites in search of relatives.

Detectives picked up one of those relatives, Talbott, on a murder warrant in May. If convicted, he faces life in prison. Talbott’s next hearing was set for July 18.

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This story was first published in the Everett Herald. Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.