William Earl Talbott II, 55, of SeaTac, is led into court, on arraignment in the death of Tanya Van Cuylenborg in 1987, at the Skagit County Community Justice Center on May 18 in Mount Vernon. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

William Earl Talbott II, 55, of SeaTac, is led into court, on arraignment in the death of Tanya Van Cuylenborg in 1987, at the Skagit County Community Justice Center on May 18 in Mount Vernon. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

Detectives still seek help in cold case of slain BC couple

Genetic material was used to find and arrest a suspect in the 30-year-old killings.

EVERETT — Cold case detectives in Snohomish County have begun retracing the steps of a man suspected of killing a young Canadian couple 30 years ago.

But they still hope to get a clearer picture of William Earl Talbott II’s appearance, habits and whereabouts in the late 1980s. They hope to talk with people who knew Talbott around 1987, when he’s accused of killing Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg. Some of Talbott’s family members and acquaintances have talked with detectives. If others are out there, they’re asked to call a tip line at 425-388-3845.

The Canadian couple had been on a road trip from Saanich, British Columbia, to the SoDo area in Seattle when they vanished. The last trace of them being alive was a Bremerton-Seattle ferry ticket bought Nov. 18, 1987. Van Cuylenborg, 18, was found shot in the head, in the woods off a rural road south of Alger in Skagit County. Cook, 20, was strangled. His body was left near a bridge south of Monroe, seven miles from Talbott’s childhood home.

Talbott’s arrest this month in Seattle made international headlines. Investigators made the breakthrough using new DNA technology, the same technique known as genetic genealogy that was used to catch a suspect in the Golden State Killer case.

Days before news broke of an arrest in the notorious California case, detective Jim Scharf reached out to Parabon NanoLabs about using the technology. Parabon and a genetic genealogist, CeCe Moore, worked together to build a family tree for the suspect in the Cook-Van Cuylenborg case, based on DNA recovered from two crime scenes. Two of Talbott’s distant cousins had uploaded their DNA data to GEDmatch, a free public website that helps people find lost relatives.

Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, of Vancouver Island were found slain in Washington in 1987.

Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, of Vancouver Island were found slain in Washington in 1987.

Through that DNA, Moore traced the two sides of the suspect’s family tree, until the branches merged in marriage. The DNA pointed to one suspect, Talbott, a trucker living in SeaTac. He was put under surveillance, and when a paper cup fell from his truck, it was picked up by an officer. A genetic sample from the cup matched that of the killer.

Talbott was arrested May 17, for investigation of first-degree murder.

A spokeswoman for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, Shari Ireton, reiterated Wednesday that detectives are looking for:

  • Photos of Talbott circa 1987 and 1988.
  • Tips tying Talbott to evidence from the case: a .380-caliber pistol; a blue blanket that covered Cook’s body; Cook’s green canvas backpack; Cook’s black ski jacket; or Van Cuylenborg’s Minolta X-700 camera, with serial number 2067048.
  • Any information about Talbott’s work or travels in the 1980s.

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