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Man arrested in connection with 1987 killings of Saanich couple in Washington state

The families of Saanich sweethearts Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg expressed relief but also sorrow Friday at the news that a 55-year-old Seattle-area trucker had been arrested in connection with their murders 31 years ago.

The families of Saanich sweethearts Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg expressed relief but also sorrow Friday at the news that a 55-year-old Seattle-area trucker had been arrested in connection with their murders 31 years ago.

William Earl Talbott II was arrested after work on Thursday and charged with the first-degree murder of 18-year-old Van Cuylenborg, said Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary.

Talbott was identified through a process called genetic genealogy a few weeks ago. DNA samples were collected at the crime scene when Van Cuylenborg’s body was found on Nov. 24, 1987.

A few days ago, detectives obtained a castoff DNA sample. The crime lab ran the DNA and confirmed it belonged to the same person who left the DNA at the crime scene.

“Today, we know those DNA samples match William Earl Talbott, linking him to her murder, kidnapping, rape and robbery,” said Skagit Country Sheriff Will Reichardt.

Police expect Talbott will also be charged with Cook’s murder.

Jay Cook’s sister, Laura Baanstra, was close to tears as she praised science and good old-fashioned police work which makes it “harder and harder for these disturbed individuals to hide in the shadows.”

“Yesterday, the killer had his last sleep in his own bed, his last coffee break, his last day of freedom. For my family and I, it is our first day without the weight, the burden, the hurting that comes from not knowing who killed my brother Jay and his sweet, shy girlfriend Tanya. It’s hard to put into words this feeling of relief, of joy, or great sorrow that this arrest brings,” said Baanstra.

“The hole that was left in our hearts will never be filled completely. The work done here by all these incredible hard-working professionals, both now and 30 years ago, has helped make that hole smaller.”

John Van Cuylenborg, Tanya’s older brother, said it’s a great relief to his family to have the person responsible held accountable for these horrific crimes, but he doesn’t know what closure looks like yet.

“For me at least, it’s a sense of justice that’s starting to happen here for these two wonderful kids, Jay and Tanya,” he said. “They deserve justice to be done. They were both gentle souls, caring and trusting and they were betrayed.”

His family has always wanted to find the person to stop him from reoffending so no one else has to endure these kind of losses, he said.

Cook’s mother, Lee, said she had waited and hoped for this day for 31 years.

“How could we have known instead that the day would be so bittersweet. On one hand, we’re close to closure. On the other, we’re still at a loss. And I don’t have my only son Jay,” she said.

Family members were not the only ones who became emotional at the press conference.

“I want to thank the detectives and investigators who never gave up on this case. It’s a difficult thing for us, but candidly, this is what we do our job for,” said Trenary, his voice shaking.

Cook and Van Cuylenborg boarded the Coho ferry to Port Angeles on Nov. 18, 1987 in the Cook family van, a bronze 1977 Ford Club wagon. They planned to return home the next day via the Interstate 5 highway.

At 10:16 p.m., Cook and Van Cuylenborg bought tickets at the Bremerton ferry dock to catch the ferry to Seattle. Neither Cook nor Van Cuylenborg was seen or heard from again.

Van Cuylenborg’s partially clothed body was found in a ditch in Skagit County in a wooded area of Parsons Creek Road, between old Highway 99 and Prairie Road. She had a .38-calibre gunshot wound to the back of her head. She had been restrained with zip-tie fasteners and sexually assaulted.

On Nov. 26, Cook’s body was found near High Bridge on Crescent Lake Road, just east of Monroe. He was covered by a blue blanket. He had been strangled and restrained with the same type of zip-tie fasteners as Van Cuylenborg.

Trenary stressed that detectives are just at the start of a lengthy investigation and will continue to gather evidence and interview witnesses about Cook’s murder.

Police want to talk to anyone who knew Talbott, who was 24 in 1987 and living in the Woodinville area. His parents’ home was about 11 kilometres from where Cook’s body was found.

Police want to talk to anyone who saw Talbott driving the Cook family van in November 1987. They are still looking for Van Cuylenborg’s 35mm Minolta camera. The camera’s lens was recovered and traced to a pawn shop in Portland, Oregon in 1990, but the camera body is still missing. Talbott may have given the camera to someone. Police also want to know where the blue blanket that covered Cook’s body came from.

Talbott refused to talk to investigators when he was taken into custody, said Snohomish County Det. Jim Scharf.

“We don’t have any idea what the motive was here. We are not even sure how the individual met up with our victims,” said Scharf.

Talbott had been arrested before for drugs and possibly indecent exposure, but the case was dismissed, said the officer.

The suspect’s mother has died, but police have spoken to his father. Police do not believe Talbott has ever married. They believe he has been driving trucks at different jobs for the past 20 years.

He is not being investigated for any other crimes, said Scharf.

Police said Talbott was not on the list of 350 suspects.

Steve Armentrout, chief executive officer of Parabon Nanolabs, said he had great hope for the DNA technologies they used in this case, especially genetic genealogy. The company has been able to give information to law enforcement officers on a number of cases in the U.S., he said.

Cece Moore, the genetic genealogist who worked on the case, said she used the DNA collected in 1987 and compared it to the DNA of people who had shared their results on GED Match, a public website which allows people to try and discover their genetic relationships.

Moore was able to build family trees, starting with the second-cousin or great-grandparent level.

“We were looking for living people who would fit the profile of the suspect. Two of the closest matches converged, intersected into a marriage and from that marriage there was only one son,” said Moore. “That led us to only one person who could carry this mix of DNA.”

“If it hadn’t been for genetic genealogy we wouldn’t be standing here today,” said Scharf.

Police are asking for anyone who has information about the case or about William Earl Talbott II to call the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 1-425-388-3845.

ldickson@timescolonist.com