Trial of Seattle man in 1987 killings of Saanich couple set to begin in June

The jury trial for a Seattle-area man charged with the aggravated first-degree murders of a young Saanich couple more than 30 years ago is scheduled to begin June 3.

William Earl Talbott II was arrested in May 2018 and charged with murder in the deaths of 18-year-old Tanya Van Cuylenborg and 20-year-old Jay Cook. They were were killed in November 1987. Talbott has pleaded not guilty to the crimes.

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On Thursday afternoon, Talbott, a trucker in his mid-50s, appeared before trial judge Linda Krese in Snohomish Country Superior Court. The defence asked for a postponement of the trial to get a couple of things squared away, said Craig Matheson, Snohomish County’s chief criminal deputy prosecutor.

“There are a lot of moving pieces in a case of this age and complexity,” he said. “There are thousands and thousands of pages of disclosure.”

DNA, which led to a breakthrough in the case, is going to play a big role in the trial, Matheson said.

“The science involved in that process will be hotly contested,” he said. “The defence will want to have a chance to interview forensic scientists, police officers and civilians. We have a lot going on here.”

The trial is expected to last three to four weeks. Fifty witnesses are expected to testify.

Cook and Van Cuylenborg boarded the Coho ferry to Port Angeles on Nov. 18, 1987, in the Cook family van. They planned to return home the next day via the Interstate 5 highway. At 10:16 p.m., they bought tickets at the Bremerton ferry dock to catch the ferry to Seattle. Neither was seen or heard from again.

Van Cuylenborg’s 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.

Cook’s body was found near High Bridge on Crescent Lake Road, 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.

Police have said they do not know what the motive was for the killings.

The breakthrough came when genealogist CeCe Moore, working with experts at Parabon NanoLabs, built a family tree for the suspect based on the genetic evidence recovered from the crime scenes. They used data that had been uploaded to public genealogy websites to pinpoint a suspect.

Police kept Talbott under surveillance until a paper cup fell from his truck in Seattle in early May. A swab of DNA from the cup came back as a match to evidence from the crime scenes.

If convicted, Talbott will not face the death penalty. Last year, the Washington state Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional. The ruling commuted the sentences of eight men on the state’s death row to life in prison.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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